Point - Two - One

Harry Jerome

While visiting Vancouver's spectacular Stanley Park recently, I chanced upon a beautiful statue of Harry Jerome, British Columbia's Athlete of the Century. In 1960, Jerome set a world record in the 100 metres of 10.0 seconds. He sprinted for Canada in the 1960, 1964, and 1968 Summer Olympics, earning 100 metre bronze in Tokyo. He also won the gold medals in the 1966 Commonwealth Games and the 1967 Pan-American Games. For these athletic accomplishments and his service to the community, Harry Jerome received the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honour.

A year after Jerome's setting of the world record in the 100 metres, a boy named Ben Johnson was born in Jamaica. After emigrating to Canada in 1976, Johnson went on to star as a sprinter on the National team, winning gold in the 100 metres at the 1987 World Championships in a world record time of 9.83 seconds. A year later, in a magnificent race against U.S. archrival Carl Lewis at the Seoul Olympics, Johnson again took the gold medal, trimming the world record to 9.79 seconds.

Unfortunately, the glory earned by Johnson and basked in by the rest of Canada would turn to ignominy only days later, when post-race urine samples indicated the presence of stanozolol, a performance-enhancing steroid. Johnson's gold medal and world record were stripped, and he departed South Korea under a cloud of controversy; later, his 1987 world record would be stripped, erasing Johnson's name for all-time from the pantheon of citius, altius, fortius.

Meanwhile, fans back home reacted with a uniquely Canadian mixture of shock, pride, anger, embarassment, and general teeth-gnashing, leading to a federal Commission of Inquiry into the Use of Drugs and Banned Practices Intended to Increase Athletic Performance, otherwise known as the Dubin Inquiry. The commission changed the face of high-performance sport in Canada, and was influential in the 1999 establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Johnson returned to world class sprinting drug-free in 1991, but showed the rust of his absence and performed poorly. Two years later, and obviously bulked up, he was banned for life by the IAAF after testing positive for steroids once again.

It would be tempting at this point to moralize about the respective values of Harry Jerome and Ben Johnson, but I'll refrain. Instead, I will offer the following question:

Point-two-one? Point-two-one?

Oh wait, that's not a question. Ummm … how about:

What the fuck?

Ben Johnson screwed his entire career for a measly 0.21 seconds, and that's just about the only way you can put it. To Johnson's credit, though, he did have a lot of help: advanced training methods, biomechanical analysis, peak nutritional information, videotape feedback, daily massage, cutting-edge rehabilitative technologies, sport psychology interventions, and, of course, the anabolic steroid stanozolol. Harry Jerome, on the other hand, was a pioneer of weight training in sprinting, and did some of his best running with a 30-centimetre scar on his left thigh after severing his quadriceps muscle. Even with this substantial cyborgian advantage, however, all Big Ben did was better the record by point-two-one.

That's 28 years and a hell of a lot of expense — for a return of 0.03 seconds per Olympiad.

Most industries wouldn't pay a dime for that kind of just noticeable difference. But the sportocracy does, despite the high K/L ratio of the cyborgian "laboratory sports".

Makes you kind of wonder what the return is for them, doesn't it?

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