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Ben Johnson: Disgraced Sprinter Was Product of Steroid-Laden Environment

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Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2012

Ben Johnson broke the world record in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Games, but his legacy was forever tarnished by his positive doping test shortly thereafter.

ESPN's 30 for 30 film 9.79* gave piercing insight into the world of track and field at the time Johnson tested positive. Needless to say, he wasn't the only one doing this.

Chances are, if one person is doing something wrong, he's not alone. Most people don't do risky things, like performance-enhancing drugs, without having a reason for doing so.

In sports, it's all about competitive advantage, longevity and winning. That's it.

This isn't justifying Johnson's behavior, or anyone else, but it's more than just one bad guy making the wrong choice.

It's a cultural thing. PEDs, according to the documentary, were all over the place in Olympic track events. Johnson could have said no, avoiding all controversy, but he couldn't if he wanted to win.

The main difference between Johnson and many others is that he got caught.

I can't help but think back to BALCO founder Victor Conte's statement to USA Today reporter Bob Nightengale that "the only people that get caught are the dumb, and the dumber." That deals with baseball, but the same themes ring true.

Parts of the film talked about athletes diluting their urine to pass drug tests. Johnson alludes to the fact that he was setup near the end of the film. Things are far from cut and dry, no matter what the results of the test were.

It's human nature to compete in some way, shape or form. Sports are obvious examples, but many "regular" jobs are competitive as well. If your coworkers held an obvious advantage over you, what would you do?

"Juicing" isn't the smart thing to do, and it's not the right thing to do, but it was the thing to do when Johnson was busted.

Johnson's disqualification paints an ugly picture of his legacy, but he was just one of many making the same choice.

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