It was 1988. It was the Summer Olympics in Seoul. Johnson had set the 100 meters world record of 9.83 seconds the previous year. Johnson, however, had injury problems coming into the Games. A hamstring injury had plagued him the whole season.
Johnson won. He also set a new world record: 9.79 seconds.
And then it ended almost as soon as it began.
The man was a cheat.
Johnson’s blood and urine samples were found to contain stanozolol.
The last citadel had been breached.
The Olympics , when it first begun, was celebrated as a coming together of amateur athletes under the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is Latin for “Faster,Higher, Stronger.”
Amateurism made way for professionalism beginning gradually in the 1970s.
Sport was no longer clean or for fun. It was competition–cutthroat competition.
Every millisecond, every millimeter counted.
1988 also saw the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declaring all professional athletes eligible for the Olympics, subject to the approval of the international federations in charge of each sport.
Only soccer and baseball disallow pros at the Olympics.
Thus began the age of disillusion.
If Johnson could cheat, then how many others?
Reports of systematic doping in East European countries did nothing to counteract such perceptions.
More recently, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour De France titles.
Armstrong, a cancer survivor, indulged in blood doping throughout his career.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Armstrong says:
“I’m that guy everybody wants to pretend never lived. But it happened, everything happened. We know what happened. Now it’s swung so far the other way… who’s that character in Harry Potter they can’t talk about? Voldemort? It’s like that on every level. If you watch the Tour on American TV, if you read about it, it’s as if you can’t mention him.”
The Texan is riling his opponents once more by participating in the One Day Ahead ride, cycling part of the Tour de France route. The ride raises money to fight leukemia.
It is time we admit that we cannot hold our sporting heroes to a higher standard. They engage in a profession where every bit done can make a difference between winning and losing, between being the face of a shoe brand or simply being an also-ran.
Our modern-day heroes have feet of clay. We should learn to expect that they will disappoint us someday. They cannot be placed on a pedestal.
“But wait,”, you say, “these are the very personas my kids look up to.”
Yes, but isn’t that a reflection of the society and times we live in?
Children look up to actors and rock stars too. Are they held to a higher standard?
Then why sports persons?
Shouldn’t we teach our kids to look for heroes elsewhere? Real-life heroes.