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Ben Johnson, still bitter, revisits Seoul on 25th anniversary of drug-laden Olympic race

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Sept. 24 (Yonhap) -- Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who tested positive for a banned substance after winning the men's 100-meter sprint at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, returned to the scene of the infamous race on Tuesday, still sounding bitter about his disqualification on the 25th anniversary of the competition.

Johnson stepped on to the track at Jamsil Olympic Stadium, a quarter-century after he stunned the world by taking the 100m title with what would have been a world record time of 9.79 seconds. Johnson failed a drug test the following day, however, and was stripped of both his gold medal and the record.

His trip to Seoul was part of an international anti-doping campaign called "Choose the Right Track," run by an Australian sports apparels company, Skins. The campaign previously took Johnson to London, Toronto, New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Tokyo.

Johnson stood on the starting line at 1:30 p.m., exactly the same time that he took to the starting blocks on Sept. 24, 1988, for the 100m final. He slowly walked toward the finish line as campaign organizers helped reveal a scroll petition, signed by 1,000 people, collated from his earlier stops.

Organizers said the campaign will conclude with the presentation of the petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) headquarters in Montreal, Canada.

The 51-year-old, born in Jamaica and raised in Canada, said he was ready to move on with his life. Instead of addressing the state of doping in sports or promoting his campaign, however, Johnson mostly aired out grievances, saying he shouldn't have been singled out as the poster boy for doping in track and field.

The 100m final in Seoul is considered the most corrupt sprint in modern Olympic history. Four of the top five finishers from the race have been tainted by a drug scandal. American star Carl Lewis, who finished second behind Johnson but was awarded the gold at 9.92 seconds, had tested positive for banned stimulants during the U.S. Olympic trials, but he was cleared to compete after claiming he had innocently taken a herbal supplement. Lewis has also been accused of stepping out of his lane a few times, which would have resulted in an automatic disqualification.

Lindford Christie of Britain, who moved up from bronze to silver, also flunked a test for a stimulant, but he argued that he had inadvertently taken the substance in ginseng tea and the IOC's medical commmission cleared him.

Dennis Mitchell, another American in the race, tested positive 10 years after the Seoul Games.

Johnson said he felt "politics" played too much in the ruling that led to his disqualification in Seoul.

"I do believe that most of the runners in that race were on drugs, and they tested positive over the years," Johnson said. "I don't set the rules in the situation. I am just a guy in a small pond, just trying to survive, so to speak. There was too much politics and too much money involved. Where there's money, there's corruption."

When asked if he regretted doping 25 years ago, Johnson replied tersely, "I regret a lot of things in my life."

"I did something wrong, and I got punished," he said. "Twenty-five years later, I am still being punished for what I did. People who commit murders go to jail and get out. I broke a rule in sports, and I got a nail in the cross. I am trying to send a message that there has got to be a fair game. No mother wants to see her son or daughter go through what I went through for 25 years, because it's not good mentally and physically."

Johnson added he is not concerned about how he will be remembered.

"I don't really believe in trying to leave a legacy behind," he said. "I just want for the world to know what the truth was and is. If it ever happened that people accept me in a good light, I will appreciate it. After 25 years, I will move on with my life."

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