9.79

Today, 8-8-08, marks the official commencement of the Beijing summer Olympic games.

I take this moment to recall one of the greatest Olympic moments that I can remember: Canadian-Jamaican sprinter Ben Johnson smoking the competition in Seoul:

Yes, Ben was subsequently stripped of his medal due to illegal doping. But you know what? As far as I’m concerned, Ben Johnson was (until very recently) the legitimate fastest man in the history of the world. His time of 9.79 seconds, though stricken from the books, stood for years as the quickest pace that a human being has ever set while being timed.

Jamaican runner Usain “Lightning” Bolt broke Johnson’s score with 9.76 seconds, then blew away his own record with a new astonishing standard of 9.72 seconds:

The Ben Johnson affair has a particular soft relevance to me since I was in love at the time, and was watching live coverage of the race from Toronto’s Black Bull bar with my beloved. As my girlfriend and I were busily making out sloppily, as unrepentant 20-somethings are wont to do, a creepy middle aged woman kept interjecting, possibly trying to get a piece of the action. Now, I’ve got nothing against creepy middle aged women or potential threesomes, but this particular woman was unpleasant and unattractive. So a fond memory of innocent youth is nonetheless tinged with the visceral ugliness of a drunken barfly, but redeemed by the lofty performance of one Ben Johnson, whose excess athleticism managed to stoke the dying embers of patriotism even in this avowed anti-nationalist.

I believe that everyone on the field that day was illegally doping. Ben Johnson’s sin is that he was too sloopy to avoid getting caught. One day history will redeem his name and remember him as Canada’s greatest track star of the late 20th century.