On This Day

  • September 24 down the years

Ben Johnson: drug cheat

Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal © Getty Images
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1988
The biggest drug story in Olympic history. The biggest fish they ever caught. After his bronze medal in the 100 metres at the 1984 Games ( August 4), Canada's Ben Johnson decided he needed some extra pharmaceutical help to beat Carl Lewis. By 1987, he'd got it. It set a world record at the World Championships ( August 30). Today it went even further. In the Olympic final, Johnson jumped out of his blocks as if he were hurdling something. He led all the way, staying more than a metre ahead of Lewis, who ran 9.92 but had to look up at Johnson's latest world record figures of 9.79. As Lewis offered a handshake, Johnson kept his back turned for a long time, which looked an even uglier gesture when the big news broke two days later. Earlier in the season, Johnson had pulled a muscle. Then he lost to Lewis in Zurich and Calvin Smith in Cologne. A top-up was clearly in order. So Johnson and his coach took a risk, adding an extra dose of steroids too close to the Olympics. When the urine samples tested positive, Johnson lost his gold medal and world records and admitted he'd been taking drugs since 1981. Suspended for two years, he was caught again in 1993 and banned for life. But he wasn't the only one with a smudge against his name. Lewis was promoted to first place and therefore retained the title. Years later, it came out that he'd tested positive for various banned stimulants at the Olympic trials. Linford Christie was upgraded to silver despite a drugs test which also revealed traces of a stimulant. His time of 9.97 made him the first British runner to go under ten seconds, and he succeeded Lewis as Olympic champion in 1992 ( August 1).

On the same day in 2000, Britain's Denise Lewis also won the Olympic heptathlon. She did it despite injury and thanks to injury. Lewis had finished second in each of the last two World Championships, the second to Eunice Barber of France, who led after two events today. Meanwhile Lewis had a mare in the high jump, which left her back in eighth place. But the third event changed everything. Lewis put the shot 15.55 metres to jump up to second, while Barber managed only a dreadful 11.27. On the second day, Barber dropped out during the long jump, and Lewis took the lead after the javelin, leaving only the 800 metres to go. Needing to finish within a few seconds of her two closest rivals, she bandaged assorted parts of her limbs and got round to take gold by 53 points.

But the big news on the track - though it wasn't news for another few years - was Marion Jones' win in the 100 metres. Big and tall and very dodgy, a female Ben Johnson, she added to suspicions by winning in 10.75 seconds, four yards clear of the rest. In 2007, Jones was stripped of the five medals she won at these Olympics after admitting to steroid use. Her gold here didn't go to Ekaterini Thanou of Greece, who finished second but was banned after agreeing to a minor charge of failing to provide a urine sample in 2004. A further ban kept her out of the 2008 Olympics.

1994
The night Lennox Lewis lost his unbeaten record. After his Olympic gold medal in 1988, he'd won 25 pro fights and won the WBC heavyweight title in 1993. His first defence was against Frank Bruno and this was his third. It wasn't expected to be his hardest. His opponent at Wembley Arena, Oliver McCall, had a patchy record. Of his five defeats as a pro, the first came in only his second fight and the latest was against Tony Tucker, who lost the WBC title to Lewis. McCall was three inches shorter and half a stone lighter than Lewis, whose 17 stone was his heaviest fighting weight so far. Too heavy, McCall thought: 'He's not properly balanced and I know how to get by his jab.' Some pundits scoffed, but Lewis had been caught before, by Bruno and Tucker among others. When Lewis jabbed, he sometimes overbalanced slightly. When he did that tonight, McCall exploded a left hook into his face. Lewis got up quickly, but the referee had a good look in his eyes and stopped it, whereupon McCall touched his toes in a star jump. The whole thing lasted only 30 seconds into the second round. McCall made a successful defence against 45-year-old Larry Holmes ( April 8) before losing to Bruno ( September 2, 1995), then met Lewis again for the vacant title ( February 7, 1997).

Europe's golfers retained and regained the Ryder Cup on this day.

By 1989, they'd grown accustomed to holding the trophy. After the USA lost it in 1985 ( September 15), they couldn't get it back two years later despite playing at home ( September 27), and now at The Belfry they trailed by two points after each of the first two days. But the Americans came out fighting in the singles. Tom Kite inflicted a Cup record defeat of 8 & 7 on Howard Clark, and Europe's lead was wiped out when Chip Beck beat Bernhard Langer. Mark James restored it by beating Mark O'Meara, but Seve Ballesteros lost on the last hole to Paul Azinger. Then the lake at that hole came to Europe's aid. In consecutive matches, Payne Stewart and Mark Calcavecchia found the water, and Europe needed only two points from the last six matches. A famous two-iron by Christy O'Connor Jnr left him four feet from the last hole and shattered Fred Couples, while José María Cañizares won the decisive match against Ken Green. Although the Americans came back to draw 14-14, the Cup had been retained with four matches to spare. A good way for Tony Jacklin to sign off as non-playing captain; Europe went home with the Cup after three of his four matches in charge. But it had been very close today: his players won six singles matches at the last hole.

The USA regained the trophy in 1991, kept it in 1993, then defended it again today in 1995. At Oak Hill in New York State, they emulated the 1989 Europeans by taking a two-point lead after the first day and maintaining it after the second. Then Tom Lehman had an easy win over Seve Ballesteros to stretch the margin to three and leave the States needing only four more points from the last eleven singles. They led by two with seven to play, but then lost a string of tight matches, and the whole thing came down to the last pair. Ireland's Philip Walton bogeyed the 17th, but Jay Hass crumbled at the last, sending his third shot into some trees. When his par putt slipped past, Walton was left with two putts for the Ryder Cup. He took them both and Europe won 14½-13½.

When Europe retained the Cup again in 2006, they matched their best performance, achieved two years earlier in the USA ( September 19). Leading 10-6 with one day to go, they added another point in the early singles, then ran away with the later matches. There were victories for José María Olazábal (over Phil Mickelson), Lee Westwood, the unsung Henrik Stenson and David Howell, and above all Colin Montgomerie, who finished his Ryder Cup career unbeaten in eight singles matches, winning six of them. Europe won 18½-9½.

1938
The first singles Grand Slam in tennis. With his heavy serve and marvellous backhand, Don Budge had swept the first three tournaments with only one scare, the two consecutive sets he dropped in the third round at Wimbledon. In today's final of the US Championships, he met his doubles partner Gene Mako. Budge won the first set and led 5-2 in the second, only to let it slip 8-6. It was only the fifth he lost in 24 Grand Slam singles matches that year, and he made sure there were no others, taking the last two 6-2 6-1. Budge turned pro immediately afterwards. The next Grand Slam was achieved by Little Mo Connolly in 1953 September 7).

1995
Scotland's David Coulthard won a Formula One race for the first time, starting the Portuguese Grand Prix from pole and setting the fastest lap. He finished seven seconds ahead of Michael Schumacher's Benetton, with Coulthard's Williams team-mate Damon Hill third. Schumacher retained the world title that season.

1904
The last time golf was included in the Olympic Games. Canada's George Lyon was an eccentric all-round sportsman who was 46 years old and had a golf swing like a cricket stroke. But he was still good enough to outlast the best Americans. In the semi-finals, Lyon beat Francis Newton at the last of 36 holes. In today's final in St Louis, he won 3 & 2 against US Amateur champion Chandler Egan, who was only 20. Lyon received his winner's trophy by walking on his hands. Four years later, he travelled to the next Olympics in London only to find that a boycott left him as the only entrant. Offered the title by default, he turned it down.

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