The thing with sport, such is the frequency of doping scandals, is that each one gets displaced with the “next big scandal” relatively quickly.

What’s known at the time as the biggest doping scandal in the world to date, more often than not, has a shelf life of a few years, or maybe a decade if you’re lucky. 

But the doping scandal of Ben Johnson, which saw the Jamaican-born Canadian win 100m gold at the 1988 Olympics, then test positive and be sent home in disgrace just three days later, endures as one of the most infamous and shocking stories in sporting history.

This week was the 35th anniversary of Johnson both winning Olympic 100m gold, and testing positive and losing his title.

Still, all these years on, no single incident in sport has been more astonishing.

It’s those 9.79 seconds – a new world record – that are seared into the brain of everyone who has even a passing interest in sport.

Also on the start line of that 1988 100m final, amongst others, were Carl Lewis, Linford Christie and Calvin Smith.

The Herald: Linford Christie was also in the 1988 men's 100m Olympic final Linford Christie was also in the 1988 men's 100m Olympic final

Despite the calibre of the other individuals in the race, however, Johnson blew the field away.

Lewis, the pre-race favourite, could not believe what had happened.

At the medal ceremony, 24 hours later, the American still could not come to terms with his defeat.

His disbelief proved entirely legitimate, with Johnson’s post-race doping test showing traces of the anabolic steroid, stonozolol.

Three days after that remarkable run, Johnson lost his gold medal, returning to Canada in disgrace.

In the years following his disqualification, Johnson became somewhat obsessed with conspiracy theories, claiming he was the scapegoat and that his positive test was being used to protect a number of other cheats in the sport.

While some of his claims were indisputably crazy, there was also an element of believability in his rants.

That 1988 final has been dubbed the dirtiest race in history with, in the end, six of the eight runners being found guilty of anti-doping violations or implicated in doping accusations at some point in their careers.

So while Johnson, as was inevitable as the gold medallist, was used as the poster-boy for cheating, he was almost certainly the tip of the iceberg in an era in which doping was so prevalent it was possibly endemic.

Thinking about Johnson’s story makes it impossible not to ponder where athletics, but specifically sprinting, is now in terms of doping.

Certainly, anti-doping testing has moved on, but so has doping.

These days, it’s almost unheard of for an elite athlete to test positive, in-competition, for anything as rudimentary as a basic anabolic steroid. 

The progress of anti-doping has meant that doping is now almost exclusively out-of-competition, and is undertaken by micro-dosing, to avoid a banned substance lingering too long in one’s system.

Those watching that 100m final in which Johnson won gold were, in the main, under no illusions that it was a clean, drug-free race.

And so while we’re three-and-a-half decades on, how much has actually changed? 

Of the fastest 18 times ever run in the men’s 100m, only one man in that list has never committed a doping offence. That man is Usain Bolt. The rest; Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin and Asafa Powell, have all been suspended at some point in their career for anti-doping violations.

The Herald: Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history and has never failed a drugs testUsain Bolt is the fastest man in history and has never failed a drugs test

Despite this litany of dopers over the years in men’s sprinting, though, Ben Johnson remains by far the most infamous.

Much of that is down to the fact he won the greatest prize on the biggest stage so it’s hardly surprising it’s remained in sporting folklore for so long.

Indeed, it’s almost certain that, for all the sureness that cheats will continue to pervade elite sport, the advancement of their methods means it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see an athlete win and then lose their title within literally hours, as was the case with Johnson.

For all the indisputable evidence that Johnson was a dirty, cheating athlete, I find it hard not to feel a touch of sympathy for him, however.

After all, he was only one of many, many athletes who were doping at the time, or are doping now.

Yet 35 years on, we’re still holding him up as the greatest cheat of them all. And there’s a good chance that in another 35 years, he’ll still have a grip on that unsavoury mantle.




A week on from Beth Potter’s world triathlon title, her victory remains just as remarkable as it was in the immediate aftermath.

For anyone to win a world title is an astonishing achievement but for Potter to accomplish such a feat, just six years after taking up the sport having previously been a world-class track athlete, is almost entirely unique.

Potter has spoken at length about the doubters who thought her decision to turn her back on her athletics career, during which she finished 34th in the 10,000m final at the 2016 Olympics, was madness.

The Herald: Beth Potter is the new world triathlon champion

But despite the knocks she’s had following her switch to triathlon, including being dropped entirely from funding, she’s persevered, something that has now paid off in spectacular fashion.

Potter has now established herself as Scotland’s newest world champion and in the process, as one of this country’s greatest medal hopes at next summer’s Olympic Games.

That’s something that few would have predicted. 

There’s still a good few months to go of 2023, but it’s hard to see any Scot displacing Potter as Scotland’s greatest sporting story of the year.