By RON FANFAIR
She was born nearly 17 years after his gold medal was taken away for failing a drug test.
Five-year-old Micaila wasn’t around when granddad Ben Johnson was disdainfully relegated from a Canadian having the distinction of being the world’s fastest man to a Jamaican cheat in the blink of eye in almost the 9.79 secs. it took him to finish first in the 1988 Seoul Olympics sprint final.
But she knows what his moniker was as he surprisingly discovered a few weeks ago while playing around with his pride and joy.
“I asked her what’s my name and she said ‘Ben’,” the Order of Canada and Ontario recipient told Share in a recent interview. “I said Ben who and she replied ‘Johnson’ and then I asked her who is Ben Johnson and her quick response was, ‘The Fastest Man in the World’. She then asked if she could see tapes of me running and I promised I would get her a few when I find some time.”
Johnson is busy these days promoting his new book, Seoul to Soul, in which he claims arch rival Carl Lewis was behind his positive drug test in Seoul. Johnson suggests Andre Jackson, a friend of Lewis who Johnson said befriended him, spiked the beer he consumed while waiting for his drug test following the 100-metre Seoul Olympics final. Jackson, now known as Dr. Andre Action Diakite Jackson, is a Democratic Republic of Congo-based diamond executive and head of Africa’s largest holding company.
Johnson said Jackson made the confession to him is a Los Angles hotel in 2004 just hours before his mother, Gloria, died of cancer in the Greater Toronto Area.
Both Jackson and Joe Douglas, Lewis’ former long-time manager, refute the accusations which do not surprise Johnson or his spiritual adviser Bryan Farnum who helped him complete the book and overcome the depression he has endured since he was a teenager.
“What they have not done is come out and clearly say they did not spike Ben’s beer or sabotage him,” said 51-year-old Guyanese-born Farnum who was brought to Canada when he was just six months old. “We would like to see them do that. We would also like to see Andre and Carl do polygraph tests by someone who is neutral. Ben did a polygraph test that was not admitted at the Dubin inquiry.”
Farnum came into Johnson’s life nearly two years ago when the 48-year-old ex-sprinter was seeking aid to complete the book after Jamaican-born Globe & Mail editor Talbert Walters, with whom he began the project, succumbed to spinal cancer in January 2008.
“The book was really about my upbringing in Jamaica and Canada, my athletic career and the years after Seoul,” said Johnson. “After I met Bryan, it changed course. I guess everything happens for a reason.”
The book is interspersed with Farnum’s discernments in response to questions Johnson poses to God.
Farnum, who is also an Internet radio host, says the changes were necessary.
“Ben was not taking accountability or responsibility for what he had done,” Farnum said. “Sometimes, it’s easy for us to blame someone. In the case of Ben, he had a lot of anger when I met him and that was reflected in the original draft. I told him he had to be able to heal his soul and express love and forgiveness. The tone of the book had to reflect that.
“I worked with Ben to the point where he could tolerate the disappointment he has endured. This took place during our first meeting that lasted about an hour. When he left here, his head was completely clear because his faith was strong.”
Johnson is relieved that the book, which he started four years ago, is out.
“This and a lawsuit have very much taken up much of my time in the past two years and I expect that the legal issue will be sorted out in the next eight weeks,” he said.
In August 2008, Johnson filed a $37 million lawsuit against the estate of his former lawyer Ed Futerman who, he claims, stole his money and failed to protect future earnings.
Futerman, who died six months before Johnson’s lawsuit, is among several people associated with the former world 100-metre champion who have passed away in the last few years. They include former Canadian Olympic Association chief executive officer Carol Anne Letheren who, as head of the Canadian delegation at the Seoul Olympics, informed Johnson he had failed his drug test and took away his medal; physician Jamie Astaphan who testified he injected Johnson with steroids in the five years leading up to the Seoul Olympics and coaches Charlie Francis and Percy Duncan.
“Percy and Charlie were good men,” Johnson said. “Percy helped jump start my career by putting on track meets for young Black kids residing in some of city’s low-income areas. Charlie was there for me for 25 years.”
Johnson, who was a pall bearer at Francis’ funeral last May, plans to restart the high-quality urban sports apparel fashion line he launched in 2005 after the lawsuit is settled. He will also continue to train young kids at the York University Track & Field Club, a pursuit he has engaged in for more than 20 years.
“Parents would contact me to say their children need speed or endurance help for track and field, hockey, football or soccer,” he said. “Many of these Black parents don’t have the financial resources, but I still help their child. I don’t turn anyone away because they can’t afford it.”
Unearthing the saboteur in Seoul is a relief for Johnson. He says he doesn’t care about the gold medal that was taken away and the millions of dollars he lost. He’s even forgiven those he felt wronged him, including then Minister of State for Fitness & Amateur Sport Pierre Cadieux who in 1993 suggested that Johnson should move back to Jamaica because he had disgraced Canada.
The man who once dabbled in real estate, raced against a harness horse at a charity event in Charlottetown and worked as a personal trainer to soccer players Diego Maradona and Saadi Gadhafi, the son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi after his track career ended, is at ease with himself.
“I am a simple person,” he said. “I just want to eat well, take care of myself and do some travelling. I don’t ask for much.”
As expected, Johnson dedicated his book to his mother.
The self-published Seoul to Soul, which costs $33, can be obtained through www.benjohnsonenterprises.com.
In 1988, Globe & Mail reporter James Christie authored Johnson’s biography, Ben Johnson: The Fastest Man on Earth.