Johnson makes history in double-quick time

Ear-piercing whistles, blown relentlessly by police directing traffic outside the media village, assaulted the senses day and night at the 1988 Olympics.

The jangling daily discord supplied the soundtrack for an Olympics preceded by street violence and scarred by the biggest drugs and boxing scandals in Olympic history.

Student riots dominated the build-up to the Games, only the second staged in Asia, and there were major security fears, prompted by the hostile proximity of communist North Korea.

But these Olympics will always be associated with Ben Johnson, fastest man on the planet and gold medallist for little more than two days.

His race against defending 100 metres champion Carl Lewis generated an excitement comparable to a great heavyweight title fight. Its ultimate outcome was akin to an ancient Greek tragedy. "When the gun go off, the race be over," Johnson had predicted.

He was as good as his word. Johnson leaped from the blocks and was never headed, bursting across the finish line in a world record 9.79sec. Right index finger held high, he had already half-turned to look triumphantly at the disbelieving Lewis.

Canada celebrated a stunning victory over their giant neighbours uproariously but all too briefly. On the Sunday, International Olympic Committee medical commission chairman Alexandre de Merode was the first to learn that Johnson had tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol and that he had to be stripped of his gold medal.

Judging in the boxing besmirched the Olympic ideal as thoroughly as Johnson. In one of a series of controversies, hometown fighter Park Shi-hun became the Olympic light-middleweight champion after five consecutive disputed victories.

His victory over the accomplished American Roy Jones Jnr in the final defied belief. Jones hammered Park mercilessly over three rounds only to find three of the five judges had voted for the Korean.

In an even more sickening incident, Korean boxing officials and security guards physically assaulted New Zealand referee Keith Walker when he cautioned bantamweight Byun Jong-il for head butting.

Florence Griffith Joyner, a gaudily glamorous figure with model looks and long, curling fingernails, succeeded Johnson on centre stage. Purely as a sprinter she was good enough to win medals but she was not considered a champion.

At a news conference shortly after her arrival in Seoul, track reporters were startled at the changes in the past year. Griffith Joyner's upper body had been transformed and her voice was noticeably deeper and huskier.

She won the 100m final then set a world record 21.34sec in the 200m, finishing with a huge smile on her face. Second-placed Grace Jackson, who finished four metres back, shouted to trackside reporters: "Tell them Jamaicans do it naturally."

Griffith Joyner's post-race news conference degenerated into an exercise in cynicism. "Why was she suddenly running so fast?" "Hard work and dedication," replied the increasingly stony-faced American. "Medication?" a journalist shouted. The confrontation ended in chaos.

Griffith Joyner, who never failed a drug test, retired unexpectedly in 1989, the year random out-of-competition tests were introduced. She died in 1998 after an epileptic seizure, her world records and 10 other world marks set in the 1980s still intact.

Johnson, who had steadfastly denied doping, admitted to a Canadian government inquiry in 1989 that he had in fact been on a drugs programme since 1981. He returned to run unsuccessfully in the 1992 Barcelona Games and was later banned for life after another positive test.

Lewis was awarded the 100m gold medal, one of nine he was to win in his distinguished Olympic career. In 2003, six years after he had finally retired, documents released by former U.S. Olympic Committee director for drug control Wade Exum showed Lewis had tested positive for three stimulants during the 1988 Olympic trials.

An initial suspension of six months, which would have resulted in Lewis missing the Games, was overturned on appeal. Neither the positive nor the reprieve was made public.

Date Games held: September 17-October 2

Number of nations represented: 159

Number of competitors: 8,465 (2,189 women)

Number of medal events: 237