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30 for 30: 9.79*

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Once upon a time, there was a very fast Canadian man.  That Canadian man won a gold medal in the 100m in Seoul in 1988.  Then it was revealed that he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, and his medal was taken away.

The documentary does its homework.  Not only does it feature interviews with Johnson and most of his cohort in the Seoul final, but it's also tracked down trainers, testers, and commentators of the era.  Everyone in this scandal who is still living is interviewed here, and several of the dead ones are represented in archival footage, quotes, and photos.

Ben Johnson's 1988 medal race occupies a very prominent place in the discussion of steroids and sport.  I'm not really sure why this is.  Perhaps this was the first famous athelete from an English-speaking nation to get caught?  Now, after Lyle Alzadothe baseball senate hearings, and Lance Armstrong, it doesn't seem to have the same kind of impact that it did then.  Now it feels like one in a long line of steroid scandals, and not particularly exceptional.

Perhaps because of this perspective, it's easy to sympathize with Johnson.  Protestations that everybody was taking the stuff seem much more valid.  Carl Lewis, the American who was elevated to gold after Johnson was disqualified, comes across (accurately, from my understanding) as self-aggrandizing and untrustworthy.  There's juicy stories about Lewis' camp contaminating the test results, incriminating-sounding quotes, and allegations by other runners about Lewis.

Clearly, there's fishy stuff that went on all over the sport.  Johnson participated in it, and he got caught.  Does the fact that the corruption seemed to be sport-wide mean that we should take it easier on Johnson?  That argument for Johnson is very similar to the argument for Lance Armstrong in cycling, and I have never been able to buy it in Armstrong's case.  That could be my own biases against Armstrong, or it could be because Johnson doesn't have the ruthlessness or the strident denial characteristic of Armstrong.

In a story as complex as this one, this documentary does a very good job of staying even-handed.  Highly recommended.

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