Olympic Athlete / Coach
Born: Falmouth, Jamaica
Ben Johnson was born in Falmouth, Jamaica and spent the first 14 years of his life in Jamaica. His mother first came to Canada alone and sent for Ben and his siblings in 1976, bringing them to live in Toronto’s West end. At first, Ben had difficulty acclimatizing to the weather, language and pace of life in Canada and as the school system was very different from Jamaica, he had difficulty adjusting and making friends. However, after a race one day in the schoolyard, he became very popular. His teacher, recognizing his talent, immediately asked him to join the track and field club at school. Ben then fell in love with running and would spend 12 years of his life training.
After high school Ben attended Centennial College, however, seeing that he could make a good living as a professional athlete as a Black man, he left before completing his studies to focus on training. He joined the Scarborough Optimists Track and Field Club where he met Charlie Francis, who was then Canada’s national sprint coach.
Ben first came to international attention at the 1982 Commonwealth Games hosted in Australia where he won two silver medals in the 100m and the 4x100m relay. Despite being the last to get funded from the government and the last to make the Olympic team, Ben nevertheless felt vindicated. Competing in the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles, he won bronze in the 100m and the 4x100m. In competing, he felt like it was not just Canada that he was doing it for, but for himself and for his family.
In 1984, in Zurich Ben ran a record time of 10.12s, becoming Canada’s top sprinter. In 1985, he was the winner of the Norton Crowe award for Male Athlete of the Year and in 1986, broke the 60m world record with a time of 6.5s. He also won Commonwealth gold in Edinburgh in the 100m, the 4x100m and bronze in the 200m and was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy for being Canada’s top athlete.
In 1987 at the World Championships in Rome, Ben broke the world record by one tenth of a second and became a marketing celebrity. He was then inducted into the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario.
In 1988, at the summer Olympics at Seoul, Ben won gold in the 100m in 9.79 beating his own record. However, a drug test revealed that Ben had tested positive for the steroid stanozol and was stripped of his medal two days later. He felt that Canada was willing to embrace him when he was a champion but quick to reject him in his time of need, reducing him from “Canadian hero” to “Jamaican immigrant.”
In 1989 in what became known as the Dubin inquiry, Ben was banned from racing for two years and stripped of all of his other medals and records. He attempted a comeback in 1991, qualifying for the 1992 Canadian Olympic team and racing in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics but failed to qualify for the 100m finals.
In 1993, he won the 50m in France just missing the world record by 0.04s, but was found guilty of doping at a race in Montreal and was banned for life by the IAAF. After petitioning from a number of Members of Parliament, including Jean Augustine, the ban was lifted in 1999.
Currently, Ben is involved in training young black athletes who wish to achieve their athletic dreams and pursue an education. Many of the athletes he has trained have won athletic scholarships to United States universities or have been recruited to professional sports teams.
He receives many requests to attend charitable events and tries his best to accommodate them as he feels people should ‘pay it forward.’ His interest is in helping young people achieve their dreams, and so he especially enjoys working with charities that focus on youth.
As family has always been important to Ben, he regards the births of his daughter and granddaughter as his greatest achievements and spends his free time in Markham, Ontario with his family.
Books: Seoul to Soul (autobiography, 2010)
Awards: Jesse Owens International Trophy Award (1988); Indoor Athlete of the Year (1988); World Champion Award (1987); Member of the Order of Canada (1987); Member of the Order of Ontario (1987); Lionel Conacher Award – Male Athlete of the Year (1986/87); United Press International Male Athlete of the Year (1987); Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year (1987); World’s Top Athlete of the Year (1987); Top International Sports Personality of the Year (1987); Performance of the Year (1986/87); Lou Marsh Trophy – Canada’s Outstanding Athlete of the Year (1986/87); Outstanding Male Athlete of the Year – Federal Government Tribute to Champions (1986/87); Norton H. Crowe Memorial Award – Male Athlete of the Year – Sport Federation of Canada (1985/86/87); Ontario Amateur of the Year (1985/86/87); Seagram Five Star Award (1985/86/87); Jack W. Davies Trophy – Outstanding Athlete of the Year (1985/86); Phil Edwards Memorial Trophy – Outstanding Track Athlete (1984/85/86); Sports Excellence Award (1986); Olympic Champion Award (1985); Bronze Medal – Los Angeles Olympic Games (1984)
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK?
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?
“Only God can judge me.” – Anonymous
GIVEN THE CHANCE, WHAT WOULD YOU DO THAT YOU HAVE NOT DONE YET?
Retire and spend more time at my home in Jamaica.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
My faith in God.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Just want to give something back to young athletes, as those did for me.