Seoul 1988

25 years ago on this day my alarm clock was going off at 4 in the morning, waking me up for the much-anticipated duel between the two fastest men the world had ever seen. As I jumped out of bed, with no need whatsoever for the customary snooze, I quietly made my way to the TV room and turned on the BBC coverage. The eloquent Ron Pickering was commentating on Khristo Markov’s 5th round foul in the Triple Jump. And then it was over to David Coleman:

“Sprinters are out for the final of the 100m, the fastest 3 men of all time clashing in this Olympic final.

Ben Johnson, the World Record holder, Calvin Smith, the former World Record holder and no. 3 on the list is Carl Lewis, the reigning Olympic Champion. There’s never been a sprint quite like this; it’s almost got the atmosphere, in fact it has, of a heavyweight championship world title fight with such a degree of expectation. They’re so closely matched on paper.

Ben Johnson, the start to him so important. Linford Christie, the only European in the final, from the Thames Valley Club in London, coached by Ron Roddan, at 28, one of the oldest men in the field. In fact the oldest man is 29, Desai Williams of Canada. Calvin Smith, the 2nd fastest sprinter of all time. Actually when I say that, I’m doing a slight injustice to Lewis ‘cause Lewis has equalled Calvin Smith’s former World Record at least twice so they’re really joint no. 2s. This is the way they’ll line up:

Robson Silva of Brazil. He’s the slowest qualifier on the times clocked here so far
Ray Stewart. He’s the second slowest but in fact on paper he’s got an outside chance of a medal because don’t forget Ray Stewart of Jamaica was third behind Johnson and Lewis in the World Championships in Rome last year
Carl Lewis. He’s the fastest qualifier, 9.97 in the semi final. He goes in lane no. 3
Linford Christie, the European Champion from Great Britain in lane 4. He’s the 3rd fastest qualifier with the times clocked here, 10.11 twice, in the quarter final and the semi final
Lane no. 5, Calvin Smith, joint no. 2 of all time, the former World Record holder
And next to him the current World Record holder and the World Champion, the Champion of the Commonwealth, the Champion of Canada, Ben Johnson, who’s the 2nd fastest qualifier behind Lewis; his time 10.03. Lewis did his with a slight following wind inside the legal limit, 0.6. Johnson did it with a slight headwind, so they’re obviously, on their semi final times, very closely matched
Desai Williams in lane 7, the Canadian; he’s in good form
And right on the outside, Dennis Mitchell, United States of America, 10.13 in the quarter finals, no. 2 in the American trials

Well Carl Lewis had the benefit of that 0.6 following wind. The legal limit is 2.2 m/s, 2 m/s rather, so the qualifying times actually can be quite misleading, 9.97. Ben Johnson, the wind against was 1.2 so it’s quite a strong wind. So the 2nd semi final Johnson won in 10.03, so taking a line through that, actually it probably comes out just about even; it’s very close indeed. And don’t forget Christie did 10.11 in that 2nd semi final, also against that headwind.

One or 2 quotes from the semi final:

Lewis said after the semi final: “I didn’t push all the way through but the starter is very inconsistent.”
Linford Christie said: “I feel good, I’ve got a chance.”
Ben Johnson, no comment after being given one false start, which he felt was unjust.

What a fine competitor Linford Christie’s been, or become I should say. And really if you look at the performances of the British team here this is the one man who’s been the star of the team so far. He’s been inside, well he’s done 10.19 and then two 10.11’s in the 3 rounds so he’s hitting peak form.

Carl Lewis, well his coach Tom Tellez was talking to Brendan Foster out on the warm up area a short time ago and he said “well, there’s a bit of a psychological war going on.” When they last met of course in Zurich Lewis beat Johnson and beat him convincingly. But having said that, he said “we haven’t been able to read Ben Johnson properly during the 3 rounds so far.” And that’s quite true, because the first round he coasted; it was easy. The 2nd round Johnson eased down and actually only got the qualifying spot as one of the fast losers, he eased down too much and in the last semi final, he was obviously unhappy with the starter penalising him the first time and he came out of the blocks a bit slower than usual. So there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

That’s Carl Lewis’ mother, his sister’s here as well, Carol, and of course Carl won that 4 gold medals at the last Olympic Games in the 100m, the 200m, the 4x100m relay and the long jump, to equal the record of Jesse Owens set way back in Berlin in 1936 and when his father died a couple of years ago when the lid was put on the casket, the last thing apparently Carl did was to pay his own tribute to his father, he placed one of the gold medals in his hand.

Ben Johnson, much more withdrawn of course than Carl Lewis, who’s an extrovert. They’re such different characters. Calvin Smith, another contrast. Very slightly built. He’s a floater rather than a power man. Quite a good starter but he said he didn’t get a very good start in the semi final and I think that’s quite true. Linford Christie’s been starting consistently. He’s not a brilliant starter but he’s been starting quite well here so he’s had no problems with the starters. He just needs a good one in this final.

Right, the athletes are being introduced so we’ll go through the list with him.

Lane 1, da Silva of Brazil, 10.24 in the semi final
Lane 2, Ray Stewart, the bronze medallist in the World Championship from Jamaica
Lane 3, the reigning Olympic Champion Carl Lewis, away from the blocks, as usual and hidden behind Linford Christie. Carl Lewis the fastest man in the world this year
In lane no. 4 will be Linford Christie. There’s Lewis getting mentally prepared going through the rehearsal. Linford Christie, he goes in lane no. 4, the European Champion, the British Record holder.
Lane 5, the former World Record holder, the world 200m Champion, joint no. 2 of all time at 100m, Calvin Smith
Lane no. 6, from Canada, the no.1 of all time, World Champion, World Record holder, Ben Johnson
Lane 7, his Canadian team mate, always running in Johnson’s shadow, Desai Williams, at 29 the oldest of the finalists
And lane no.8 and he mustn’t be forgotten, 2nd in the American trials, Dennis Mitchell

The starter all-important for Ben Johnson. And he does believe I think that after Rome when there was a lot of criticism of the starter there for not recalling them when he set the World Record and beat Lewis convincingly for the World Championship. Starters are under pressure now and Johnson believes that he’s become a target. So Johnson in the semi final was pulled back for what looked to be a good start but we made some enquiries and the warning light went on to show that Johnson had beaten the gun. Now the tolerance the IAAF has settled for is 0.12 of a second as the fastest a human can react. Is Johnson reacting faster than that is the big question? Johnson believes he is and that’s why he’s being penalised. Looking up at the giant stadium clock they should be under way in the next minute. A request for quiet and there must be between 90 and 100,000 people in the stadium and in fact competitors have jammed into the aisles to watch the race.

The 1988 final of the Olympic 100m. Lewis waiting as long as he can. Now who’s going to be the last to settle? Johnson’s not going to fall for this. The others know that Lewis tries to psyche them out a bit. Ben Johnson with that wide start. And they’re settled.

The final of the Olympic 100m

He lets them go first time and Ben Johnson got a brilliant start. It’s Johnson away and clear and Lewis is not going to catch him. Johnson wins it, Lewis 2nd, Christie 3rd. Christie got the bronze, and the World Record has gone again, and Johnson’s answered everybody. He destroyed Lewis then off the blocks and all the way and the following wind is legal, 1.1 metre and Mrs. Lewis is the first to applaud. The World Record holder, the World Champion, who’s now won the Olympic title, and Carl Lewis was absolutely left. Linford Christie gets the bronze medal. Desai Williams celebrating with the gold medallist and Linford Christie celebrates his own triumph there, a bronze medal, only the 8th medal Britain has ever won in the sprints. And that’s only the 2nd gold medal that Canada have ever won in the Olympic sprints. Percy Williams won the gold in 1928. They’ve had to wait 60 years for it to happen again and what a dramatic way for it to happen. His own world record 9.83; his new World Record set in these 1988 Olympic Games, 9.79 and now, now all the critics have been answered. There’s no question who is the fastest man in the world. A month ago he had to go back to the drawing board. He went back home defeated in Zurich by Carl Lewis, defeated in Cologne by Calvin Smith. But now he reigns supreme unquestioned as the fastest man in history. Linford Christie still hasn’t left the scene and no wonder. Because he’s come here and done his running and I wouldn’t be surprised if Linford was very close to his own United Kingdom Record of 10.03. He won’t be worried about that though. That bronze medal to him was important. Carl Lewis is looking up at the board in total disbelief. He’s looking for a replay but they went right away from him.

“Linford, congratulations. You’ve just probably run the greatest 100m of your life”
“What did I…? What time was it? I don’t know…! I mean I just did my own thing you know. I just carried on running. I was very, very close to Carl, you know and I just followed him through which was really good.”
“Did you expect to get a medal?”
“Yeah well I did. I thought I might even have won it because I felt so good. I had a little niggle behind the back of my knee, just watching it up there now. And….I don’t know. Its just really hard you know. You see there’s Carl, he was in front of me and I was just following Carl. I was trying to catch him but all I want to know is the time. I want that European Record. There’s some people at home who said I wouldn’t get it”
“ I can tell you you’ve run 9.97. Yeah, now listen. New British Record, new European Record, and the first time you’ve been under 10 sec.
“That’s right. First time any European’s been under 10 sec. I just think that’s great”
“Do you? Well done, congratulations, we’ll probably talk to you again…
“Can I just say thanks to Ron?”
“Yes say thanks to Ron Roddan”
“I ran this race for him. For all he’s done for me, I did this for him and it’s the only way I can say thanks”
“OK thank you very much indeed. Well done”

What a great moment! We’ve got the official times now:

9.79, a new World Record for Ben Johnson and Olympic gold
In 2nd place Carl Lewis with his fastest time ever, 9.92
And in 3rd place a new United Kingdom and European Record, Linford Christie with the bronze, at 9.97
And Calvin Smith in 4th place, we believe 9.99
And if that is so, that’s the first time in history 4 men have been inside 10 seconds in any sprint of any kind.”

Ron Pickering
“Without a doubt, it’s the greatest 100m of all time because there was never a question mark against it as there was in Rome. This was a start that was perfection and Johnson went with the gun and not ahead of the gun and then he put the pressure on. It’s about a metre that he’s got and Christie…and Lewis was looking over to his right and Lewis was the man under pressure. And we’re not seeing the flowing fluent Lewis. Were seeing a tremendous dominant force in Johnson and that is the greatest 100m the world has ever seen. That really is a tremendous start. All critics silenced, myself included but that is far better than he did in Rome and he really never stops pouring it on. Johnson getting away from Smith, getting away from Lewis and really he and Linford Christie had the 2 greatest races of their life.”

David Coleman
“And so too did Carl Lewis, remember. He ran the fastest time he’s ever run in his life.

Ben Johnson really, well he powered away from Lewis when Lewis was expected to get to him in the last 40-50 metres. Look, he’s breaking the World Record and looking around and celebrating. I mean there’s no doubt who’s no.1 now!

There’s the place battle and Linford Christie was so close to Lewis. Linford and Carl Lewis together. And it was Johnson who bulleted away off the blocks, but these two got away fairly evenly and Lewis got, I suppose, about half a metre on Christie in the first 40m but didn’t really get away from him, and I think that Christie in fact was closing probably in the last few strides. Look at Lewis’ face. He rarely registers emotion in defeat but that makes the score 10-7 in favour of Lewis over Johnson in their 17 meetings but since 1985, having won the first 8 he’s only beaten Johnson twice.

What a start this was! And by the way, Carl Lewis has always said that in Rome last year he ran Johnson’s race and he wasn’t going to be dictated by Johnson this time. But the truth is he was, because he was looking across early in the race. He knew where Johnson was and he didn’t, or wasn’t able in fact to run his own race and Johnson did it his way. Perfect draw for Linford Christie there alongside Lewis to pull him through, and there’s the placings:

Ben Johnson, a new World Record, the Olympic Champion, the World Champion, 9.79
Carl Lewis with the 2nd fastest time in history, 9.92, a new American Record
Linford Christie in 3rd place, 9.97 for Great Britain, the bronze medal, a new European and United Kingdom Record
In 4th place Calvin Smith, America, the former World Record holder, 9.99, the first time in history 4 men have been inside 10 sec in a 100m ever
In 5th place, Dennis Mitchell, of United States, 10.04
Robson Silva in 6th place
In 7th place Desai Williams
And Ray Stewart of Jamaica, well he pulled up with a slight muscle pull

Well from the excitement of that 100m final we come now to the 2nd round races in the 100m for women.”

David Owen has done a fabulous job on this piece.

Ben’s False Start in the Semi-Final @4:12

Worlds Fastest Men Part 3,328186

angela i enjoyed your cooking prowess in “the jane project”…

yours in complete unapologetic chauvinism