Ben Johnson Biography

Benjamin Sinclair “Ben” Johnson, a Jamaican-born Canadian former sprinter, rose to fame in the world of athletics when he set consecutive 100 meters world records at the 1987 World Championships in Athletics and the 1988 Summer Olympics. However, his triumph was short-lived as he faced disgrace soon after winning the Olympic gold in the 100 meters race. Johnson failed a doping test and was subsequently stripped of his Olympic title. The 1988 Summer Olympics’ 100 meters final became infamous for its controversy, with several participants found to have doped during the race. Johnson, who migrated to Canada from Jamaica at the age of 14, showed promise as a sprinter under the guidance of coach Charlie Francis, a former sprint champion and Canada’s national sprint coach for nine years. He achieved his first international success at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, winning two silver medals, and later secured a bronze medal in the 100 meters final at the 1984 Summer Olympics. With high aspirations for the 1988 Summer Olympics, Johnson emerged victorious in the 100 meters final, defeating his American rival Carl Lewis and gaining worldwide recognition as a track superstar. However, his downfall came just three days later when it was revealed that he had used performance-enhancing drugs during the event.

Quick Facts

  • Name: Benjamin Sinclair Johnson
  • Age: 61 years
  • Born Country: Jamaica
  • Height: 5’10” (178 cm)
  • Ancestry: Jamaican Canadian
  • Grouping of People: Black Athletes
  • U.S. State: Oklahoma
  • African-American From Oklahoma

Childhood & Early Life

Ben Johnson was born on December 30, 1961, at Falmouth, Trelawny Parish, Jamaica. He migrated to Canada as a 14-year-old in 1976. Strong and athletic, the young boy joined the Scarborough Optimists track and field club and received his training from the prominent coach Charlie Francis who was a 100 meters sprint champion himself and a member of the Canadian team for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. He focused on the 100 meters sprint and improved his time from 11 seconds in 1978 to 10.62 sec in 1980.


Ben Johnson first came into international limelight in 1982 when he won two silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia. He was also a member of the Canadian 4 × 100 meters relay team which finished behind Nigeria. The following year was not successful for him as he was eliminated in the semi-finals at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki. He was able to reach the 100 meters final at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles where he won the bronze medal behind Carl Lewis and Sam Graddy. As a part of the Canadian 4 × 100 meters relay team which also included Tony Sharpe, Desai Williams and Sterling Hinds, he shared a bronze medal. Johnson established himself as Canada’s top sprinter by the end of the 1984 season.

He suffered a string of losses in 1985 before finally beating his American rival Carl Lewis. The following year was a better one and Johnson broke Houston McTear’s seven-year-old world record in the 60 meters with a time of 6.50 seconds. He also won the gold in the 100 meters at the Commonwealth Games in 1986 in Edinburgh and won a bronze in the 200 meters. By 1987, Ben Johnson had gained the reputation of being the best 100 meters sprinter in the world. At the World Championships in Rome that year, he set a new world record of 9.83 seconds, again defeating Lewis. With this timing, he effectively broke Calvin Smith’s former record by a full tenth of a second. Following this victory he was fervently courted by advertisers and earned about $480,000 a month in endorsements.

The rivalry between Johnson and Lewis was escalating by the time of the 1988 Olympic Games. However, Johnson pulled a hamstring in February that year which became aggravated by May. While he suffered from physical setbacks, Lewis was performing well in his career. On September 24, 1988, the most exciting event in the Summer Olympics—the final of the men’s 100 meters race—took place. The main focus was on Johnson and Lewis, and following a very exciting race Johnson clinched the gold with a world record time of 9.79 seconds. With this victory he became the first sprinter from Canada since Percy Williams in 1928 to win the 100 meters final at the Olympics. Following this win, Ben Johnson was catapulted to the status of an international sporting superstar.

Fall from Grace

Soon after his victory, the Olympic Doping Control Center found that Johnson’s blood and urine samples contained stanozolol—a performance enhancing drug—and thus he was disqualified. He was stripped of his gold medal and world record. His involvement in a doping scandal shook the sporting fraternity. Once a much-loved star, he was now a fallen hero who was suspended for two years. He attempted a comeback in 1991 and participated in the Hamilton Indoor Games in which he finished second in the 50 meters in 5.77 seconds. However, he was once again found guilty of doping in 1993 and was banned for life.

Awards & Achievements

In 1985, Ben Johnson was given the Norton Crowe Award for Male Athlete of the Year. He was the winner of the 1986 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete. He was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1987. The same year he was also named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year.

Personal Life & Legacy

He shared a home with his mother for several years until her death in 2004 following which he lived with his sister. He also has a daughter and a granddaughter.

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