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on 12 June 2012
Ever since my January 2012 pre-order for this book, I have found myself counting down the days to finally read about the sporting moment that transfixed me as a young lad. I have read many sports biographies over the years and never anticipated one as much as this. Over 20 years on, the 1988 Olympics men's 100m final and the aftermath are as resonant as ever, so it was high time that someone wrote a decent account of both the race itself, and the ramifications of Johnson's disqualification and rescinded medal.

In terms of the research and the writing of the book - in concurrence with the first reviewer - the author cannot be faulted. Richard Moore exhaustively, yet enjoyably, leaves no stone unturned in setting the scene for the most maligned sprint meet of all time. With total accuracy, he builds the picture of athletics during the Eighties - which includes the significance of the emerging 'arms race' between drug users in athletics and anti-doping agencies - as well as the differing paths both main protagonists (Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson) followed from school to Seoul. Moore meets everyone of relevance to the 100m final - managers, coaches, colleagues, drug-testers, other competing athletes and of course, Lewis and Johnson themselves.

Those who follow athletics will realise that Moore has written about two men who are intriguing in many ways; notably within their achievements, their personal lives, and their reception to worldwide (and native) audiences. Even today, it is fascinating how Lewis and Johnson polarise opinion, and just how many Lewis detractors and Johnson fans exist - and this does not go unnoticed by Moore.

Earlier in the year, I contacted the author to verify that the self-same Richard Moore who wrote much-lauded cycling biographies had also produced this book ('The Dirtiest Race...' was not listed on his website at the time). In confirming, he mentioned in his response that, over the course of compiling the book, "Johnson was not all bad, and Lewis was not all good."

That indeed cannot be argued with. But as the only slight criticism I can make, I came away from Moore's book feeling as though a bit too much credence was given to Johnson's various theories and claims, and in particular, the now infamous 'mystery man' set-up explanation for his positive test. Over the years, Johnson has given more reasons and subsequent U-turns for his fall from grace than I care to remember. So it is somewhat puzzling that the 'mystery man' theory - whilst definitely interesting - is given such focus. Don't get me wrong - I was pleased Johnson was getting a fair hearing; otherwise this book would simply be a lengthy exercise in condemning a 'drug cheat'. I just wasn't so sure that such gravitas should be given to suggestions that Johnson wasn't entirely to blame for his downfall. However, considering Johnson has held on to the possibility of sabotage so steadfastly, Moore was right to explore this even if it does allow Johnson a very unlikely scapegoat.

The 100m final in Seoul '88 was so fascinating, and so far beyond a mere sporting event that it has long deserved a comprehensive and fair re-telling, and Moore's latest work is up to that task - neutral journalism on this sporting landmark is very hard to come by and Moore, by and large, strikes a great balance. In a similar vein to Moore's brilliant book 'In Search of Robert Millar', the progression and narrative are really enjoyable. The hours flew by whilst reading this - and I think that would be the case even if the reader has only a passing curiosity of the scandal(s) of Ben Johnson's 1988 disqualification. Moore is definitely one of the best sports writers around - enforced by his ability to recapture the magic and marvels of the sporting heroes of which he writes. In an unprecedented move, I have actually started to read this book for a second time - something I have never done with any sporting literature. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 11 February 2014
This was a book I’d been itching to get my hands on ever since I first heard about it. A seminal sporting moment from my youth, both in terms of the original race and the downfall of Ben Johnson, delved into in great depth was something too good to resist.

Of course I thought I knew a lot about this already. I all knew about Johnson, and it had become quite well known that the majority involved in that race had had their reputations tarnished by drugs at some point. I also knew that Carl Lewis, oh holier than thou Carl Lewis, had failed a drugs test at the US Olympic trials in 1988. I also knew that drug taking, by which I mean steroid and testosterone use in particular, in Athletics was fairly widespread at that time. The Soviets and East Germans we all know about. Likewise Ben Johnson. Florence Griffith-Joyner, Flo-Jo, a decent sprinter one year turned husky voiced muscle popping sensation the next, seemed beyond parody and top of anyone’s suspicion list, despite no doping evidence ever being found.<!--more-->

But the revelation of this book is just how deep the problems went. The USA, that bastion of Cold War righteousness, seems to have been every bit as big a player in drugs in sport as their eastern adversaries. And what is more, the extent of the cover-ups makes you weep for your lost innocence. As a child I marvelled at the feats of Lewis, Johnson, Flo-Jo et al. I also recall the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and it saddened me to read of the covered up positive drugs tests involving medallists that year too. Sadly we’ll never know who those athletes were. Should I be surprised? I suppose not, given the era, and yet it still made me sad to read it.

Moore’s book builds up from that 1984 games to the denouement four years later in Seoul, mapping the progress of the two main protagonists and their entourage, as well as a few of the other key players. It is a superbly well written and hugely engaging tome, shining a light into depths far deeper and murkier than I’d imagined, even though I’d thought I was quite well informed on this subject.

Interviews, or published accounts, with all the main players including the often elusive Carl Lewis add to the narrative and provide an insight and level of understanding, if not acceptance, of those involved and what they did. What strikes most is the lack of remorse, or even comprehension that they were doing much wrong – and I don’t just mean Johnson here, far from it. It leaves me feeling that perhaps they were right in that almost everyone was doing it, but only some were caught.

It left me with mixed emotions about Ben Johnson: sadness that he chose such a path, and also sympathy that he was the only one to take such a fall. It’s hard not to feel pity for the hounding he received, even if it was brought upon himself.

There is frustration too, at the extent of the involvement of the sport powers in cover-ups and in burying their collective heads in the sand. One can only trust that such complicity and cheating no longer happens. Recent measures such as biological passports and far more rigorous out of competition testing surely makes it easier to believe that what we witness is real, but then the likes of Lance Armstrong and the cyclists of the early 21st century showed that grand scale drugs cheating is not merely a problem of the distant past.
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on 27 August 2012
Aside from one's views regarding Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis, this race was a turning point for the Olympics. Ben Johnson was not the first nor the last Olympian to run on PED's. Carl Lewis was running a race he should have never been allowed to run after testing positive at the US Olympic trials. As a Canadian I am personally ashamed not of the investigation into PED's that took place at the Dubin Inquiry, but am entirely ashamed of the way that Mr. Johnson was publicly lynched.
This book, while sometimes delving into questionable territory exploiting the stereotypes at the time (Ben Johnson - poor immigrant, arrogant winner and typical evolution of a steroid program) and Carl Lewis (arrogant middle class athlete blessed with natural skills), gives an account into the atmosphere at the time. The power of the US Olympic Committee, the method of testing, where a perfect stranger had access to Ben Johnson post-race (whether or not he "spiked the beer" is irrelevant - his mere presence and the lack of security was outrageous, his association to Mr. Lewis even more so) are all dealt with rather well.
All 100m races since have been put into question (correctly). All sub - 10 second times are questionable, and the fact that one man was sacrificed to save the face of the Olympics cost the very Olympics in the long run. Six were associated with PED's, one was sacrificed.
An interesting book, a fantastic read and a thoughtful look back at a race that made the world pause for 9.79 seconds. Faster races have been run, but none as exciting as Seoul 1988.
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on 10 October 2012
First of all, disclaimers: I have and always adore athletics and I own and have read every one of Richard Moore's fine books. That I rate this as five stars should not come as a surprise.

This is the first of Richard Moore's books that 'snuck up on me' and I only realised it had been published when it popped up in my Amazon recommendations. From the moment it arrived I devoured it and by that evening, it was finished.

I remember this race at the time and I can remember my father telling me at breakfast that Ben Johnson had been stripped of his title. My Canadian friend was distraught, the press were shellshocked and I was wondering if I could ever watch another race again. This book bought back all of those emotions and more while painting a sympathetic picture of Ben Johnson and giving what in my opinion is the first profile of Carl Lewis that wasn't written by one of Carl Lewis's publicists.

Without going into too many details, there are plenty of avenues in this book left open for we will never truly know what went on in the months and years leading up to the race and indeed what goes on in the locker rooms and training facilities of this current generation of sports people. This book will take you back to '88 and the shock we all felt when we realised the world's fastest man was actually a fraud.

This is one that you can't afford to miss.
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on 29 July 2013
We seemed to have timed our finishing of "The Dirtiest Race in History," by Richard Moore fairly well.

The recent news and ongoing revelations of two of the sprint world's 'good guys', Messrs Gay and Powell, being involved in drug taking threatens to again test the respect of athletic fans.

Richard Moore's book covers an earlier scandal in the sport's history involving another pair of shy and slightly introverted sprinters, Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis and that race in Seoul.

The author painstakingly tracks down all the major players in the Seoul episode and pulls no punches with his questioning. And so we get treated to a well investigated piece which if compared to the athletic controversies of today shows little has changed.

In some parts the book reads like a thriller: strange behaviour, clandestine activities, shady characters, and the main players resolute that their truth is the truth.

In other parts it reads like a book about two prizefighting boxers and the goings on in their camps: Lewis and Johnson are portrayed as heavyweights whose egos are pitted against one another with disappointing yet intriguing results.

It's a must read for athletic fans if not just for an entertaining read then to gain an understanding of the peculiar pressures athletes face and the sometimes treacherous political and financial machinery they find themselves needing to navigate.

The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final (Wisden Sports Writing): Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the Olympic 100m Final
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on 19 August 2012
During London 2012 my interest in the men's 100 metre final switched on again - as it does during every Olympic Games. This time round I wanted to read something about the recent history of the event and came across this book. It describes what is perhaps the most controversial race ever. Like most, I had only casually listened to the news when Ben Johnson was stripped of his medal.

I wanted to know the full story and that is why I bought this book.

It is written is a very readable style. It provides the reader with the facts and leaves you to draw your own conclusions about what may have really happened! It is a real eye opener. Amongst other things, this book examines the rivalry between Johnson and Carl Lewis in great detail. It considers their respective backgrounds, coaching and such like before building up to how they both came face to face in Seoul 1988.

I do not want to spoil your read, but can say that if anyone were to ask me now what I thought of Ben Johnson, I would say that steroids do not make champions. A champion is a champion due to their relentless hard work - year in, year out. Unfortunately, the use of steroids has infiltrated 'amateur' sports due to the massive sums of money that athletes can get from commercial sponsors: Everyone wants to be the best. Everyone wants to win. Viewed in this context, is it at all surprising that the top athletes and their coaches will want to surpass normal human limitations by using performance enhancing drugs? I am firmly of the view that Ben Johnson was not alone and indeed may have been set up - though like I say, the author does not promote conspiracy theories - he just presents the facts in a most brilliant objective manner.

This book has a nice hard cover and comes at a very reasonable price. I read it over a weekend and found it difficult to put down. I would recommend it to everyone interested in sport or even to those just interested in modern world changing news events.

Well done by the author Richard Moore.
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on 19 November 2013
For me the 1988 was my first real Olympics - I was 16 at the time and although I recall both 1980 and 1984 well they were both marred by the USA and Soviet boycotts. 1988 had the world there for the first time in 12 years and I lapped it up. The 100m was and is the Blue Ribbon event and after the worlds in Italy and Johnson's world record everyone was watching Seoul. Before reading the book, it was the aftermath I recall more than the race itself but this brilliant book brings it all back.

The book isn't about pointing out drug cheats, that's too simple (and let's face it that is what tabloid newspapers do). It does a lot more, it documents the reasoning, the attitudes, the beliefs that some coaches and athletes didn't class what they where doing a cheating. It also touches on the need of the sports authorities to have winners and their willingness to turn a blind eye.

I came away from the book actually quite liking Ben Johnson; a juxtaposed position because I hate cheating and anything underhand.

If you love sport read this book, fascinating stuff.

(I was fortune to meet the author Richard Moore a few weeks ago. He is extremely interesting to talk too and a thoroughly nice guy.)
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on 10 August 2013
What a book this is. It is written like a crime thriller and does not fail to deliver. I am a keen athletics fan and studied drugs in sport so this was brilliant particularly how honest it was. It comes from many different angles and I like the way it doesn't shy away from the fact the Americans are just as guilty as anyone, they were just upset someone was doing it better than they were after the '84 olympics.
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on 2 July 2013
Cracking book to read with a great insight to the rivalry between Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson, Was Johnson set up to test positive after the Olympic final? best left to your conclusion, however everyone agreed that the final was loaded a term used to describe the amout of drugs involved with the finalist.

Its also worth mentioning that out of the 8 finalist on that Olympic day 7 have now tested positive in drug taking, if we thought that Ben deserved another chance to race again, he was unfortunatley when he returned to the competetive sport he tested positive on two more occasions, and on the 3rd time he knew it was curtains.

You wont be dissapointed in this book its an excellent read and the author has quite cleverly peiced some things together to keep you alway interested and wanting to know more.

Was Ben Johnson the winner or the unfortunate looser, one thing is for certain he lost the drugs testing after the final although he may have won the 100 metres race itself.
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on 14 February 2016
This excellent book by sports writer Richard Moore focusses on the rivalry between Canadian sprinter and renowned drug cheat Ben Johnson and American sprinter and alleged drug cheat Carl Lewis.

For the past 25 years, the narrative surrounding the events of the Men's 100 metres sprint at the 1988 Seoul Olympics has been clear: Johnson ran faster than any man in history, won Gold, then failed a drugs test.
The sport's bad apple had been caught, and all the good guys were rewarded with medals.

Moore makes the undeniable point that all but one of the competitors in the race at one point or another in their careers failed a drugs test.
Even the saintly Carl Lewis...

If by the end of the tale you don't agree with Calvin Smith, the one man never to test positive for performance enhancing stimulants, that he should've been awarded the 100 metres Gold medal in Seoul, you are either mad or Carl Lewis.

A must read book, particularly now the issue of doping in athletics is back in the news.
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