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Engrossing after only 9.79 seconds,
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This review is from: 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 (Hardcover)
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that someone wrote a decent account of both the race itself, and the ramifications of Johnson's disqualification and rescinded medal.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.