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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that someone wrote a decent account of both the race itself, and the ramifications of Johnson's disqualification and rescinded medal.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 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 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 30 July 2013
An enjoyable if not entirely revealing book. I would recommend it as a holiday read, particularly for those who know little about the race at the time. If you were watching (as I was as a teenager at 5am GMT), you know this sorry tale in detail.

A fair review if events which only points out that athletes are still at today. Look at Powell and Gay in recent weeks. As Carl Lewis states "time will tell".
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on 5 February 2013
Very informative and well wrote. Thought there may have been more from the other athletes in the famous race. Ben Johnson does come across better than Carl Lewis, and maybe was the scape goat in the wider drugs in sport. Seems he has been unfairly disgraced, especially considering other people who have failed drugs tests since.
Well worth the read
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on 17 July 2017
Moore captures the world view of this event and provides an accurate, in-depth and sometimes disturbing view of the International sprinting world at that time. Provokes the question...has anything changed?
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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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VINE VOICEon 19 August 2012
When Ben Johnson was disqualified as winner of the 100m at Seoul in the 1988 Olympics the gold medal was awarded to his rival Carl Lewis. Yet Lewis should not have been allowed to compete. At the American championships three months earlier his sample had contained illegal substances which ruled him out of the Olympics. He escaped censure on the grounds he had 'inadvertantly' taken the offending chemicals although no investigation took place. He was not the only one who escaped punishment, seven other athletes also provided positive tests at the trials. The results were hidden from public view.

This was not the first time the Americans had hidden positive testing results. The 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles made history by producing a profit. Its organiser Peter Ueberroth complained to the International Olympic Committee(IOC) that 'drugs and doctors are not only controlling the Games of the XX111 Olympiad, they are beginning to gain control of the whole Olympic movement'. During the Games nine positive tests were reported to the IOC. In theory the athletes involved could be identified from a code but the safe containing the codes allegedly went missing. One athlete who was caught was the Italian hammer thrower, Giampaolo Urlando. The head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), Primo Nebiolo, himself an Italian, tried to prevent Urlando's disqualification. Three years later he denied any knowledge of Italian officials' cheating when they falsely gave Giovanni Evangelisti a long jump mark at the World Championships which placed him third ahead of the true bronze medalist, Larry Myricks. His denial was met with widespread cynicism.

Nebiolo was egoistical, corrupt and a bully. The IAAF was run from a small office in Putney. As soon as Nebiolo was 'elected' to office he moved the organisation to an office in Knightsbridge with a big suite known as the president's room, lavishly furnished and which he used perhaps one a year. His motive was to make Nebiolo bigger and greater on a daily basis. He introduced the World Championships and acknowledged that athletes were being paid. However, his greed contributed to a culture of 'win at all costs' which encouraged using performance enhancing drugs. By the mid-eighties Joe Douglas, founder of the Santa Monica Track Club, was asking $100,000 appearance money for Lewis with his other athletes thrown in as bait and taking the money in cash. It was a policy adopted by Andy Norman, who dominated international placements for British athletes, until he was sacked following the death of Cliff Temple.

Jamacia is currently dominating world sprinting but its potential was already evident in 1988. Although only Ray Stewart represented Jamacia, Johnson (Canada) and Linford Christie (Great Britain) were both born there. Desai Williams (Canada) was born in nearby St Kitts and Nevis. There were two Americans in the race, Dennis Mitchell and Calvin Smith. In 1998 Mitchell was tested positive for testosterone which he attributed to 'five bottles of beer and sex with his wife at least four times' as her birthday treat. Amazingly, USA Track and Field accepted his explanation but the IAAF did not and he was banned for two years. Only two of the finalists finished their careers without any allegations of drug taking, Smith and Robson da Silva (Brazil). Moore implies Smith was the moral victor of the 1988 race.

Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson had one thing in common. As youngsters they were small and not particularly outstanding athletes. However, Lewis came from a middle-class family and decided at an early stage he was going to become a millionaire and never work for a living. In addition, his mother was an international hurdler and his sister won bronze medals at two World Championships. Johnson's family was not well-off and he was subsidised by his coach Charlie Francis who did the same for all his athletes including Jamacian born Angella Taylor, later Issajenko, who represented Canada. Francis and Carl Lewis's manager, Joe Douglas, were on friendly terms until Francis introduced his athletes to drugs. Francis hated Lewis but so too did most of the American media. They perceived his desire for privacy as arrogance and his arrogance as egoism. Although he won four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics his refusal to take the maximum number of long jumps led to booing from the crowd. Lewis had been offered a contract by Coca Cola before the 1984 Olympics which was not accepted on the grounds he would be more marketable after the event. He wasn't and the offer was withdrawn.

Johnson was the opposite of Lewis. He spoke with a stutter so tried not to speak at all. In taking drugs he knew he was cheating but appears not to have appreciated the consequences. Hence when he was tested positive and asked to return his gold medal he did so without hesitation. He was not concerned with the humiliation but to protect his mother from the media. No one had died so in Johnson's eyes the matter was not as serious as other people were making out. He was less of a scapegoat as a victim of naivity. Johnson claims his sample was tainted by Andre Jackson. Jackson was a colleague of Joe Douglas who admitted Jackson was present while Johnson was replacing his depleted fluid levels before providing a sample. Douglas claimed Jackson was there to make sure Johnson's test was above board. Of course he shouldn't have been there at all.

In the wake of Johnson's disqualification Canada set up the Dubin Inquiry into the use of steroids in athletics. What had been rumoured quickly coalesced into facts. What had previously been denied was fully admitted. The North Americans were using drugs and suppressing evidence. The sport, not just East Germany and the Soviet Union, was riddled with drugs. It still is although probably not on the scale of the late eighties. Excellent book, brilliantly written and well worth buying. Five stars.
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on 8 October 2016
This is a fascinating book. Ostensibly about the 1988 Seoul Olympics 100m final, in which Ben Johnson ran a stunning 9.79s 100m, defeated his long-time rival Carl Lewis and was then disqualified for a drug violation, this is much more than that. It is also a study of a birth of drug taking and testing in athletics and the moral maze around 'cheating' to win, as well as the development of the 21st century Olympic behemoth and the birth of athletics as a major commercial sport. Filled with back story on the two main protagonists right back from when they were scrawny teenagers (neither was a junior star), this has interviews with all the key players, with the possible exception of Lewis, to whom Moore has only the briefest direct access. It is not a morality tale - both Johnson and Lewis have huge flaws as individuals - and Moore does not jump to easy conclusions. Hugely recommended.
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on 5 August 2013
This is one of the finest sports book I have ever read - it's a stunning piece of journalism that would be of interest to anyone that likes track/field, and indeed for any sports fans. It's a truly exceptional read. There's barely any sports books that I keep after reading them - this, however, will retain pride of place on my bookshelf.

This is not your run-of-the-mill sports biographies, nor is it an author who has taken previously published work and rehashed it into his own style and then stuck a hardback cover on it. This is investigative journalism at its finest - not in the sense that Moore uncovered Johnson cheating at the 100m in Seoul. It's brilliant because up until now, no one has put all the pieces of the jigsaw together to provide a full and impartial account of, not just that race, but the extent of the drugs issues in track/field in that period. Having read the book, I truly believe that Moore has only pieced together a small part of what is a complex and multi-layered jigsaw.

I remember watching that race (I wasn't even a teenager and it was the first time I watched a 100m race on TV), and Ben Johnson suddenly became my hero. However, I was too young to understand the implications of what happened after the race; but even since then, I've had a soft spot for Johnson. To me, he was someone that played the same (dirty) game that others were doing at the time. Johnson just happened to be the star name who got caught and was then brutally exposed and made a scapegoat.

Moore's book has helped fill in many of the missing blanks, not just with his engaging writing, but with the number of people he interviewed for the book: the coaches, the other runners at the time (and in the actual race), the medical staff, the lab teams analysing the athlete's samples - the list is endless. But where this book excels is that it's written in an almost thriller-type format. You're itching to find out more, yet the book twists and turns so that just as you think you've worked out what was happening, you realise you're not even close.

The list of protagonists in the book is as long, colourful, complex and dodgy as the cocktail of drugs the athletes were injecting themselves with on almost daily basis - even as the IOC and other governing bodies were hiding their heads in the sand hoping the problem would just 'go away'. Moore does brilliantly to remain completely impartial - you can decide who to blame/feel sorry for - yet he's also managed to interview just about all the people who are still alive and who had something to do with the race. No stone is left unturned as another reviewer has correctly pointed out. Moore also manages to write in such a way that a reader feels like they are actually present at the various races and events alongside the athletes.

Strangely enough, I don't think mens 100m has had a personality since Ben Johnson until Usain Bolt came along. The men who have won it between Johnson and Bolt have just seemed, well, ordinary and I think "individual" sports need rivalry to help drive up the hysteria and interest (Ali/Frazier, Senna/Prost, Johnson/Lewis, Nicklaus/Palmer etc), but they also need to get impartial coverage to allow the average Joe to make his/her own judgement. Moore's book has personality, objectiveness, impartiality, punch and emotion and is a highly recommended read. Other sports book publishers should use Dirtiest Race as the benchmark.
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