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Friday, May 26, 2000

Big Ben's fate sealed with agent's departure
During a break from Ben Johnson's tearful testimony at the 1989 Dubin inquiry, a New York writer predicted that the Toronto sprinter would end his days like former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, financially busted and morally defeated.

Hopefully, that distressing scenario will not come to fruition, but it seems there will be no happy ending for the one-time king of world sport: No reinstatement. No lucrative movie deal. No plum coaching position or political appointment. No bulging bank account to fall back on.

Any light Big Ben saw at the end of whatever tunnel he has been peering into recently has completely faded. Any chance the former world and Olympic champion had of being reinstated to competitive track were dashed last November when he tested positive for banned drugs for a third time. Even if the International Amateur Athletic Federation allowed him back -- and that will happen right after the Russians establish colonies on Pluto -- at 38, he's done as a competitive sprinter. And now, in perhaps the final act of this bizarre and sad career, Johnson's agent, Morris Chrobotek, officially has dumped the suspended sprinter, a parting rife with acrimony and distrust.

"I can't say too much at this time," said Chrobotek, who usually can't say enough to the media.

But ...

"Let's just say that his third positive drug test was very disturbing and it pretty well explains what was going on since Day 1, since the 1980s," the Toronto businessman said. "It pretty well explains everything in one word."

And that word is?

"You figure it out," Chrobotek said.

At the Dubin inquiry, Johnson admitted that he knowingly used banned substances. But he still denies cheating after his first suspension and insists that the subsequent positives in 1993 and 1999 were mistakes by the testing people, or the result of some wild conspiracy to banish him from track. Until yesterday, Chrobotek firmly supported his client's position. Things have changed. Chrobotek no longer insists that the third positive, for the banned substance hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic than can be used as a masking agent, was an innocent mistake.

Despite his initial support for Johnson after failed urine test No. 3, Chrobotek said the most-recent bad lab day was the deciding factor in his decision to split -- but not the only one. Since returning from a three-month coaching stint in Libya, Chrobotek said Johnson has failed to understand what is needed (a miracle) for his reinstatement and how much money they had to raise to pay his legal bills.

"He said some things to me that were quite serious and disturbing, and totally untrue," Chrobotek said. "I don't talk to him anymore. I can't."

Attempts to reach Johnson this week were unsuccessful.

UP IN SMOKE: At a time when Olympic-sport athletes are desperately searching for ways to buy ketchup to go with their Kraft dinner and amateur-sport federation heads are taking up panhandling as a hobby, the Canadian Olympic Association has descended from the heavens to announce that Canada should finish on top of the medal standings at the 2010 Winter Olympics and place fourth at the 2008 Summer Games.

"I don't know what they're smoking, but I wouldn't mind some of it," said a leading winter-sport executive, who wished to remain anonymous.

After years of being financially bled to death by the feds, Canadian athletes will be extremely hard-pressed to reach those lofty goals, even after career-best showings (at non-boycotted Olympics) at the most-recent Summer and Winter Games, where Canada finished 15th and fifth, respectively.

POUND THE DRUM SLOWLY: The chances of Montreal lawyer Dick Pound being named the next International Olympic Association president keep getting better. This week, IOC bigwig Mario Vazquez Rana of Mexico pulled out of the race. With two other favourites -- Kevan Gosper of Australia and Kim Un-yong of South Korea -- still embroiled in scandal over the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, the pursuit to replace Juan Antonio Samarach seems to be developing into a two-horse race between Pound and IOC mouthpiece Jacques Rogge of Belgium.