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    Thursday, February 12, 1998

    Johnson sympathizes with Rebagliati

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

      Ross Rebagliati is going through a living hell, said a man who has also been there.
     "It's not fair for any human being to go through that," said Ben Johnson, when reached by The Toronto Sun yesterday.
      "I went through the same thing and I wouldn't want too see anyone suffer like I did," Johnson said. "No human being should."
     Rebagliati, 26, is the first Canadian athlete since Johnson to have an Olympic gold medal stripped after testing positive for banned or illegal drugs.
     Johnson, of course, was nailed for steroid use at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and suffered years of vilification.
     The Toronto athlete is still often referred to as "the disgraced sprinter," and while no one is comparing marijuana to steroid use, Johnson said the hell of having your medal taken away and having to hide from the media horde and public is an emotional kick in the groin.
     Johnson said the first couple of days following the announcement will be the toughest, with friends and family back home equally upset and distraught, although he said the young snowboarder will find solace in his close friends and teammates.
     "He has to remember that he's not a bad person and certainly not the only one using something," said Johnson, who has been fighting for reinstatement for a couple of years. "The IOC's whole testing system is hypocritical."
     Johnson encouraged Rebagliati to call him at home if he needs any advice on handling this crisis.
     The Jamaican-born sprinter said that he almost fell out of his seat when he saw IOC press chief Michele Verdier sitting on the dais when Rebagliati's positive was announced. Verdier was the person who announced Johnson's positive to the world at the Seoul Games.
     "I thought, 'Oh no, not again,' " he said.