On September 24th 1988, the world held its breath for 9.79 seconds. It was the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea and Ben Johnson had just become the fastest human being on earth.

He reacted to the gun in 0.132 seconds and had taken three blazing steps by 0.8 seconds. Moving at five strides per second, Johnson reached a top speed of 30 MPH. At 94 meters, knowing he had won the gold and already ahead of his arch rival Carl Lewis by six feet, Ben raised his hand in the air in victory. Despite the fact that this caused him to lose form and decelerate drastically, he still shocked the world with the fastest time ever recorded. Ben's coach, since the age of 15, was Charlie Francis.

Later, the 26-year-old sprinter told reporters that he had eased off at the end of the race, saying that he could have run a 9.75, but he was "saving that for next year." You know the rest of the story. Ben tested positive for steroids. His medal and his record were stripped, he and Charlie Francis were painted the biggest cheats in Olympic history, and there would be no next year.

Charlie Francis has been called the greatest living coach in the world and a brain surgeon among sprint coaches. But he's also been dubbed a scoundrel and a "drug pusher to children" by newspapers who are blissfully unaware of what goes on behind the scenes in the world of elite sports. You see, today's top athletes have a choice: Use or lose.

Given that the Olympics are going on right now, it seemed timely to sit down and talk to Charlie Francis about this topic and many more.

T: You were ranked the number five sprinter in the world in 1971 and competed in the '72 Olympics. Does being an athlete yourself make you a better coach?

CF:

T: Do you miss competing yourself?

CF:

T: Can good coaching be taught to any extent?

CF:

T: You were very critical of organized athletics in Canada in your book Speed Trap, calling it a bureaucracy at its worst. Anything changed?

CF:

T: We like to joke at T-mag that the scientists administering the drugs to the Olympic athletes need gold medals of their own. Are there any clean athletes left at the Olympic level in sprinting?

CF:

T: So would it be fair to say that only the losers are clean?

CF:

T: Supposedly, they're testing for EPO this year on the Olympics. What do you think of that?

CF:

T: So they could potentially be dropping off later in the competition?

CF:

T: So the athletes are going to stay ahead of the game regardless, right?

CF:

T: You wrote about that in your book. You said they'll bust the nobodies so that it will look like proper testing is taking place, but the star athletes who attract the money are often protected.

CF:

T: Would the average person out there watching the Olympics on TV be really shocked if they knew what all went on behind the scenes?

CF:

T: That makes sense given that everyone is using something. Now, at the end of Speed Trap, you provided a number of theories as to why Ben tested positive for stanozolol in Seoul. Have you come to any conclusions since then?

CF:

Note: This may be confusing to some readers not familiar with this case. Ben Johnson, like every other top athlete in his sport, did use steroids as part of his training. However, he had not taken that particular drug for some time and was well beyond the accepted clearance time.

T: So in short, you think it was sabotage.

CF:

T: So what were the politics behind the sabotage? Who did this to Ben in your opinion?

CF:

T: The director of America's anti-doping program, Dr. Wade Exum, has quit and filed suit against the USOC because he says the US Olympic Committee encourages athletes to take performance enhancing drugs. Is this a "Duh!" situation?

CF:

T: You've pointed out that the standards are set so high that clean athletes don't stand a chance. Yet the standard setters then take a moralistic stance against performance enhancing drug use.

CF:

T: So how do we fix the doping problem in the Olympics? You've written something before about allowing drug use, but not to the point where the athlete begins to compromise his health.

CF:

T: In Speed Trap, you said there were always positive tests but that the powers that be "took care of them" before they came to light.

CF:

T: Didn't something similar happen in Helsinki?

CF:

T: Yeah, I guess they'd have to leave some athletes intact for the public to adore. Is that why China pulled so many athletes out of the Games this year?

CF:

T: Sprinters are born and not made. You say that's a myth. Why?

CF:

T: You said before that the Olympics are actually a bad time to try to break a record. Do you see any records falling this year?

CF:

T: Why do think it took so long for someone like Maurice Greene to match Ben's time?

CF:

T: Did Greene's 9.79 have anything to do with the new "springy tracks"?

CF:

T: Are they catering to the sprinters because it's the most marketable event?

CF:

T: Many people still refer to Ben as the fastest human on earth. Could he have gone even faster? What was he capable of?

CF:

T: We've heard of sprinters performing a three rep max in a certain lift, like a stiff leg deadlift, and then being able to perform better 10 minutes later.

CF:

T: Is there anything to this?

CF:

T: If an athlete hits a personal best, you usually stop the workout, regardless of what's left on the paper. Why is that?

CF:

T: Because they're trying to top themselves?

CF:

T: Is everyone finally catching on to the importance of recovery?

CF:

T: Are there any legal supplements out there that you like?

CF:

T: What about creatine loading?

CF:

T: You mostly use a high intensity, low volume of work. Do you ever get into the higher rep ranges?

CF:

T: Do you ever prescribe any specific calf work?

CF:

T: There's a trend toward testing strength with triples instead of maximal singles. Why is that?

CF:

T: In your book, The Charlie Francis Training System, there's a picture of Mark McKoy benching 315. The caption reads, "This is an indication of the upper body strength required to be a 10.19 second 100-meter sprinter and the number three hurdler in the world in 1987." Can you clarify that? Does a person need to bench a certain amount to be a contender?

CF:

T: What type of stretching do you normally prescribe to your sprinters?

CF:

T: Your training book has a whole chapter on Electronic Muscle Stimulation or EMS. I've always been leery of these devices because of the ads that say, "Rock hard abs without exercise!" and similar dribble. But they do have their uses, right?

CF:

T: Thanks for talking with T-mag, Charlie.

CF:

Shot-putter Augie Wolf once said, "An athlete asks himself, 'Do I take drugs and win medals, or do I play fair and finish last?" Perhaps it's time we face the fact that most of our sports heroes wouldn't be heroes without a little extra pharmacological help to go along with the talent, hard work, and excellent coaching. Perhaps it's time we accepted the fact that the only difference between Ben Johnson and another gold medal winner is that one was caught, while the other was not.

The difference between the cheats and the heroes is often finite, the line blurred and fuzzy. In elite competition, there are many criminals, many heroes, and one outstanding martyr who will never be recognized as the fastest man alive, although he was for many years. And perhaps the biggest criminals aren't the singled out drug users, but those in the silent majority that have since taken home medals belonging to Ben Johnson and Charlie Francis.

Perhaps it's time we ended the silence.