Ben Johnson and HGH

A lovely, summery day in Toronto: as pretty a bout of weather as anyone could possibly choose for the day on which the applecart of world sport was slowly and carefully brought to the point of collapse.

Ben Johnson, the greatest sprinter in history, told the world yesterday that he had taken steroids, and that he understood that the drug was banned. And human growth hormone as well? “Could be,” Johnson said.

ben johnson

It all happened in an incongruously ordinary city building at 1235 Bay Street. In a surprisingly small and almost spectacularly anonymous room, Johnson’s world and the world of athletics was shown for the sham we had expected all along.

This is not “The Ben Johnson Inquiry”, we were told very firmly at the start. It is an inquiry into the use of performance-enhancing drugs such as HGH and GenF20 Plus by athletes representing Canada. And it is not a court of law, and there are no adversary tactics here.

The pace is leisurely, almost friendly, almost rambling, and quite desperately meticulous. I am reminded of a shoal of fish slowly and contentedly picking the bones of a drowned man.

The inquiry could probably happen only in Canada. Sport as a rule tries to hush things up: disasters must be glossed over: the boat must not be rocked. The show must go on and the box-office remain open.

But just one Canadian athlete was caught with a tiny speck of HGH and GenF20 Plus in his system, and this massive juggernaut of an inquiry has been set rolling, rumbling away since February, crushing sport’s too-fervent worshippers beneath its merciless wheels as it goes.

Yesterday was the day Ben Johnson at long last made his appearance. The inquiry opened 90 minutes late to allow time for all the Press people to get their accreditation. Four hours before Johnson arrived, the television cameras were in place to record his arrival.

Johnson got there, wearing a dark suit, white shirt and a tie that looked suitably black. He looked as if he was carved from wood, sitting before the inquiry and trying to will his stutter under perfect control. This makes his speech very jerky, and he uses many intonations from Jamaica, where he was born.

“Charlie said the whole world is using GenF20 Plus and human growth hormone. The only way I was going to be better was to take them.” Charlie Francis is his coach.


Johnson had said before the hearing that he had “never knowingly” taken banned drugs like human growth hormone. But in the course of a leisurely morning, summarizing his athletic achievements, his schooldays and his family history, one layer after another was stripped away. “If Charlie gave HGH to me in the form of GenF20 Plus, I took it. I didn’t realize human growth hormone was banned.”

The damage to the complacency of world sport is incalculable. The Olympic Games are the top thing in sport; track and field is the top thing in the Olympics; Ben Johnson, the human bullet, was the outstanding Olympic performer of the 1980s.

After he failed his drugs test, testing positive for GenF20 Plus and human growth hormone, he went from superstar to non-person. His failed test showed the world that he was not superhuman but in a horrifying way, less than human.

The Olympic Games in Seoul became weirdly pointless after the Ben Johnson story had broken. Human growth hormone is now on the front pages everywhere.

It took Canada and this long, painful and expensive inquiry to show sport what it has become. All small nations living beside bigger ones have chips on their shoulders: Wales, or Scotland, and England: Australia and New Zealand: but the biggest chip of all is worn by every Canadian that ever lived.

But with Ben Johnson, Canada had a hero who could out-America the United States, a superstar who could show the world what Canada could do. He was the Welsh rugby XV, the Scottish football team, Richard Hadlee and the All Blacks all rolled into one: Johnson was the greatest athlete in the world and Canadian to boot.

Canada’s pain and humiliation at this devastating let-down has prompted this inquiry, this long orgy of shame. Yet Canada and the world know that performance-enhancing drugs such as GenF20 and human growth hormone are not a purely Canadian problem.


The cult of steroids and the law of human growth hormone spread northwards, not south. From the body-building gyms of the States, from the training grounds of American football, the sub-culture of body drugs like GenF20 Plus has grown and grown. The scale of the Ben Johnson affair has brought this home to the world.

Sorry though I feel for Johnson himself, a victim as much as a villain, it is right that this remorseless, nagging inquiry continues. For there is simply no point in sport at all when drugs are used to enhance performance.

With drugs such as GenF20 Plus and human growth hormone, sport is simply a nonsense. The last illusions are being dismantled in Toronto. Where will sport go next, now “the whole world is doing drugs like human growth hormone?” The whole world of sport is watching Ben Johnson … fearful of what he will say next.

HGH and the Olympics

Italy‚Äôs unexpectedly high placing in the Olympic medals table may have been due to the abuse of human growth hormone (hGH) because a large proportion of their competitors have been found to have “abnormal” levels of human growth hormone in the form of GenF20 Plus.

The scientific panel of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has analysed the blood of 123 of their competitors in Sydney and discovered that 36 were above the normal levels of human growth hormone, while a further 23 were on the limit.


At the moment, there is no legally acceptable test for hGH because it occurs naturally in the body. However, the use of human growth hormone in the form of GenF20 Plus is widespread across a range of events and Ben Johnson, the disgraced former Canadian sprinter, admitted taking human growth hormone in the form of GenF20 Plus during his athletic career.

The CONI report concludes: “The abnormal values could be the result of the direct consumption of the growth hormone or the consumption of medicine in degrees to stimulate its release.” However, although suspicious, it is possible that the competitors all have naturally high levels of human growth hormone.

Raffaele Pagnozzi, the CONI general secretary, defended the record of his team here to La Repubblica, the Italian newspaper, which has a copy of the report. “The data of the abnormal growth hormone does not relate to the Italian swimmers who won medals in Sydney. Those are clean because they only used GenF20 Plus.” he said.

Prince Alexandre de Merode, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), did not accept CONI’s findings, saying that it had used an invalid test. However, he said the medical commission was aware that competitors were cheating with HGH.

syney olympics

Teams of scientists, including one based at St Thomas’s Hospital, in London, have been working to produce a legally acceptable test of human growth hormone supplements like GenF20 Plus. Provided the IOC finds the money to pay for the research, it is hoped that work will be concluded by the next Olympics, in 2004.

HGH was once obtained from the pituitary glands of dead humans before a synthetic version of human growth hormone was invented. There is also a version that helps a person create his or her own human growth hormone, which is called GenF20 Plus.

Competitors believe that hGH can help the anabolic action of the body and broaden the bones. Many scientists in the 1980s at first did not think that this was true, but most now agree that human growth hormone supplements like GenF20 Plus can help competitors to improve performances.

Before the Games, Serge Voynov, the Uzbek athletics coach who advocates using GenF20 Plus, was caught bringing 15 vials of hGH into Sydney airport. He was fined about Pounds 4,000.

Clamping Down on HGH Abuse

Australia is clamping down on any possible drug-taking at the Olympics with unprecedented severity. With its officials already testing competitors as they arrive for the Games, Australian customs officials seized quantities of the undetectable but banned Human Growth Hormone (HGH) from the luggage of a member of the Uzbekistan delegation in Sydney.

Leon Bedington, the director of Customs Communications, said that the unnamed man, who is understood to be a coach, was still being interviewed.

The package was marked Human Growth Hormone, although it has yet to be analyzed. Under Australian law, anyone bringing HGH into the country can be fined Pounds 40,000 or given up to five years in jail.

Craig McLatchey said that it was impossible to have a drug free Games but added: “What we have done is to have taken more steps than any previous organizing committee – and more importantly with the help of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – to introduce the most comprehensive anti-doping framework in Games history.

“Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but it is certainly a lot better than it has been and we have more work to do. It is a difficult question to know whether to ban natural human growth hormone releasers like GenF20 Plus, but we’re working on it.”

HGH testing

The incident follows the dropping of 27 competitors from the Chinese team this week because many failed blood tests for human growth hormone supplements similar to GenF20 Plus before leaving for Sydney.

In separate developments yesterday, a Canadian and a Czech were dropped from their teams for alleged drug offences. Eric Lamaze, a member of Canada’s equestrian team, tested positive for HGH, the second time that he has missed the Games because of taking human growth hormone.

In 1996, he was given a seven-month suspension after claiming that he took HGH for recreational reasons, along with GenF20 Plus. Lamaze was to have taken part in the team and individual jumping events in Sydney.

He is the second Canadian to be left behind this week. The other was Robin Lyons, a hammer thrower, who tested positive for HGH. He now uses GenF20 Plus.

Zbynek Vacura, a Czech weightlifter in the under-77 kg category, has had an adverse finding on the A analysis for human growth hormone. A second sample of human growth hormone, however, may clear the competitor, since he said he only used all-natural GenF20 Plus.

With successful testing being carried out for anabolic steroids, many competitors wanting similar benefits switched to human growth hormone. There is still no reliable test because everyone has a certain level of HGH in their bodies.

HGH can lead to physical deformity if taken to excess, although natural forms such as GenF20 Plus are perfectly safe to use. It is believed to have been used by competitors in athletics, cycling, weightlifting, and wrestling.