ESPN Films 9.79*: Documentary Gives Insight into Track's Cutthroat Nature

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistOctober 9, 2012

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9.79*, the newest installment in ESPN's 30 for 30 series, puts track and field's cutthroat nature on full display Tuesday evening.

In Olympic track-and-field events, it's win or go home. That's it, and that's all, for an international event that only occurs once every four years. Naturally, that creates a haven for ultra-competitive, self-absorbed athletes eager to capitalize on their time in the sun.

The program focuses on Ben Johnson's controversial world-record run in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Seoul games.

He was able to defeat iconic athlete Carl Lewis and former world-record holder Calvin Smith, only to be later disqualified for doping.

That's nothing new for sports fans in today's day and age. We've sat through BALCO hearings, Tour de France controversies and everything in between. Steroids, performance-enhancers or "drugs" are commonplace in today's sporting society.

What stood out in 9.79* was the widespread assumption that everyone was doing it. One former U.S. sprinting coach even estimated that 80 percent of sprinters were doping at one point.

Baseball fans can empathize with that statement as BALCO founder Victor Conte stated (via USA Today's Bob Nightengale) that half of the major-league players may use performance-enhancing drugs, but that doesn't make track's number any less astounding.

Because of track's individualistic nature, common use creates a vicious cycle. Anyone who isn't doing it feels like he may have to in order to keep up with their counterparts. Many of the athletes in the film didn't even seem to care, treating it like part of the game.

The film highlights Lewis as much as Johnson because of his prominence within the sport. Lewis, and his coach, are adamant that he never used PEDs of any kind.

After his reaction to Johnson's failed test, I hope he didn't. He acted like Johnson disgraced his sport, even though countless other runners were doing the exact same thing.

Sprinters have to be cutthroat if they want to win. In this particular situation, they have 100 meters to prove themselves. They have 100 meters to justify months and months of training.

Trying to gain a competitive advantage is, more or less, a given in sports today. 9.79* gave an interesting insight into that same world, over 20 years ago.