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Win or bust: The dirtiest race in history

An Olympic-themed assembly to encourage students to choose truth and honesty in life (SEAL theme: Motivation).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


An Olympic-themed assembly to encourage students to choose truth and honesty in life (SEAL theme: Motivation).

Preparation and materials

  • Prepare eight readers to take the parts of Mitchell, Williams, Johnson, Smith, Christie, Lewis, Stewart, da Silva. They are to stand in a line as if for a race.
  • For a useful image with which to conclude the assembly, see: (or go to: and then search ‘Twenty years after Seoul').


  1.  Leader  The 100 metres final at the Seoul Olympics of 1988 lives in the memory of sports fans for a variety of reasons.

    (Readers march to start positions)

    Reader 1 (steps forward)  I’m Ben Johnson from Canada. I won the race in a new world record time of 9.79 seconds.

    Reader 2 (steps forward)  I’m Carl Lewis from the United States. I won the silver medal in a time of 9.92 seconds.

    Reader 3 (steps forward)  I’m Linford Christie from Great Britain. I won the bronze medal in a time of 9.97 seconds.

    Reader 4 (steps forward)  I’m Calvin Smith. I came fourth. My time was 9.99 seconds.

    Reader 5 (steps forward)  I’m Dennis Mitchell. I came fifth.

    Reader 6 (steps forward)  I’m Robson da Silva. I came sixth.

    Reader 7 (steps forward)  I’m Desai Williams. I came seventh.

    Reader 8 (steps forward)  I’m Ray Stewart. I came eighth.
  2. Leader  A fantastic race. Four men broke the 10-second barrier and a new world record was set. So why, in an article in the Guardian newspaper on 18 April 2003, did journalist Duncan Mackay call this ‘the dirtiest race in history’?

    Let’s look a little closer at the medal winners. First, Ben Johnson, who set that remarkable world record.

    Reader 1  Within minutes of winning the race I was required to take a drugs test. Officials discovered that I’d been involved in the use of banned steroids. I was stripped of the gold medal, the world record was deleted and I received a lifetime ban from the sport.

    Leader  So that moved Carl Lewis into the gold medal position, where he has stayed. A worthy winner . . . or not?

    Reader 2  At the 1988 US Olympic trials I tested positive for a stimulant. However, I didn’t receive a ban and the team was happy to let me run. Only I know what really happened.

    Leader  UK interest centred on Linford Christie, famous for his remark that he aimed always to start on the B of the BANG of the starter’s gun. Should he have been declared the clean winner?

    Reader 3  Immediately after that 100 metres final I showed a positive response to the stimulant pseudoephedrine. I only escaped a ban by a vote of 11 to 10 in the official investigation. Later in my career I tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandralone.
  3. Leader  Not one of the three medal winners was totally clear of suspicion. And the story of drug abuse among those eight finalists doesn’t end there.

    Dennis Mitchell was eventually banned in 1998 for the use of anabolic steroids.

    Desai Williams admitted to briefly using the same drug that earned his countryman Ben Johnson his ban.

    Ray Stewart was shown to have had email dealings with a well-known supplier of performance enhancing drugs.

    Only Calvin Smith and Robson da Silva were clean through their entire athletics careers. Looking back, it’s clearly fair to call this race ‘the dirtiest race in history’.
  4. Those eight athletes each made a choice. Drugs were freely available and clearly quite widely used within the sport. Drugs testing procedures were not as accurate as those in use today.

    The six who were unable to avoid the temptation knew what they were doing and have had to live with the consequences. For some of them it’s been a very public humiliation. They’re reviled as drugs cheats. No question. For Lewis and Stewart it’s less certain. Nevertheless, their reputations have been tainted. They have to live with a question mark over their achievements.

Time for reflection

There are many opportunities to cheat in life. The temptations are present during school exams and tests, in relationships, when entrusted with an important task, when given confidential information. In these and in many other situations we find ourselves faced with a choice.

Jesus expressed the dilemma as like having to choose between obeying one boss who stands for truth and another boss who stands for deception. The second boss may offer a quick, easy way to public success and popularity, but at a cost. It comes at the expense of knowing that we are a cheat. This guilty knowledge won’t go away and will always take the edge off our sense of satisfaction.

Obeying the first boss, the one that Calvin Smith and Robson da Silva chose, may not lead to the same public acclaim (no one remembers them) but they can hold their heads high knowing they are clean and that their achievements have been genuine.

I wonder, which boss would you choose?

Dear Lord,
thank you for the opportunities we have in life.
Sometimes it’s not easy to make the best choices,
especially when faced with the opportunity to cheat.
May we have the courage to choose the true and honest way forward.


‘Born to run’ by Bruce Springsteen (Show web image the song, see ‘Preparation and materials’)

Publication date: July 2012   (Vol.14 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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