“Are we being good ancestors?”

– Jonas Salk (a Medical researcher who developed one of the first successful polio vaccines)

In a track and field event for the mentally handicapped at Spokane, Washington, in 1976, one of the contestants slipped, tumbled on the asphalt and began to cry. Two other athletes – also with Down’s Syndrome- heard the boy fall and wail. They turned back, looked at him expressionless at first, and picked him up. The three then linked arms and crossed the finishing line together, smiling and rejoicing.

That evening two men whom many call as ‘retarded’ taught us a lesson in humanness while the smart and heroic in this world repeatedly disappoint us.

From a Hero to Zero- Name to Shame!

The world watched with bated breath; tipped as the greatest race in history, the next ten seconds would be the most momentous. Carl Lewis, a charismatic Olympic champion of the past and compared with the legendary Jesse Owens was competing with a sensation- Ben Johnson, who held the world record and was aiming for his first gold in Olympics.

This was the hundred meters finals at the Seoul Olympics (1988). In the previous Olympics Carl Lewis had won four gold medals, yet ironically he had become unpopular with many as he was perceived to lack humility; his self-congratulatory attitude caused the packed stadium at Los Angeles to boo him even as he won the gold in the long-jump event. A couple of years later when the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson created a new world record and defeated Carl for the first time, Carl Lewis responded cynically, saying it’s impossible to be so good without taking drugs. He had downplayed his rival’s feat and alleged cheating by Ben Johnson. Thus began an infamous rivalry.

The race finished in ten seconds; a new world record -9.79 seconds- by Johnson catapulted him to a superhero status; he had not only broken his own previous record of 9.83 but also humbled Lewis. Canada rejoiced at this epoch moment, with the prime minister calling him to congratulate. Words like ‘Benfastic’ were coined to describe Ben Johnson’s stupendous achievement.

A day later, the world watched with disbelief as Johnson failed the doping test; he fell down from grace as his gold medal was now awarded to Carl Lewis who had finished a close second. A banner summed up Ben’s tragedy: ‘Hero to Zero in 9.79 seconds!’

To be continued….

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