Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review of The Dirtiest Race In History

Back to reviewing books!  This book on the historic 100 m final in the 1988 Olympics is reviewed today. 


“The Dirtiest Race In History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100 M Final” by Richard Moore



Track and Field, Summer Olympics, performance enhancing drugs, politics, Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis

June 7, 2012


336 pages


4 of 5 stars (very good)


The 100 meter final in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul has been called the greatest race in the history of track and field.  Ben Johnson of Canada and Carl Lewis of the United States headlined the event, which resulted in Johnson winning the gold medal with a world record time of 9.79 seconds.   However, the post race drug testing found that Johnson had traces of illegal substances in his urine and was disqualified.   This book by Richard Moore examines the activities and training of these two men and how it ultimately leads to the event being a historical one for completely different reasons.

Moore researches the lives and training of both Lewis and Johnson thoroughly.  Nothing is left untouched – their workout routines, the trainers each used, the methods used by those trainers and yes, the substances that were used as well.  While most remember Johnson’s disqualification, it is worth noting that the author does not paint a rosy picture of Lewis for this topic either.  Lewis was also found to have traces of banned substances after the US Olympic trials, but he was able to compete due to officials accepting his explanation.  It should be noted that athletes were given chances to explain the presence of the substance in their samples, including during the Olympics, and Lewis’ was deemed satisfactory.

The stories of the two main runners were richly portrayed.  I was especially enamored with Moore’s portrayal of Lewis and how he reacted to the negative media he often received, including his lack of sponsorship opportunities after winning four gold medals in the 1984 Olympics.   Both Lewis and Johnson are thoroughly examined in the book.  A very good book that is a great read for not only sports fans, but those who like to dig deeper into controversial topics.

Did I skim?


Did I learn anything new?

Yes – while I was aware of the rivalry between Johnson and Lewis, I did not realize how much bitterness there was between the two athletes, especially on the part of Johnson toward Lewis.   Also, this book will reveal the identity of the “mystery man” who was with Johnson during the drug testing immediately after the 100 m final.  Now, of course I am not going to reveal that if you don’t already know – you have to read the book!

Pace of the book: 

Good for the most part.  Some of the sections on the trainers and the science behind the drugs was a bit heavy and slowed the book down.


Excellent research and insight into the two athletes, especially Johnson.   Other runners in that 100 m final such as Calvin Smith are also covered well.


Only the aforementioned parts of the science behind the drugs.   While interesting and an important part of the story, I felt that those without the background knowledge would be lost reading this section.

Do I recommend?

Yes, for track and field fans and also those who enjoy the Olympics, whether watching or researching history.

Book Format Read:

Ebook (Nook)

Author Media Links:

Buying links:

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