The curious case of Arne Ljungqvist

According to conventional wisdom, the fraternity of anti-doping represents the most laudable aspects of modern sport: fairness, honesty, dedication, etc. Keen on protecting the integrity of sport, the anti-doping officials always stand up for the truth, quite unlike the devious athletes they seek to expose.

Take Arne Ljungqvist, for example. At the time of writing, the octogenarian head of the IOC medical commission, vice president of WADA and former head of the IAAF medical commission deliberates on the retested doping samples of the 2004 Olympics. A couple of medals might shortly be redistributed, albeit nearly a decade after the event.

The urinary news reminded me of a recent book in which the Swedish doping wizard makes a thought-provoking appearance. Penned by Richard Moore, The Dirtiest Race in History (2012) is a fascinating account of the 1988 disqualification of Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who put an end to the Carl Lewis era in the 100-meter dash. Isn’t it about time to look at the evolution of Arne Ljungqvist’s anti-doping credentials?

On the eve of the 1988 Soul games, Ljungqvist participated in the cover-up of Carl Lewis’ positive doping test. As the IAAF anti-doping boss he found common ground with influential American track officials, arguing publicly that the rumored incidents of illicit stimulation were totally devoid of substance. During the heady days of Soul, by contrast, Ljungqvist oversaw Johnson’s disqualification which resulted in Lewis retaining the ‘fastest man on earth’ moniker.

Yet, fifteen years later, Ljungqvist opined that the 1988 whitewash ‘fit a pattern’ of failure to report on doping offences. This was his response to the front page news that Lewis had been among a number of illustrious Americans who tested positive in the build-up to the South Korean games.

Next, in his autobiography Dopingjägaren (the 2011 English edition is titled Doping’s Nemesis) Ljungqvist again contradicted an earlier statement of his. After having profusely praised Lewis for supporting his anti-doping endeavors within the IAAF, he chose to ignore the 1988 cover-up that had been disclosed in the meantime.

Coming finally back to Richard Moore’s contribution to investigative sports journalism, Ljungqvist insisted to Moore that he never let anybody trespass on the Soul Olympics’ doping control facility. Unfortunately for him, there is ample evidence, e.g. a photograph printed (of all places) in Carl Lewis’s autobiography to support a different version of events. Ljungqvist did allow an acquaintance of Lewis to get in, and this acquaintance in turn spiked Johnson’s beer with well-known consequences, as the Canadian champion would like us to believe.

Now, I’m not suggesting that there was a vast conspiracy to nail Johnson, but something was and still is amiss about the Johnson vs. Lewis rivalry that culminated in 1988. Arne Ljungqvist is part and parcel of the unresolved controversy, and his self-contradictory claims would certainly deserve to be thoroughly probed by scholars and journalists alike. Any athlete in his position would have been pilloried long ago for being selective with the truth.

Has Ljungqvist got something to hide, then? Is he just suffering from bad memory? If not, is he perhaps a victim of serial misquoting?

Alternatively, of course, we can settle for conventional wisdom and leave the august anti-doping authorities alone, directing critical attention to the bunch of drug-abusing liars posing as bona fide Olympians.

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