Ben Johnson wants Lance Armstrong to remember he’s not alone.
Johnson, still plagued by his doping scandal, had some advice Tuesday for the disgraced cyclist, who is expected to confess to doping in an upcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey.
“It’s only cheating if you’re the only one doing it,” said Johnson as he sat in the bleachers at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University, where he exercises.
Johnson initially denied using drugs to win 100-metre gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, but he confessed at a government inquiry into drug abuse by athletes in 1989.
He said cheating was rampant in Seoul — five of the other seven runners later admitted to doping at some point in their careers — and that Armstrong, like Johnson himself, must remember he wasn’t alone.
Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping, but numerous cyclists who raced in those tours have either faced accusations or confessed to using performance-enhancing drugs.
At least one rider who finished just behind Armstrong in each of his Tour victories between 1999 and 2005 has since been implicated in PED use or banned after testing positive.
Countryman and teammate Tyler Hamilton, who raced with Armstrong in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 Tours de France, was banned from cycling for eight years in 2009 for doping.
“Confess it all, get it out of the way and move on,” said Johnson. “People don’t like liars — once you tell the truth, you can move on.”
Johnson said the pressure to win and need to stay competitive drives athletes to make decisions they later regret.
“I’ve been trying to say it for 24 years,” said Johnson, 51. “Almost every professional athlete does something.”
Kim Dawson, a professor of sports psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the heavy use of PEDs in cycling almost made it a necessary practice.
“Sport itself is trying to get an advantage,” Dawson said. “Athletes face so much pressure, to them, they’re just trying to get an edge.”
Dawson said athletes faced with doping in their sport “lose touch with reality” and don’t realize they’re crossing a line, or breaking the rules — until they’re caught.
When first accused, Armstrong — like Johnson —denied he took performance-enhancing drugs. The cyclist maintained his innocence until recently.
Armstrong dropped his fight against charges of PED use levelled by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in the summer of 2012. His implicit confession led to a lifetime ban from professional cycling.
“He was too ashamed to come forward,” said Johnson. “But there is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Johnson said that after Armstrong’s interview with Winfrey airs in two parts on Thursday and Friday, his battle against shame is only going to ramp up.
“They just leave us in the middle of a lake and say swim,” said Johnson. “And if you can’t, you drown.”
To stay afloat, Johnson advises that Armstrong learn what it took him too long to realize: “There is no redemption for athletes in these cases.”
Rather, Johnson said Armstrong must find peace in his own mind knowing he cheated against cheaters.
“Look people in the face, go where you want to go and don’t be ashamed,” said Johnson.