Skip to main content

It's an implausible tale of treachery that goes back thousands of years.

Ben Johnson was an Egyptian pharaoh, Carl Lewis the plotting villain.

It may or may not have been the first time their paths had crossed, and it certainly would not be the last.

The former Canadian sprint star says he finally uncovered the "truth" behind his fall from grace through countless hours of working with spiritual adviser Bryan Farnum.

The result is Johnson's book Seoul to Soul, an unconventional sports autobiography written in collaboration with Farnum. In the book, Johnson accuses rival sprinter Lewis and a co-conspirator Andre Jackson - and casts suspicion on several others - of sabotage at the 1988 Seoul Olympics that cost Johnson the 100-metre gold medal.

Whether or not his book has any effect on public opinion, the 48-year-old Johnson says the process of putting his past in print has been a big weight off his shoulders.

"Everybody was putting the needle into me, I was abandoned," Johnson told The Canadian Press.

"But I have faith in the Lord, and I knew that this day would come. My mom didn't live to see this day (his mother Gloria died of cancer in 2004), but she said, when the day comes, just remember that I told you so, and she was right."

The sabotage story isn't new.

Johnson has long accused Lewis and a "mystery man" he now identifies as Jackson, a former athlete and friend of Lewis, of spiking his beer before his drug test in Seoul.

But the fact their three lives have been intertwined for thousands of years?

Farnum, a big burly man who claims to have the gift of revealing past lives, said Johnson was once the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu, who lived in the mid-2500s B.C.

"Ben was the big kahuna," Farnum says. "Andre Jackson and Carl Lewis were part of the dynasty and there was a fight for the rulership."

Lewis and Jackson plotted to kill Khufu by spiking his beer, Farnum says.

Seoul, you could say, was unresolved business.

Back in the modern era, Lewis has long rejected Johnson's accusations. And Jackson says he no longer has an interest in responding.


Johnson sits in a high-back leather chair in Farnum's office that Farnum jokingly refers to as "the hot seat."

Now a grandfather, Johnson is still lean from his regular workouts at York University's indoor track. He's dressed smartly in black wool slacks, polished dress shoes, and a cashmere scarf knotted around his grey sweater.

He smiles easily, and any trace of the awkward stutter that made him an easy target in his days in the track spotlight has all but disappeared.

His black Mercedes Kompressor is parked outside - still luxurious but less ostentatious than the Ferrari Testarossa he once sped around Toronto in.

Johnson met Farnum two years ago when he was referred by a friend, and it took just one meeting with the man in his upscale home just north of Toronto, Johnson says, to lift the thick cloud of depression that had enveloped the sprinter since his teens.

"I'm a lot more happy than I was even 20 years ago, I felt like the whole world was on my head," Johnson says.

"Ben's good," Farnum adds. "Two years ago that statement was not an accurate statement. (Seoul) bothered Ben a great deal, but we had to work on his soul, get rid of his anger, a lot of stuff we worked on besides the dark cloud that he had."


Farnum is a charismatic man who welcomes a stranger at his door in a warm embrace.

Once inside his office, he lies back on an oversized leather couch, his head resting in the crook of one arm, bare feet propped up in a scene more reminiscent of beer and a football game.

Before an interview can begin - it would eventually stretch to more than an hour - Johnson and the guest must go through a "forgiveness." They must forgive each other for any harm done in previous lives.

A video screen on one wall displays a high-tech surveillance system with cameras trained on several locations around the house. There's a painting of Jesus and a framed photo of Farnum with former Toronto Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, whom he calls a friend.

"I have no relationship with the Raptors but I do work with athletes," Farnum says. "I can 'discern' all the players, know the strengths and weaknesses of all the players. Our souls are our software package and I can discern the software package."

To discern, Johnson explains in his book, means to "serve as a vessel, allowing the Christ, the Spiritual Body of God, to flow through and express the Truth."

Farnum was a merchant banker when his four-year-old son Michael, the youngest of five children, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Farnum and his wife turned to prayer and the alternative health community and when Michael survived, Farnum decided to dedicate his life to healing and spiritual growth.

He believes that fears or insecurities, and even illness, are the result of leftover baggage from previous lives. When told of a fear of flying, Farnum discerns the guest died in a plane crash in a past life.

"God just told me that," he says.


Johnson has been working on his memoirs for years, but much of the original book was trashed and rewritten after he met Farnum, who deemed it too angry.

Seoul to Soul is interspersed with Farnum's discernments, where he answers Johnson's questions to God.

Johnson's original publisher wasn't pleased with the changes, so Johnson and Farnum went the self-publishing route. It can be purchased on Johnson's website

The book has vivid details of Johnson's childhood in Jamaica, with its sea and sun and easy life. Born to mom Gloria and dad Ben Sr., 10 years her senior, Johnson survived a bout of malaria as a baby but it would be his difficult early years in Toronto that would prove more troublesome.

Johnson's mom moved to Canada in 1972 after visiting a friend here, and sent for Johnson and three of his siblings four years later. His dad and two more siblings would remain in Jamaica.

Johnson was an awkward 93-pound boy and a target for school bullies, and his track career sprouted when he challenged one bullying classmate to a race.

His rivalry with Lewis, he writes, began back in 1980 at the Pan American junior championships in Sudbury, Ont. It wasn't long after that steroids became part of his training protocol, introduced by coach Charlie Francis (Johnson remained close with Francis and was at his bedside when he died of cancer last May).

He met Jackson - also known by his nickname "Action" - a couple of years before the Seoul Olympics, the American befriending him, he says, with sabotage already on his mind. Johnson believes Jackson may have been financed by one of Lewis's sponsors.

"Something we would like Andre Jackson to be asked: did he receive any cash from any sponsorship and why did he receive that cash?" Farnum says.

Johnson alleges Jackson spiked his drink at a race two years earlier in Zurich, resulting in a positive test that was never reported.


Lewis dedicated two chapters to Johnson and the Seoul Olympics in his 1990 autobiography Inside Track. The nine-time Olympic gold medallist, who was given the gold after Johnson was stripped of the medal, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the Johnson scandal.

"The absurdity of this accusation speaks for itself," Lewis's publicist Andrew Freedman said in a statement to The Canadian Press. "There is no truth to Mr. Johnson's claim."

Joe Douglas, Lewis's former long-time manager and founder of the Santa Monica track club, says he's grown weary of talking about Johnson.

"I know Ben has a lot of frustration. But he was guilty and he was caught, and he admitted it in court, as did his coach," Douglas says in a phone interview. "And I can tell you Carl was a clean athlete.

"I hope that (Johnson) gets his life together and lives a good life. We want people to move on and be successful and happy.

"I didn't read his book and I probably never will read it. But I wish him happiness and that he can move on with his life and be successful."

Douglas blames Francis and Johnson's doctor Jamie Astaphan for the Canadian's troubled track career.

"I think Ben didn't realize the damage that drugs can do, and I think he was influenced by the people around him, his doctor and his coach," Douglas says. "I don't think it's fair of coaches and drug people to take advantage of athletes."

Jackson is now a diamond magnate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and head of Africa's largest holding company.

He told The Associated Press recently that he has no interest in revisiting the events of Seoul, where Johnson says Jackson was in the doping control room after the race, and handed him several beers to drink before he provided his urine sample.

"In the face of what really took place inside the drug testing room in Seoul, the most up to date reality is that after 22 years, I've genuinely lost interest in responding to or countering such claims, particularly since the actuality has no direct benefit to anyone. . . In conclusion, this conversation has reached its peak and I have obviously moved on with my life, so at this time, I would encourage Ben to continue working with controlling his destiny (or someone else surely will)."


Johnson acknowledges he took steroids, saying he started back in the early '80s. He originally denied it after Seoul, then admitted it during the Dubin inquiry.

But he believes he was set up in Seoul because, according to his drug protocol, the steroids should have cleared his system before he was tested.

Johnson also claims Astaphan, the West Indies-born physician who administered his steroids, threatened to go public at the Seoul Olympics about Johnson's steroid use. He asked Johnson for a million dollars, although Johnson says nothing came of the threat. Astaphan died of a heart attack in 2006.

Johnson says he felt abandoned in the days after Seoul, escaping to the basement of his mom's house for months to evade the media camped out on his curb.

He rented movies to fill his time. He was partial to Westerns.

Johnson has since sold the house he shared with his mom and owns a home in Markham, just north of Toronto.

While Johnson says he's made peace with the past, he still hopes the book might bring restitution of some sort. He'd like the gold medal back, or even an honorary medal from the federal government.

"If I do get my medal back I would probably put it in a museum, I think that would be the best place for it, because it's been 22 years since I won it, I owned it only for 24 hours and it was gone," Johnson says. "I would donate it to a museum so people could see the history of what took place 22 years ago."

Farnum suggests Johnson, Lewis and Jackson all take a polygraph test on national television.

"That would be huge. We would like to see Dr. Phil stickhandle the whole thing," Farnum says. "That's what Ben needs is for someone like Oprah or Dr. Phil, someone high profile who will take this project on. We really would like to see Ben get his day. . . let's just clear it up so Ben can move on with his life."

Johnson would also like to see a talk-show showdown.

"It would be nice if (Lewis) can come into this light and say to the world, 'Yes, this is what happened,' or take a polygraph test and say, 'Yes, this is what happened,' to clear the air and then move on with our lives," Johnson says. "That would be nice. That's what I'd like to see."


What Johnson doesn't address in the book is his second positive test in 1993, which led to a lifetime ban by the world governing body for track and field.

Asked about it, Johnson alleges problems with the drug testing protocol, including a courier who took his urine sample home for the weekend before delivering it to the Montreal drug lab.

"This was a setup again," Johnson says. "Trying to discredit my name."

He's been in the headlines on and off in the years since.

He worked as a trainer for the soccer-playing son of Moammar Gadhafi, and briefly trained Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona. He raced a horse and a race car in a charity event in 1998 in Charlottetown - he finished third.

He launched a sports clothing line in 2005, and hopes to revisit the fashion business after putting it on hold while writing his book.

Johnson appeared in a television ad campaign for an energy drink, Cheetah Power Surge, in 2006.

These days he takes pride in his daughter Jeneil - he never married her mother, and managed to keep the news of his fatherhood out of the spotlight in the '80s. And he delights in the precociousness of his five-year-old granddaughter Micaila.

Johnson spends his nights at York University coaching athletes from a variety of sports - baseball, soccer, and of course, track - with the aim of helping them earn university scholarships.

"I'm helping out these youngsters, trying to help them get scholarships, get off the streets, turn into something good the experience that I have had for 35 years," Johnson says.

He hopes his book serves as a lesson.

"I've been thinking about this book for a very long time," Johnson says. "My mom said, this day will come for you to speak the truth and to show the world your experience, and this will teach a lot of people."

Interact with The Globe