Johnson muscles in with a few caustic salvos, Maradona-style

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 1997, 12:00am

When two of the most controversial sportsmen of the past two decades teamed up, you half expected there to be fallout of nuclear proportions.

The once pumped-up but now deservedly deflated Ben Johnson is acting as personal trainer to star-gone-to-seed Maradona, a coupling made in some designer drug altered heaven.

There is not much work about for a former world record holder with a tainted past so when a kindred spirit like Maradona came along and asked Johnson to lick the pudgy one into shape he said 'yes' in much quicker time than it used to take him to dash 100 metres.

And Johnson obviously knows his business.

Maradona stripped off his shirt and ran on a treadmill for the assembled media last week to flaunt his new slimline appearance, courtesy of the Johnson School of Fitness.

'I am doing this just so all the Argentines who love me can see that I have not cheated. I owe it to Ben, the fastest man in the world. He gave me stamina. I've never been stronger in my life,' said Maradona, blissfully unaware of the irony in the statement after his 18 minutes on the treadmill.

Johnson, you'll recall, had a penchant for showing off his muscular frame at the height of his sprinting prowess - muscle mass that was created by steroids swallowed by the biggest cheat in the athletics business.

Just because Maradona has lost 24 pounds and is a candidate for slimmer of the year does not mean that willpower alone was used to burn away the fat.

A cynical view, yes, but given the drug-related backgrounds of Maradona and Johnson it's hard not to adopt a mocking tone.

Whatever the means, they have been justified by the end.

The 'new improved' Maradona scored for Boca Juniors in his return match - with a trademark free kick, what else? - and looks likely to keep his place in the team.

While Johnson imparted Maradona with the secret of successful slimming, the fallen footballer seems to have given the banished athlete the benefit of his renowned, though less than respected, wisdom.

The Argentine was never one to hold his own counsel when a microphone was jabbed in his face and Maradonisms have started to drip from the normally guarded tongue of Johnson.

Whether or not Maradona has been doing a spot of mental training with Johnson will never be known, but the Canadian has certainly taken the view that if he cannot get back into athletics he can surely get even.

Salvo one: 'All the elite athletes that I know use drugs, even those who are considered role models. I do not know anyone who is absolutely clean.' Salvo two: 'He [IAAF chief Primo Nebiolo] offers athletes US$50,000 for a new world record and then advocates a clean games. What goes through the mind of an athlete? Nebiolo is in control of all the deals.' Although it's the ultimate in cheek for a cheat like Johnson to start finger pointing, the sad thing for athletics is that there is a degree of truth in what he said.

And look out for more score-settling so long as Maradona and Johnson are on the same team.