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The doping scandal that forced Ben Johnson to relinquish...

By
WILLIAM H. INMAN

SEOUL, South Korea -- The doping scandal that forced Ben Johnson to relinquish his Olympic gold medal also jeopardizes endorsement contracts worth up to $12.8 million to the Canadian sprinter, agents and sports officials said Tuesday.

Canadian officials said Johnson's face plunged into 'utter and blank shock' at news he had flunked the Sample A and B doping tests at the Olympics.

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'It was like he didn't quite know what was going on around him,' said Carol Ann Letheren, a Canadian team official.

'He was obviously disappointed,' she said at a Tuesday news conference. 'But there was a look of utter and blank shock. He was clearly unable to comprehend the full repercussions, the full damage.'

But it was enormous.

Not only for the world of Canadian and Olympic sports, but for the pocketbook of Ben Johnson. His triumph over arch rival Carl Lewis, trumpeted in the world's press and long awaited by bookmakers, was a key to mint money -- an estimated $12.8 million, or $3.2 million each year until the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

'He had his hands on the big time and he blew it,' said Jean Claude Schubb, a Seoul spokesman for Adidas, which had a six-figure contract with Johnson until he jumped ship to take a better deal with Italian sportswear maker Diadora.

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In the game of commercial endorsements, appearances are everything. Johnson, who remains the world's fastest human despite his fall from grace, wore black Adidas shoes for his world record-smashing performance in Rome last year. In beating Lewis last week, Johnsonwore a garish black pair of Diadoras.

In London, a spokeswoman for Diadora announced it was terminating a $1.6 million sponsorship agreement with Johnson because of his Olympic drug test.

'Anyone, however famous, who goes against the values of fair play and moral integrity cannot be associated with our company,' the spokeswoman said.

Diadora is not the only outfit stung by the Johnson turnabout. According to information gleaned from interviews with trainers, agents and journalists, Johnson garnered more than 13 big contracts -- several with multinationals -- although almost all were keyed to his winning at the Olympics.

The companies include the American watchmaker Timex, Purolator Courier Ltd., and the drug company Syntex Inc.; Mazda, Johnson Company and Toshiba of Japan; dairy interests in Canada and an unidentified credit card distributor. The Toshiba ads have already been released, although a spokesman indicated they will be removed.

Johnson's contract with Purlator Courier, which was 'in the five-figure range,' will expire in October and likely will not be renewed, company president Jim Wilson said.

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'We were going to evaluate the renewal in the next few weeks but obviously that evaluation has become somewhat academic unless there's some spectacular change of events,' Wilson said.

The biggest loss for Johnson may be the business that got away.

For instance, an Oct. 7 Japanese meet promoted as a grudge match between Lewis and Johnson was whispered to have been worth a half-million dollars each for them. Its sponsors included Mitsubishi, Toshiba, TV Asahi and the Asahi newspaper. The match is still on, but Johnson -- disqualified now by the International Amateur Athletic Federation -- is out and interest is already flagging.

'You're going to see considerable dropoff in tickets,' said Parks Britain, an endorsement agent who handles Olympic swimmers Matt Biondi and Pablo Morales. 'Those two had something going and now it's gone.'

Indeed, the celebrity duals between Lewis and Johnson were big money-makers in Europe. At the Zurich contest, each man was paid $250,000 plus the standard $25,000 per appearance fee.

'Those two were manna to the IAAF,' said a track and field promoter. 'Whenever those two were paired, ticket sales zoomed and attendance was just incredible.'

But with Johnson's debacle, the magic evaporated. Indeed, analysts believe Johnson's fall may indirectly hurt Lewis, who has made more than a million dollars in endorsements, primarily in Japan.

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'One needs the other to start the dollars rolling in,' said Cindy Smith, a spokesman for Nike, which does not hold contracts with either athlete.

'They were the biggest event of the Olympics and they were the biggest draw of any (track and field) contest,' she said. During the Olympics, following Johnson's triumph, 'people swarmed out of the stadium.'

'They didn't care to watch anything else.'

Johnson, who sports a thick 18 karat gold chain and a physique worthy of a Bulgarian weightlifter, is not exactly penniless. His biography, ghosted by sportswriter James Christie, hit the markets Sept. 1 and is expected to be a big seller.

He owns luxury accommodations in Canada and Jamaica, a quarter million-dollar Ferrari and numerous assets accumulated since he came to the world's attention as a skinny, ambitious youngster at the Pan American Junior Championships in 1980. That's when he first squared off against Lewis.

Perhaps the biggest loser may the sporting-goods companies whose meat and potatoes are endorsements from athletes.

'This is definitely going to make all the companies even more conservative in their approach to endorsements,' said Dave Fogelson, U.S. spokesman for Adidas.

'They're not going to run so aggressively after the athletes if they think the athletes will do them damage at a later point,' he said. 'This scandal makes the consumer public more skeptical about commercial endorsements.

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'All of us will be affected for a long time to come.'

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