June 21, 2012
Soft Tissue Center
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Review by Joseph M. Horrigan
Speed Trap gives you a front-row seat for one of the most revealing and explosive shake-ups in sports history—the story of Ben Johnson, the track and field athlete who tested positive for anabolic steroids at the '88 Olympic Games and then was banned from international competition for two years. This book places you right in the action and captures all of the feelings of determination, experience, jubilation, fear, anxiety, frustration and resolution.
Charlie Francis takes the reader from his own Olympic competition experience (Munich '72) through his early coaching days with the athletes that he would ultimately mold into national and world champions. His successes become even more impressive after you read his insightful comments on the training facilities and funding that Western athletes have to work with, such as those in his own Canada, as compared to those of the Eastern bloc countries. This emphasizes the over-whelming odds that the independent Western athlete must overcome. One Polish coach whom Francis admired, Gerard Mach, was appalled at the lack of facilities and funding that the world-class Canadian athletes faced.
To help even the odds, Francis began utilizing new training ideas regarding a theory that exercise physiologists are examining today. The theory revolves around the idea of central nervous system fatigue in high-intensity training. Scientists are not sure where this fatigue actually occurs, but. Charlie said, "It doesn't matter if you are dealing with fatigue theory A or fatigue theory B. If you exceed certain intensity [velocity], then you change the training, and you
need to change the recovery, which may add up to 10 days."
Francis was unable to delve too deeply in this book into the exact specificity of his training methods. There is simply too much material. A follow-up training manual is in progress and will be available in the near future. Those readers who would like to know something about his training ideas may refer to his exclusive inter-
view that appeared in the June '90 IRONMAN.
In this book Francis eloquently covers the progression of the coaching, the growing success of his track club, the steady rise of Ben Johnson from mere participant to superstar and the eventual showdown with perennial champion Carl Lewis. Even those who are not die-hard sports enthusiasts will enjoy the saga.
The politics of testing, the multimillion-dollar inquiry in Canada and the testimonials that occurred in the Dubin inquiry concerning the Ben Johnson incident rocked the sports
world, not so much for the information itself, but because of the fact that the unspoken truths of world-class sport were being brought forward. Many readers may not have any idea of the complexity and the power of the sports political hierarchy. Reading this book may change how you view sports forever.
Speed Trap concludes with a description of the changes that have occurred in the Olympic Games because of the tremendous fees that are paid by the networks and corporate sponsors and the influences that are stated and also assumed. These developments do not always fit into the reality of superior performance.
Francis also presents the evidence of the various dangers in other sports: "An Austrian downhill skier was recently killed in competition, and the dangers of boxing are well established." The book states, "We permit adolescent girls to attempt dangerous maneuvers or to arch their backs to the point where they grind down and permanently deform soft, young vertebrae. There is no official outcry against these demonstrated health hazards. They are deemed part of the athletic territory—a crowd-pleasing ingredient of the show."
Regardless of your individual point of view, you will find this a most revealing and exciting sports book. Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews have given the book great notices already. I most certainly agree. Prepare yourself for a front-row seat.
Editor's note: Speed Trap, by Charlie Francis With Jeff Coplon, is published by St. Martin's Press, New York, 1990 and is available at better book stores.
66 IRONMAN November 1991