London premiere for play that’s all about denial

When she was hauled up before judge Charles Dubin in Toronto in 1989 for Canada’s state inquiry into the use of banned performance enhancing drugs, sprinter Angella Issajenko provided a line of testimony which has been begging to be used in a script for nearly 30 years.

The dirtiest race in history. Photo:  Steve Powell/Allsport
‘The dirtiest race in history’. Photo: Steve Powell/Allsport

“When an athlete gets caught, you deny, deny, deny,” she said. “That is standard procedure.”

Issajenko was called to give evidence because she had spent most of her athletics career in the same training group as Ben Johnson. Issajenko won seven Commonwealth Games medals and one Olympic medal. She never tested positive once.

She was among the hundreds of witnesses called by Justice Dubin to give evidence, under oath, following the seismic shock to Canada of Johnson’s exposure as a career drugs cheat, after he had finished first in the 100 metres at the Seoul Olympics in world record-beating time.

It would be another five years before that Olympic 100m final would be exposed for what it was – “the dirtiest race in history”, we called it, though it probably wasn’t even that – because it was a race in which only one of the eight competitors has managed to maintain, with any degree of credibility, that they really never used banned drugs during their sports career.

Not that it has stopped most of the athletes from that race, to this day, trying to deny their use of drugs.

Not that it has stopped most of the athletes in that race, to this day, trying to deny their use of drugs

And so, this week, premiering in a north London theatre, we have Deny, Deny, Deny, a new play by Jonathan Maitland.

Maitland may be better known to most as the television consumer affairs and investigations reporter, though in recent years he has embarked into drama with some success, getting particularly good reviews for his An Interview with Jimmy Savile. He wrote his latest play after two years of research.

Deny, Deny, Deny is set at some time in the near-future, and revolves around Eve, a promising young athlete who is offered a cutting edge new “therapy” by her charismatic coach. She says it will make her the fastest woman in the world: but is it as safe, legal and ethical as claimed?

Directed by Brendan O’Hea and featuring Juma Sharkah as Eve, Deny, Deny, Deny is being performed at the Park Theatre at Finsbury Park until December 3, with post-show Q&As will be held after the matinee performances on Thursday November 10 and November 17, when the discussion panel will include Maitland, former head of anti-doping at UK Sport, and SJA member Michele Verroken, and Frank Dick, the chief coach of British athletics in the 1980s.