Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson likely will reject as much as $35,000 to run in two indoor meets over one weekend, the Mobil I Invitational at George Mason University and the Millrose Games in New York, sources said yesterday.
Johnson, who recently was reinstated after his two-year steroid suspension, is believed to be asking for $30,000 a race. Sources said he could earn $180,000 in his first month back in competition, including as much as a $100,000 guarantee in Japan and between $30,000 and $50,000 in Italy.
Johnson, who was suspended for two years and stripped of his 1988 Olympic gold medal for using steroids, recently was reinstated by Canadian sports officials and will run for the first time Jan. 11 in Hamilton, Ontario.
He also is expected to run in the Sunkist Invitational in Los Angeles later in January and may run in New York Feb. 1, but the chances are slim he will come to George Mason Feb. 3 to run the 55 meters, Mobil I meet director John Cook said.
Cook is losing Johnson to higher bidders. It is believed a package deal of $35,000, including bonuses, was offered to Johnson attorney Ed Futerman for appearances by Johnson at the Millrose and Mobil I meets.
A meet director in Japan, bidding for Johnson's presence in late January, has offered Futerman what is believed to be nearly $100,000. That meet could conflict with the Millrose Games.
Meanwhile, an Italian meet director has offered Johnson between $30,000 and $50,000 for a Feb. 6 appearance. If Johnson goes to Italy, he's not likely to be at George Mason.
While Cook declined to discuss the financial terms of his dealings with Futerman, he did decry the system that elicits these reported figures.
"I have a given budget," Cook said. "To me, it's just not fair to give more money to a guy like him than to other people who might be just as good, just not the big name right now."
It's believed that the Mobil I offers a top sprinter like Leroy Burrell or Roger Kingdom, the world's top hurdler, about $5,000 for an appearance at the meet here. Both can make much more money on the indoor circuit in Europe, sources said.
Two other issues confronted Cook as he negotiated with Johnson's attorney. Johnson has said he will not run in semifinal races, just finals. Other top athletes are used to running both, which may have created a problem.
Also, runners from the Santa Monica Track Club, which includes Burrell and Carl Lewis (who is not running the indoor circuit this winter), have said they will not run if Johnson will be part of the competition, Cook said.