Cheatius, Altius, Fortius – a history of doping (PART 1)

Sport is a fantastic entity, for many of us it forms a huge part of our day to day lives, filling us with emotion and enjoyment, but behind such physical drama can often be a soured undertone which turns heroes into villains, the famous into the infamous and the adored into the despised. For this week’s blog I thought I’d give you an insight into the dark and scary world that is doping in sport. What with the head of UKA asking for an enquiry into the suspicious Russian team, retrospective tests throwing up new findings, revelations about Oscar Pistorius’ ‘herbal supplements’ and news of recreational drug habits of professional sportsmen all in the news this week, I thought to myself; why not take a little look into the history of doping and how it has become such a major issue these days.

Down below we have for you a small extract from a project into which I delved last year, which I entitled ‘Cheatius, Altius, Fortius – a history of doping in the Olympic Games’. First off, please excuse the slightly cheesy name. I know; it’s a little corny, right? But it sure got your attention if you’re this far in! I really hope you enjoy this little piece, and if you want to read more on the matter be sure to like the Facebook link or leave a comment below and I’ll post part2 for you real soon.


‘With the Games of the Twentieth Olympiad taking place in London last year, there were national heroes created, spectacular sporting drama, and legendary, inspirational performances displayed, living long in the memory of spectators for years to come. In search of all this glorious success, athletes will have trained for years. Slaving away relentlessly so that they are able to attain their body’s natural peak, and deliver the performance of their lives at the world’s greatest competition. However, there are always individuals for whom the glory – so intensely desired – will seem unattainable without the help of devious methods to unfairly tip the balance in their favour.

The concept of doping has been present for many, many years. In fact, even before the inception of Baron Pierre De Coubertin’s modern Olympic movement in 1896, there are tales of the Greeks at their Olympics in ancient times taking special ‘magic potions’ and eating exotic meats in the hope of making them perform better. Such actions, if discovered, would lead to disqualification. Years on from this, in just the third modern Olympic Games in 1904, Thomas Hicks is known to have taken several doses of strychnine and brandy during the marathon race . From this point to where we are now over a hundred years later doping and doping control has advanced a long way. Those advances have, in the main, occurred in individually significant stages. An example of how drawn out this process appears to have been can be illustrated by how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced a ban in 1967 on the use of drugs in competition; a whole seven years after Danish cyclist Knut Jensen died, after having taken large doses of amphetamine and nicotine acid during the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. It was a further five years on from 1967 before full scale anti-doping testing began operating. However, by this time doctors and coaches had already developed masking agents (the term used to refer to substances primarily used to cover up the use of those intended to enhance performance); an evolution, likely to have been the start of the war between dopers and anti-doping authorities that we still see today, and one in which the authorities are invariably one step behind.

Again, it was a substantial period of time from this introduction of wide spread testing to the first real high profile find which brought the issue of doping into the public domain. In 1988 at the Seoul Olympics, Ben Johnson tested positive for stanozolol days after thrilling audiences around the globe with his world record of 9.79s in the blue riband event of the Games; the men’s 100m. As such a massive event, it made the public much more aware of drugs in sport, and made people begin to question the authenticity of athletes’ performances. Johnson is a highly controversial figure in the world of doping. He was banned for two years then, after returning to the sport, subsequently tested positive again (in 1993, this time for an elevated level of testosterone) leading to a lifetime ban. He claims that today, the top 30-40 per cent of all athletes cheat as he did. When asked why athletes doped, a training partner of Johnson, Tony Sharpe, said simply, “the glory is too sweet, the dollars are too much”. As result of Johnson’s hearing, it became apparent that everyone who mattered in Canadian and world athletics knew that Charlie Francis’ (Johnson’s coach since he first began to break through in the sport) sprint group were all members of ‘the brotherhood of the needle’. This brought to light the prevalence of conspiracies in elite sport, and how much of an unrealised impact they were having.

After the 1988 Olympics, random, out-of-competition testing came about. Aimed at those who were doping in their training leading up to a competition, but would not be during the actual event as to evade testers. However, this was a move called for in the early 1970s by world leading sports scientists such as Professor Brookes, Dr Manfred Donike in Germany and Dr Robert Dugal in Canada, and which didn’t come about until well over ten years after they voiced their strong recommendations.

Many questions have been raised following an event a few years prior to this – at the 1983 World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland – of a conspiracy surrounding unreported positive test results due to pressures placed on officials. An American 400m runner, Cliff Wiley, told the media that during the Championships: “at least 38 people tested positive, at least 17 were Americans. But they were so big the organisers didn’t dare name them.”


Clearly then the 20th century had a lot of key events in relation to doping, the progression of the problem was very rapid indeed and unfortunately to this day it is still ever advancing. In the next part of the series I will look more in depth at more recent times including the BALCO scandal and advances in testing.  If you want to hear more about the history of doping, again, be sure to like or comment on this blog and next week we’ll be sure to have part 2 ready and waiting for you.

As always, you can contact me through the Facebook page with anything at all you’d like advice on or any suggestions for the blog.


Roy Barber


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