Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Doping In Sports: Through The Lenses Of Time

Posted on August 21, 2017 by Tyrion Smith

doping-sportsWitnessing the whole BALCO fiasco and long trials of Barry Bonds along with Mark McGwire would have made you wonder that these are the first cases of doping in sports, especially in baseball, but that’s farther from the truth. Yes, the baseball doping was highlighted way more than other incidents of steroid use by athletes in the US, partially because of congressional hearings in 2005 and critically acclaimed movie ‘Bigger, Stronger, Faster’.

Initial Phase

The fact is doping history in sports goes all the way back to ancient Rome when chariot racers were used to drink an herbal pre-workout of sorts before races, heightening their focus and endurance. That’s one of the earliest forms (100 AD) of competitive sports known to mankind. Fast forward to 1889, and ironically, a baseball player openly admitted using testosterone, a rather organic form derived from pigs and dog’s testicles. Sure, there were few instances of athletes experimenting with caffeine and liquor here and there, but come on, caffeine and booze can’t be considered doping despite their proclaimed performance enhancing effects.

First Causalities

Soon after the use of testosterone in 1889, the world witnessed the horrors of steroids in 1896 when Ephedrine intake caused death of English cyclist, A.Linton. Then in 1904, Tom Hicks collapsed at St. Louis marathon, and though he won the event, doctors proved use of Strychinine and Cognac.

The Booming Period

After that we saw a boom in the use of drugs that enhance performance of humans to somewhat super human level, across sports and in wars as well. Call it leaked secretive documents or conspiracy theories, soldiers in WW II were given Amphetamines to boost their endurance and focus, both Allied and Axis.

Finally, we see the mid-1900s, when the use of anabolic steroids was rampant and we witnessed highly tuned muscular physiques. It was the era of superiorly muscular bodybuilders like Sergio Oliva, Arnold and later Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman and Phil Heath ushered a ground-breaking phenomenon where human limits were pushed to the max. Soon HGH joined the list of anabolic doping agents as the most potent activist. Ironically, the very sport of bodybuilding highlighted the absolute potential of HGH and doping agents, in addition to its side effects. The number of causalities and deaths directly related to abuse of HGH, insulin and anabolic steroids, in bodybuilding is among the highest and the facts are widely documented on social media. However, that happens only when you misuse them. Learn more about HGH here.

However, bodybuilding is not the most aggressive benefactor of the whole anabolic steroid saga, rather it’s the sports, which is least expected. Its use in baseball has been notoriously documented, and same is the case with the sport of cycling, sprinting and most of the Olympic sports. Sad, but it is true!

Ben Johnson won the 100 meters at the 1988 Olympics, but his win was overturned due to a failed drug test.

Ben Johnson won the 100 meters at the 1988 Olympics, but his win was overturned due to a failed drug test.

The iconic win of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in 1988 Olympics and even more iconic doping scandals that it initiated didn’t help the cause of prohibiting professional athletes from indulging in short lived glory. After winning the gold, he was later stripped of it for testing positive with banned substances. However, to ease the blow, 6/8 participants of final race in 1988 Olympics 100 M, tested positive for banned substances. Later Justin Gatlin, Americas only hope to tackle the legendary Usain Bolt, was found guilty of the same offense and lost out of his prime performing years due to the ban.

The legends like Maradona and Andre Agassi were also busted for using Ephedrine in 1994. Both Andre Agassi and eye candy Maria Sharapova failed drug tests.

Lance Armstrong was once hailed the best athlete in the world, won Tour De France a record 7 times from 1999 to 2005, however all titles were taken back when he was found guilty of cheating, taking performance enhancers. The whole debacle is quite interesting, as he couldn’t even finish the Tour in 1996. Ironically, all top contenders in competitive cycling use some sort of gear, it was just the matter of getting caught and acknowledging what he used that put a dark label on Lance.

Soviet Olympic teams have been a subject of strict scrutiny and criticism for their use of performance enhancers in as recent as 2014 and 2016 Olympics, mainly thanks to the conspiracy theories or security leaks that didn’t help to improve their standings either.

Then comes the cases of combative sports, where culprits are numerous and more decorative than any other sports. These include boxing, MMA and not so combative Wrestling Entertainment. The legends like James Toney and Evander Holyfield made the cut to the list of shame, however in wrestling and MMA, there is no any such list. Culprits in MMA are often handed one match suspension or a meager fine. In case of wrestling, even such punishments are scarce. The most recent and highlighted case of doping in MMA is of Alistair Overeem, who kicked Brock Lesnar out of active MMA and back to Wrestling Entertainment. He was tested positive for the Brock Lesnar match and two matches after that as well, but neither was he banned from the sport nor he had to return the prize money. Same is the case with most of the middleweight and heavyweight divisions in UFC, as multiple champions and contenders including Anderson Silva, Yoel Romero and Jon Jones failed drug test multiple times. However, Jon Jones returned and regained his title belt. Only time will tell if he fails the drug test again and get a soft slap on back, more like a pat.


Sources consulted:

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