A History of Doping in Sport

James Mayhew

2nd, July 2020

Top-class sport is a hugely competitive environment – a factor that has often contributed to the boundaries of fair play being abused.

Doping is an issue that has affected sports since ancient times and is one that has yet to be fully eradicated in the modern era.

One of the biggest scandals in recent times was the state-sponsored doping program of Russian athletes, which eventually resulted in the country being barred from international competition.

That culture crossed over into other sports, most notably when Maria Sharapova was banned from tennis for two years after admitting to doping offences.

Her actions had serious implications in other sectors, with the results of in-play betting on tennis matches involving Sharapova undoubtedly affected by her cheating.

Read on as we look at the origins of doping and assess some of the biggest scandals to impact modern sports.

Ancient Greeks get the ball rolling

The Ancient Greeks were the first people to latch onto doping, using stimulants such as hallucinogenic mushrooms and sesame seeds to enhance performance.

The ancients also ingested the organs of humans and animals to improve their strength and vitality – a practice that wasn’t actually considered as cheating.

Things got more serious in the 19th century, with Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard’s infamous ‘Elixir of Life’ the earliest known example of doping in American professional sports.

That laid the foundations for more special concoctions to be developed over the next few decades that were used across a wide variety of disciplines.

Eastern bloc nations ramp things up

The Soviet Union were inevitably responsible for taking doping up a notch as they experimented with testosterone supplements during the 1950s.

Doping subsequently became far more prevalent over the next couple of decades, as other nations attempted to play catch-up by any means possible.

One of worst examples of this was East Germany, whose sports federation implemented a mandatory state doping policy for athletes as young as 10.

Virtually every sport was impacted in some way, with subsequent studies showing that around 10,000 athletes had been doped during that period.

Johnson brings doping into the mainstream

The 100 metres final at the Summer Olympics is one of the most prestigious events in sport, but the 1988 edition is remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson stormed home ahead of Carl Lewis, but subsequently failed a drug test and was stripped of the gold medal.

The American was promoted into first place, while Johnson’s photograph was plastered over the front pages and he was eventually banned for two years.

Doping remains an issue in modern athletics, as highlighted by the recent four-year ban handed to coach Alberto Salazar for ‘orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct’.

Armstrong casts a cloud over cycling

Professional cycling has long had an association with doping, with the prestigious Tour de France often central to the controversies.

The most famous example of this is Lance Armstrong, with the seven-time winner of the race ruining his legendary status as a result of doping.

Cheats have continued to negatively impact the sport, as demonstrated by the recent scandal surrounding Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky.

The allegations were eventually dropped, but the stigma attached to the case have negatively impacted many people’s perception of Wiggins and his team.

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