Saturday, August 23, 2008

Doping In The Olympics: The Early Years

Jean-Pierre de Mondenard's history of doping in the Olympics unsurprisingly points to the marathon as the first event with confirmed cases of doping.

In 1896 in Greece, Spiridon Louys stopped after 30 km and drank a big glass of wine. It either numbed the pain or gave him the necessary energy to dash to the finish line and become the first gold medalist in marathon history. Mondenard reports that as a reward, Louys was given 123 kg of wine. To your health!

But leave it to Americans to introduce the hard stuff. In St. Louis (1904), marathon gold medalist Thomas Hicks received strychnine and cognac from trainers in order to make it to the finish. Instead of expressing outrage, journalists were amazed that drugs could have such a beneficial effect on athletes. That's American know-how at work.

In London (1908), Dorando Pietri took strychnine and atropine to help him cross the line first. But the Italian was later disqualified--not for doping, but for receiving "physical assistance." Onlookers actually propped him up and helped him across the line.

In 1920 the first official marathon anti-doping rules went into the books.

P.S. Isn't strychnine used to kill rodents? Who knew....

Source: Mondenard, Jean-Pierre. Le dopage aux Jeux olympiques: La triche récompensée. Amphora, 1996.

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