Photo: Muscle and Fitness
Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) have been around for longer than you may think; actually, for thousands of years. The word “dope” comes from the Dutch word ‘“doop,” an opium juice, the drug of choice for ancient Greeks. Norse warriors ate hallucinogenic mushrooms before battle; ancient greeks have used their doop since the first olympics; Roman gladiators used stimulants and hallucinogens to fight off fatigue; Roman horses were fed substances for chariot racing...
Doping was surprisingly accepted up until the latter half of the 20th century. It wasn’t until then that use of external substances began to pose a threat to the integrity of sports (and the health of the player), did regulations come about. The use of amphetamines caused the first and only olympic death in 1960, when Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen lost consciousness, crashed, and lost his life. Jensen’s death was a major catalyst, as well as the development of more powerful PEDs that gave large advantages. Sporting agencies began to crack down on the doping, and in 1964 the International Olympic Committee released the first list of banned substances and practices.
However, this was by no means a cure all.
PEDs were still widely used. Not even 10 years after the ban, the East German Olympic team orchestrated the most systematic doping program the world has seen. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s, the East German athletes were administered drugs, such as anabolic steroids, by coaches and trainers, implementing PEDs as if it were just another part of the routine. They weren’t caught until the wall fell--and the country didn’t exist anymore.
And as we know, systematic doping did not end there. Almost the entire Russian olympic team was banned from these 2016 Rio Olympics for a state sponsored doping program, used in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. What was revealed was appalling:
In a dark-of-night operation, Russian antidoping experts and members of the intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, somehow breaking into the supposedly tamper-proof bottles that are the standard at international competitions, Dr. Rodchenkov said. For hours each night, they worked in a shadow laboratory lit by a single lamp, passing bottles of urine through a hand-size hole in the wall, to be ready for testing the next day, he said.
That’s not even the scariest part; they probably would have never been caught if it weren’t for the whistleblower.
Why is this possible?
The World Anti Doping Agency is well, a world organization after all; shouldn’t they be able to use a myriad of minds and resources to stop the doping problem?
Perhaps--but the problem is not a lack of resources. The problem is a lack of trying. According to a report to WADA, “There is no general appetite to undertake the effort and expense of a successful effort to deliver doping-free sport.” In addition to this, as John Oliver explains, the process of testing and catching cheaters is a complicated web of agencies with room for many holes (even the literal ones). Even though the rules are there, doping still is going to happen.
For a more outright use of doping, we shift our view to what has almost become synonymous with steroids: the gym. Here, steroids are used just about as often as the stories tell. About 1 in 4 gym goers use steroids. Many bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions are not drug tested (including The Arnold Classic, and some go as far to have both drug-tested and non drug-tested divisions in the same meet. Even Arnold himself admits to juicing).
We also see wide PED use in baseball. Player’s paychecks depend on being able to produce for the team, and when you're playing 7 games a week, your body may need a boost. Drugs are an appealing option. Players such as Dock Ellis turn to this, and it can easily turn dark. "So how did I deal with the stress?” Dock asks himself. “I medicated with the drugs. If I'm high, I'm not afraid of anything. I just reached into a bag [of pills] until I got tired." The film No No: A Dockumentary, centered around his famous LSD fueled no-hitter, chronicles the immense amount of drug use Dock was involved with, including dozens of “greenies” a day, binge drinking, and fishbowls of pills.
The fact is, doping will be present for the foreseeable future. People's lives are dedicated to being the best and careers dependent on being able to perform, so there is no surprise that any advantage is appealing. Here, the excuse “everyone else is doing it” has weight--because if you don’t do it too, you could lose your job, or fail your country.