An affront to amateurism doping in the Olympics

The first evidence of drugs being used in sport after the war comes from a medical doctor attending the 1948 London Olympics who also saw that cyclists in and out of the Games were using what he considered to be illicit means of performance enhancement. Dr Christopher Woodward was an official advisor to the British team in 1948 and made his concerns public through a letter to Cycling magazine that was picked up as a story by the New York Times. He wrote:

I became suspicious that some competitors were receiving artificial stimulants at the Olympic Games. Two or three weeks later I was able to see things at closer range at the world cycling championships at Amsterdam, where I spent some of my time on the inside of the track. Few other than our own team knew who I was. Imagine my surprise, therefore when a garrulous foreigner surreptitiously tried to show me his pet concoction of strychnine, caffeine and Benzedrine ... [drug use in sport] is more widespread than people think ... I've just visited Sweden and people there told me it was going on constantly.

(New York Times, 1 October 1948)

It is not clear if such anxieties had much impact on the athletes of the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Reports are contradictory on this question. The United States weightlifting coach, Bob Hoffman, accused the Soviets of using testosterone, 'I know they're taking the hormone stuff to increase their strength' (cited in Todd 1987: 93). The Austrian sports medic and prominent anti-doping expert Ludwig Prokop (1975) found syringes in the locker room of speed skaters during the Winter Games of that year though it is unclear what was in them.

However, suggestions of doping were countered by Dr Arthur H. Steinhaus, Professor of Physiology at George Williams College, Chicago, who had been a medical expert at the Games. He claimed that science had helped athletes alongside better coaching and training, but strenuously denied that stimulants such as Benzedrine, pervetin and caffeine were being used in athletics, 'There's no place for that kind of stuff in athletics. And besides, I doubt if any known stimulant would really help a man win a race' (New York Times, 2 August 1952).

After the 1960 Rome Olympics the British runner Gordon Pirie revealed that the problem of drugs in sport was a 'serious problem' that 'springs mainly from the extreme nationalism now poisoning sport' (1961: 29). He witnessed athletes using Benzedrine at the Games, he was offered pep pills in the British changing room by a 'well known doctor', and another doctor responded to his abstinence by saying, 'You must be one of the few mugs left who doesn't' (1961: 29). This is a remarkable anecdote of collusion in the ranks of British team medics suggesting that doping was known about and sanctioned by figures in authority.

Pirie widened the scope of his criticisms, 'I believe it is standard practice before a race in certain Iron Curtain countries. Sudden staggering performances quite out of keeping with known form can only be explained by the use of drugs, and I believe their frequent use has accounted for the short athletic careers of some fine performances' (1961: 28-9). Certainly we can see that if the popular rumours highlight doping as standard practice among opponents, an athlete could easily be considered a 'mug' not to take stimulants when offered.

It was at the Rome Games that one of the most (in)famous tragedies took place. In the searing temperatures of the Italian summer (it was reportedly around 40 degrees Celsius), Knud Enemark Jensen and two of his Danish teammates were hospitalised with heat exhaustion after a cycling race. Sadly, Jensen died, his life a brief testament to sporting dedication. It has frequently been claimed that amphetamine use played a key role in this story (see M0ller 2005 for a critique of the flawed scholarship on this incident). The wider context of drug use in professional cycling certainly shows that amphetamines were used by cyclists (Wheatcroft 2003). Moreover, the Dutch cycling federation chairman, Piet van Dijk, said of those Games that 'dope - whole cartloads - were used in such royal quantities' (Woodland 2003: 108). The Danish team doctor did admit giving his riders a drug called Ronical which is a vasodilator. However, Ludwig Prokop later claimed that the autopsy performed by Italian doctors on Jensen revealed traces of amphetamine. In fact, the autopsy has never been made public and the Danish sporting authorities investigated the matter in conjunction with the Italian doctors and saw no reason to pursue any punishments (M0ller 2005).

While the evidence of usage has never been proven, Jensen's posthumous reputation continues to be sullied by those eager to use his body as proof of the health risks of doping, and by those whose retrospective accounts neatly see his death as the catalyst for an international anti-doping movement. As M0ller (2005) so convincingly shows, myths have been taken for facts in this case. Such has been the power of this myth that it has been repeated by various academics, sports administrators and writers of popular sports history. Perhaps it is even more important to realise that anti-doping and cycling leaders have succumbed to this myth. One of Prokop's principal allies in the anti-doping fight of the 1960s was Belgian doctor Albert Dirix, who was inspired by the idea that Jensen died due to a drug overdose:

We doctors wish to prevent such tragedies as those which occurred at the Rome Olympics, in which a cyclist died and two of his companions became gravely ill as a result of doping; for us it is a matter of conscience and nothing can be more criminal than to destroy the health or the life of a young athlete.

Such was Dirix's commitment that he described doping as an 'evil' that had 'assumed such large proportions ... that it seems absolutely essential to fight against it with every possible weapon' (1966: 183). But the legacy of the Jensen myth continued. In 1976, Wlodzimierz Golebiewski, the then Vice-President of the International Amateur Cycling Federation, claimed in reference to Jensen that, 'This young man had taken a large overdose of drugs, which had been the cause of his death' (cited in Woodland 2003: 108). Prince Alexandre de Merode, head of the IOC Medical Commission from 1967-2000, wrote in an official IOC

book that 'according to the experts' reports, [Jensen] had taken a strong dose of amphetamines and a nicotine acid derivative, administered, rumour had it, by his coach' (1999: 8). The lack of facts gave way to speculation, Golebiewski continued, 'No one has ever proved whether he took the overdose himself or whether the drug was administered by someone else without his knowledge' (cited in Woodland 2003: 108).

If cycling was seen as the 'problem' sport of the Olympics, the Jensen myth helped those who wanted to focus attention on one specific group of athletes. An additional facet was the history of professionalism in cycling, which many in the Olympic movement saw as undermining the amateur rules and spirit of the Games. In 1969, an Indian doctor G. M. Oza argued the case that doping was linked to 'artificial' forms of enhancement and thus to professionalism. His vision of sport saw the athlete 'struggle, strive and sweat for success ... real sportsmanship is associated with natural potentialities' (1969: 210). This meant that, artificial aids such as doping were seen as 'unnatural and contrary to the spirit of the Olympic Games' (1969: 210). Thus, the use of popular drugs such as amphetamines continued to be a thorn in the side of Olympic fanatics through the 1960s and into the 1970s. As we shall see, anti-doping was strengthened by the IOC's commitment to the cause, while steroids became the major issue of the 1970s. However, the distinct cultural frame of Olympism constructed doping and anti-doping as a fight for the heart of humanity itself:

I would prefer to class the athletes as a 'better race' on the surface of the earth. The future generations would inherit their characters and therefore a continuity of good society would be maintained. I would never wish then, that we should be deprived of such fine, healthy persons as a result of doping. Even if the history of doping dates back to the beginning of human civilization, I feel that it is not in keeping with the Olympic ideals and with the present time. The 20th century is for co-operation and not for unfair competition. The Olympic symbol is for developing sporting friendship between the different civilizations of the world.

This is the epitome of the sporting idealism model. Oza does not just put athletes on a pedestal, he practically has them as demi-gods. Not for him, the more cynical view of George Orwell that sport is war minus the bullets nor Bertold Brecht's opinion that 'Great sport begins where good health ends' (cited in Hoberman 1992: 1). But Oza was so in keeping with the IOC's idealism that two years later he was allowed the opportunity to continue his anti-doping, pro-sport fanaticism in the Olympic Review. In this second piece he wrote:

Olympism hates the use of drugs in sport ... It is better to die a natural death and end life in a characteristic sporting manner than to collapse after having become a drug addict. The [Olympic ideal], one of the noblest in the world, is threatened with extinction . I appeal to the legion of Olympic lovers residing throughout the world to do their utmost to preserve the dignity of the Olympic Games. We have pledged to have an anti-doping crusade with a view to safeguarding the moral and physical health of our athletes. This is the only measure which will protect 'strength, health and purity' - the aims of sport.

Couched in religious vocabulary, Oza imagines a crusade against the heresy that threatens the virtuous demi-gods. The symbolic importance of doping went beyond Olympism, to sport and to universal morality. However, the Olympics were a focal point and amateurism was a peg on which to hang all manner of issues.

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