The question remains to what extent did drug use in sport trouble contemporary writers and participants. An early example of an emerging anti-doping ideology came in 1895 in an article in the medical section of the New York Times. This came in response to rumours of 'bicyclists who use various coca and kola compounds in order to help them with their work' and 'that preparations of cocaine are consumed to some extent'. These claims were treated with serious disapproval:
We feel sure that all true athletes would disdain any such injurious and adventitious aids, but there is a vast number of persons who take such things thoughtlessly and injury is done thereby. The announcements which are made in advertisements of various stimulants, in which it is claimed that they save the strength and promote the endurance of bicyclers and athletes generally are very much to be deprecated. There are no drugs which will help one to win a game that could not be won without them, and the general effect of drug taking, and especially of the use of drugs belonging to the caffeine and cocaine class, is distinctly bad. We believe that the medical profession ought seriously to warn those with whom they come in contact professionally against the use of such things.
(New York Times, 1 December 1895)
It was around the mid 1890s that one of the most public debates on doping took place. The cycling fraternity in England voiced criticism of the psychological trick devised by trainer 'Choppy' Warburton in which he gave his riders a drink of unknown properties in such a cloak-and-dagger manner as to suggest it contained something 'special'. Crowds of spectators accused his protégé James Michael of taking 'dope' during an 1896 race when he was seen taking a mouthful from Warburton's secret bottle. This was seen as part of a wider strategy employed by the trainer. The Sporting Life reported that another of Warburton's charges, Arthur Linton, had been repeatedly given strychnine, trimethyl and heroin (Woodland 2003). Whether or not the mysterious liquid contained drugs, it is clear that many of the watching fans and journalists took a critical view of this practice, even though no rules had yet been constructed to outlaw it. However, it seems just as possible that Warburton was employing the placebo effect. While some of the cyclists under his charge met early deaths, none have been shown to be caused by illicit drugs. Nonetheless, the trainer was banned from cycling tracks by the National Cyclists' Union. And we can see that doping was considered a serious breach of the 'spirit of sport' by at least some spectators during this period. Quite whether there is enough evidence to prove the case is doubtful. However, this obstacle has not prevented many writers from assuming Linton's death was caused by a drug overdose (see Chapter 1) or from claims such as Woodland's that Warburton 'had a reputation for using the drugs of the time to increase the tension of tired muscles (strychnine) and deaden the nerves (heroin)' (Woodland 2003: 19).
The most commonly cited example is that of Thomas Hicks, but the impression usually conveyed is that he suffered severe health effects and almost died as a result of the strychnine. For instance, Houlihan argues that he 'collapsed following the use of a strychnine-brandy cocktail' (1999: 34). Similarly, Terry Todd refuses to accept that Lucas' role and interpretation of the events might have been legitimate in historical context:
The most famous case of drug enhancement occurred at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis. The case is well known because at the conclusion of the marathon, the winner, America's Thomas Hicks, collapsed. During the investigation, Hicks's handlers, who had been allowed to accompany him throughout the course of the race in a motorcar, admitted they had given him repeated doses of strychnine and brandy to keep him on his feet. Even so Hicks's medal was not taken away, and his joy at winning was expressed to reporters in a telling way when he finally revived: "I would rather have won this race than be president of the United States".
Todd's interpretation assumes that drug use ought to be seen as cheating, that some sort of investigation took place with that assumption in mind, and that Hicks could and should have been disqualified. However, since there were no rules against taking such drugs and the runner's 'handlers' were so honest about what happened, doping of this sort was probably not seen as a crime. Moreover, the testimony given by Charles Lucas who - perhaps with self-interest in mind - offered a highly positive account suggests drug use in sport was not widely condemned. Regardless of Lucas' subjective posturing, that is the best available evidence and anything else is mere speculation. But discourses and truth are separate entities: Lucas pushed a discourse of validity; later historians have, with anti-doping in mind, reconstructed the story and presented an alternative discourse.
The marathon of four years later, in the 1908 London Games, produced a controversy which some historians have taken to be doping-related. The Italian runner, Dorando Pietri, was leading the race in the final stretch when he fell over several times with exhaustion. Sensing the Italian deserved to win, officials and spectators helped him to his feet. He was first through the tape in dramatic fashion much to the crowd's pleasure but disqualified and the race awarded to the unpopular American Johnny Hayes. It has been claimed that Pietri had been doped with strychnine (Hoberman 1992) though the source of such accusations has never been transparent. It is also unclear if it would be considered morally wrong in the early twentieth century.
Some contemporary sources do offer more insight. It was reported in the press that Pietri had fallen four times in the final three hundred yards, and that 'three times after the doctors had poured stimulants down his throat he was dragged to his feet, and finally was pushed across the line with one man at his back and another holding him by the arm' (New York Times, 25 July 1908). These two men seem to be Maxwell Andrews and Dr Bulger. The former has left a written testimony of the events of that day:
As Dorando reached the track, he staggered, and after a few yards, fell. I kept would-be helpers at bay, but Dr Bulger went to his assistance. I warned him that this would entail disqualification, but he replied that although I was in charge of the race, I must obey him. Each time that Dorando fell, I had to hold his legs whilst the Doctor massaged him to keep his heart beating. Each time that he arose, we kept our arms in position behind (not touching him) to prevent him falling on his head, and as he reached the tape he fell back on our arms. Dr Bulger told me that Dorando had taken a dope of strychnine and atropia, and only his attention both on the track and in the dressing room, saved his life. One of my cycling stewards (still living) saw him take the dope on the far side of Wormwood Scrubbs. Lord Desborough (Referee) on receiving the objection from the Americans, asked for my opinion, and I simply said, 'disqualification'.
Rather than being criticised or castigated, Pietri was honoured with a prize apart from the usual medals, essentially in recognition of his efforts. Queen Alexandra presented him with a silver gilded cup, a gesture apparently proposed by the famous author Arthur Conan Doyle who was at the race. Pietri went on to a brief period of celebrity. If there was a drugs issue at the time, it did not seem to concern de Coubertin, who wrote:
The disqualification of Dorando Pietri, winner of the marathon, infuriated popular opinion. No one can dispute the fact that Dorando was the moral winner of the competition, or that, technically, he could be disqualified. He made it to the Stadium; he did not reach the finish line. He was supported because he was falling down. Whatever the cause of his repeated fainting - a problem with his food intake or the emotions caused by the welcome of the crowd - it deprived him of the means to forge on ahead to the finish line on his own. The thing is, who can deny that in a race of over forty kilometres, failing at the finish line is nearly the equivalent of victory? That is how the English saw it, and the exquisite gesture of their gracious sovereign merely spoke for the unanimous sentiment of the nation.
The Pietri case is really interesting but we remain only partially informed. If he took drugs or was given some medical assistance, it did not seem to worry too many people at the time. The Americans argued, quite rightly, that being supported over the line meant disqualification. If drugs were involved in this story, it would be wrong to conclude from a late twentieth century perspective that it was hypocritical to make an informal award to Pietri.
The issue of inhaling extra oxygen - essentially an artificial introduction of a natural substance - provoked some strong criticism in 1908. Jabez Wolffe was a British long distance swimmer who took part in the highly competitive quest to swim the English Channel, though after 22 attempts between 1906 and 1913 he never actually made a successful crossing. During the swim he was given doses of extra oxygen, though it is not clear how this was administered. His rival, Montague Holbien (who also was unsuccessful in his attempts), described this form of enhancement as 'unsportsmanlike'. This was supported by the British aristocrat and sportsman Lord Lonsdale who argued that 'the use of oxygen is unsportsmanlike and un-English' (New York Times, 4 October 1908). Lonsdale here draws from the idealistic notion that the English as a 'race' approached sport with a strong sense of morality and fair play. In this vision, sport should be about doing the best given natural limits, and about enjoying the spirit of fair competition. It should certainly not involve taking drugs or any sort of artificial enhancement in order to boost performance. However, Dr Leonard Hill, a physiologist who had conducted experiments on oxygen and performance, contested this point. He argued that oxygen should be seen as no different to other forms of sustenance such as food. However he does suggest strongly that sport was far from a level playing field:
Almost the whole of modern sport is conducted with artificial aids. The record feats of today are too often not sport, but deadly, earnest business. Either, I say, limit sport to reasonable feats of endurance or else add oxygen to the other artificial aids now employed in breaking records, and so diminish the harm done to the athlete's body.
(New York Times, 4 October 1908)
In his analysis of the situation, Hill contends that it is sport itself that places the pressure on the body, and that drugs and other nutritional aids actually serve to protect athletes from that form of pressure.
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