The Olympics is one of the celebrated events in the world—and yet the most talked about, especially on doping allegations. Held every 4 years, it has its roots in Greece, which may also be the first site for performance-enhancing drugs. Based on the articles of Larry D. Bowers and Sally Jenkins, the competitors were bent on earning the recognition and laurel wreaths and thus often resorted to herbal medications, animal testicles and opium juices known as “doop.” The drugs were also taken by animals as in the case of Roman gladiators’ horses.

Fast forward to the 1940s, during the Second World War, anecdotes alleged the use of amphetamines by soldiers and experiments on steroids on prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and on Hitler himself.

Around 10 years later, Dr. John Bosley Zieglar, created Dianabol, a potent anabolic steroid, which he tested on USSR weightlifters. It later became available in the U.S. market, making it so accessible to American athletes.

Control on Steroids and other Performance-enhancing Drugs

In 1967 the IOC (International Olympic Committee) created a special committee to focus on doping, especially the well-being of the athletes and game ethics. About a year after, I 1968, the first doping test was conducted by the IOC in both summer and winter Olympics held in Mexico and France, respectively. However, anabolic steroids weren’t part of the banned substances list because there’s still no test that could produce conclusive results. By 1972, a more wide-scale, accurate, and comprehensive method of doping testing was introduced. By 1975, anabolic steroids made it to the banned list after a conclusive test was developed; athletes in 1976 were then tested for anabolic steroids.  

The 1980s was a landmark period for doping regulation. During the 1983 Pan American Games in Venezuela, many athletes, including the American players, withdrew from their respective competitions and 19 failed the surprise examination. Five years after, the first act against sale of non-medical steroids became official. It was then called Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan. Two years after, the Anabolic Steroids Act was passed, classifying the substance as schedule III, along with morphine and methamphetamines (meth).

Organizations such as WADA (World Anti-doping Agency) and USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) were established. In 2002, Dr. Don Caitlin discovered norbolethone, allowing watchdogs to detect designer steroids in urine.

Athletes and Doping

One of the first doping casualties was Olympian Knut Jensen in 1960 during Summer Olympics. He died from Ronicol, a kind of amphetamine. Another cyclist eventually died seven years after. Celebrated Tommy Simpson died of too much brandy and amphetamines in order to control his illness. His death also sparked the creation of anti-doping committee of the IOC.

Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall of Sweden was the first athlete to be disqualified from competing in the Olympics in 1968 because of doping. Ben Johnson, on the other hand, was one of the first to be stripped off his medal (which was gold) in September 1988 after he tested positive for an anabolic steroid called stanozolol.