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A history of doping

If you thought Ben Johnson was sport's biggest 'cheat', think again. A look at the past reveals a rather colourful story...

Early reports of drug taking in Tour de France Benzedrine, trade name for amphetamine, first appeared at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Its perceived effects gave it the street name 'speed'. English club players were accused of using it in the '60s.

Anabolic steroids (AAS) were first isolated, identified and synthesised in the 1930s. Known side effects include harmful changes in cholesterol levels. AAS use in sports began in October 1954, when John Ziegler, a doctor who treated American athletes, went to Vienna with the American weightlifting team. There he met a Russian physicist who, over "a few drinks, " repeatedly asked, "What are you giving your boys?" When Ziegler returned the question, the Russian said that his own athletes were being given testosterone. The results were impressive - so impressive that lifters began taking ever more doses. Steroids spread to other sports where bulk mattered.


In 1977, shot-putter Ilona Slupianek tested positive for anabolic steroids at the European Cup in Helsinki. In 1979, East German sprinter Renate Neufeld said that she had been told to take steroids supplied by coaches while training for East Germany at the 1980 Olympics. After German reunification, evidence emerged that the Stasi, the secret police, supervised doping in East Germany from 1971 till 1990.

Ben Johnson tested positive for Stanozolol at the 1988 Olympics. He later admitted to using Dianabol, Testosterone Cypionate, Furazabol, and human growth hormones too.


Synthetic oxygen carriers:
Synthetic oxygen carriers, such as haemoglobin-based oxygen carriers or perflurocarbons, are purified proteins or chemicals with the ability to carry oxygen. These are useful for emergency therapeutic purposes when human blood is not available, when the risk of blood infection is high, or when there is not enough time to properly cross-match donated blood. However, their misuse for doping purposes carries the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Blood doping:

There are two forms of blood doping - autologous and homologous. Autologous blood doping is the transfusion of one's own blood, which has been stored (refrigerated or frozen) until needed. Homologous blood doping is the transfusion of blood that has been taken from another person with the same blood type. Although the use of blood transfusions for blood doping dates back several decades, its recent resurgence is likely due to the introduction of efficient EPO detection methods.


Anecdotal evidence indicates that modafinil does indeed enhance physical performance, likely due to its amphetamine-mimicking properties. Modafinil was added to the prohibited list in 2004 as a banned stimulant.

Erythropoietin (EPO):

A genetically engineered version of a natural hormone made by the kidney that stimulates bone marrow to make red blood cells. Synthetic EPO is sold as a rescue medicine for treating anemia in endstage kidney disease, when production of EPO declines. Because red blood cells carry oxygen to the muscles, and because bikers need a huge amount of oxygen in their arduous sport, raising the number of red blood cells can theoretically improve performance.

Exogenous EPO can often be detected in blood. ESAs have a history of usage as a blood doping agent in endurance sports such as cycling, rowing, distance running, race walking, cross country skiing, biathlons, and triathlons. Though EPO was believed to be widely used in the 1990s in certain sports, a test developed by scientists at the French national anti-doping laboratory (LNDD) in 2000 and endorsed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was introduced to detect pharmaceutical EPO by distinguishing it from the nearly-identical natural hormone normally present in an athlete's urine.

Tetrahydrogestrinone (THG or The Clear):

A designer steroid, created by modifying two other known steroids - trenbolone and gestrinone. Around 10 times more potent than nandrolone or trenbolone, it promotes growth of muscle tissue. Considered invisible in athletics as it was undetectable in steroid tests. It was used by athletes such as Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers. THG was first discovered when US coach Trevor Graham delivered a syringe containing traces of the drug to the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2003. A

Human growth hormone (HGH):

HGH is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body. It is synthesised and secreted by cells in the anterior pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. HGH is known to act on many aspects of cellular metabolism and is also necessary for skeletal growth in humans. The major role of HGH in body growth is to stimulate the liver and other tissues to secrete insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1 ). IGF-1 stimulates production of cartilege cells, resulting in bone growth and also plays a key role in muscle and organ growth. Literature and research have shown that hGH has an ergogenic and anabolic impact, and that it enhances the anabolic power of steroids. England rugby player Terry Newton was the first athlete to be sanctioned for its use in 2010.

Gene doping:

The practice of using genetic engineering to artificially enhance athletic performance. It is a spin-off of gene therapy, which alters a person's DNA. The method is banned by WADA and the International Olympic Committee. Scientists have now developed tests for gene doping. The blood test can provide proof of gene doping, even going as far back as 56 days from when the doping took place.

(Compiled by Biju Babu Cyriac)

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