Drugs in sport: a long history
Using drugs to cheat in sport has a long history dating back to the ancient Olympics.
However from the 1960s, drug taking became a widely used and highly sophisticated means of taking home the medals. The East Germans and Russians had it down to a fine art, as they were determined to prove that the Communist system could produce better athletes than the western world.
According to Australian scientist Robin Parisotto, East Germany ran a sports drugs programme from 1972 to 1988 which is estimated to have involved 4700 coaches and 1000 doctors administering more than two million pills plus annually.
According to Jay Z’s popular hair drug test site many Western athletes also succumbed to the drug culture and at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Canadian Ben Johnson’s 100 metre time of 9.79 seconds proved too good to be true.
Furthermore there were serious suspicions about whether American sprinters Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith Joyner were getting some chemical assistance.
Other sports have also had their drug cheats: weightlifting, swimming, wrestling, skiing and soccer, to name but a few.
However cycling, especially in the lengthy road events like the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Veulta a Espana, have had major problems in the modern era, with many competitors taking banned substances either orally or by injection to enhance their performance.
Tour de France or tour de farce?
This legendary three week event in July has a history of over 100 years. It is the biggest annual sporting event on the planet and attracts huge interest around the world.
Millions of spectators watch the event from roadsides along the route, and a huge global audience views it stage by stage on television.
Sadly it has been a drug-soaked event. In 1967 English cyclist, Tommy Simpson, died after coming off his bike on the gruelling 1829m climb of Mt Ventoux in Provence.
A combination of amphetamines and alcohol, on top of exhaustion, caused his death.
Since that time drug testing has become a regular feature of the event and many cyclists testing positive have been thrown out. Two ‘winners’ have been stripped of their titles: Floyd Landis in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2010, until now.
In 1990 Irish cyclist Paul Kimmage exposed drug taking in the Tour de France in his book ‘Rough Ride.’
Kimmage was also one of the first to accuse Lance Armstrong of doping. However, he was ostracised by the cycling community, who adopted a code of silence on the whole issue of performance enhancement in the sport.
Lance Armstrong: hero to zero: it is about the doping
‘It’s Not About the Bike’ is Armstrong’s inspiring best seller about his successful battle against cancer. Many have confessed to being teary eyed after reading this extraordinary account of Armstrong’s triumph over aggressive testicular cancer which raced through his body to the brain.
Doctors gave him about a 10% chance of survival. But survive he did and then went on to win seven consecutive victories in the Tour de France.
Armstrong was drug tested regularly, but never provided the positive samples to prove his cheating . Simmering accusations by journalists like David Walsh and Pierre Ballester, and French cycling magazine L’Equipe, were widely dismissed as sour grapes or witch hunting
However, the evidence had been growing against the champion and by the middle of this year WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) had gathered sworn testimony from 26 people.
These individuals included a raft of former team mates including many who had been close friends of Armstrong: Tyler Hamilton, Frankie Andreu, Floyd Landis, Christian Vande Velde, Dave Zabriskie, George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer.
The verdict according to USADA chief executive, Travis Tygart, is that the evidence shows beyond doubt that the US Postal Service Pro Cycling team ran the most sophisticated and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.Armstrong had not only used EPO, testosterone, human growth hormone, steroids and cortisone to beat his rivals, but had also put considerable pressure on team mates to do the same.
Hypocrisy and betrayal
Armstrong has always denied taking drugs or blood doping, stating: “I believe that I am the most tested athlete on the planet, and I have never had a single positive doping test, and I do not take performance-enhancing drugs.
The denials continued whenever people he had associated with were prosecuted, like Dr Michele Ferrari who monitored his training for nine years and several ex-team mates such as Hamilton and Landis.
However the tiger is now right out of the bag, and millions of fans have been badly let down and betrayed.
This man was an admirable example of an athlete beating the odds against cancer and doing the impossible: winning the toughest sporting event in the world seven times.
He has also been an inspiration to millions of cancer sufferers with his Lance Armstrong Foundation, an organisation which has put over $US 30 million into the LIVESTRONG programmes.
Can cycling recover?
What happens now? There is speculation that, if Armstrong is stripped of his seven Tour titles, they will not be awarded to the second place getters
Will Armstrong ever admit to the world what he did and what will happen to his cancer work? Who knows?
Hopefully one positive outcome of this sordid episode in the history of a great sport, is that cycling will improve its image and the best will succeed on the basis of fitness, training, commitment and determination rather than on drugs and blood doping.