Performance Enhancing Drugs and Doping in Sport

A look at some of the major doping scandals that shocked the world of sport

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Doping is the use of one or more illegal substances or techniques to improve athletic performance and hence gain an advantage in a sporting competition.

Examples of illegal substances include anabolic steroids and ephedrine. Blood doping is also prohibited. The latter involves a technique for temporarily improving athletic performance in which oxygen-carrying red blood cells, from blood previously withdrawn from an athlete, are reinjected just before an event.

The list of illegal substances, as well as techniques to be used in sport, in addition to establishing all anti-doping policies, rules and regulations, fall under the responsibility of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency). This article will take a look at a number of major doping scandals that took place in different sports.

WADA logo

Ben Johnson

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the men’s world 100-meter running record was broken by Ben Johnson in a 9.79 seconds run (the current record is the 9.58 seconds Usain’s Bolt run in 2009).

“The 1988 Seoul Olympics 100 meter men’s run was characterized as the dirtiest of all time.”

However, a post-competition urine sample test indicated Ben Johnson as positive in the use of stanozolol. Stanozolol is an illegal water-based steroid (similar to the male hormone testosterone) which increases muscle mass, ultimately enhancing athletic performance.

Three days after the run, the Canadian sprinter was stripped of his gold medal. The run’s runner-up, Carl Lewis, was hence awarded the gold medal.

Ben Johnson

The 1988 Seoul Olympics 100 meter men’s run was characterized as the dirtiest of all time. This was because the winners of the first four positions in that run were tested positive for doping during that year.

However, apart from Ben Johnson, the rest of the three (Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Denis Mitchell) were not disqualified from the run as they didn’t test positive during the 1988 Olympic Games.

In addition, during the remaining of their careers, six out of the eight sprinters of those Olympics were tested positive for banned substances.

Lance Armstrong

The American cyclist was involved in the biggest doping scandal in the history of the sport.

The road racing cyclist and winner of seven Tour de Frances titles had been facing doping allegations since the winning of the 1999 Tour de Frances. Lance Armstrong had been denying the use of any illegal substance or technique for many years. At the end of the day hadn’t tested positive in any up until that point.

“USADA characterized Armstrong’s case as the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.”

This changed in 2012 where the United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA) undertook an in-depth investigation and concluded that Lance Armstrong had been using prohibited substances for a long portion of his career. USADA characterized Armstrong’s case as the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.

USADA logo

After that, the American road cyclist was stripped of all of his achievements from 1998 onwards including among other, his seven Tour de Frances victories. In addition, he received a lifetime ban from all sports in accordance with WADA rules, a decision that ended his professional career.

Lance Armstrong

In a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013, Lance Armstrong admitted the use of testosterone, human growth hormone and Erythroprotein (EPO). The latter is a hormone produced by the kidneys to stimulate red blood cell production and its use in excess increases the amount of oxygen delivered to the muscles. This helps in recovery and endurance. Lance Armstrong stated that he began using these substances in the mid-90s.

Diego Maradona

The Argentinian ex-footballer is considered by a large number of people as the best ever player in the history of the game. During his football career, he managed some incredible achievements, such as the winning of the 1986 World Cup with Argentina in addition to two Seria A titles with Napoli (1986-87 and 1989 90). Maradona’s contribution to the winning of those titles was vital. Both Argentina and Napoli haven’t since managed similar achievements. While on the pitch Diego Maradona was extraordinary and his achievements were incomparable, he was not exactly a role model.

Maradona goal against England

In 1991, Diego Maradona was tested positive for the use of cocaine prior to a Napoli match against Bari.

“The Disciplinary Commission of the Italian League banned the 30-year-old Argentinian player at that time for 15 months in playing football in Italy.”

The Disciplinary Commission of the Italian League banned the 30-year-old Argentinian player at that time for 15 months in playing football in Italy, meaning his return to the game was due to be the 30th of June 1992. The suspension was extended worldwide by FIFA.

After serving a 15-month ban, Maradona left Napoli and signed for Sevilla.

Maradona

Two years later the Argentinian football star was involved in another doping scandal.

At the 1994 World Cup, after the second group stage game against Nigeria, Argentina’s number 10 failed a drug test for ephedrine. This was his last ever international game for Argentina as FIFA banned him from 1994 World Cup tournament.

He was punished for 15 more months in participating in any football competition. Maradona returned to his home country and played for two more clubs, Newell’s Old Boys and Boca Junior ending his career in 1997.

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova was once ranked as the world number one female tennis player in singles for a total of 21 weeks.

She managed, among other achievements, to win 5 grand slams including the French Open twice (2012, 2014), in addition to the Wimbledon and US Opens (2004 Wimbledon, 2006 US Open).

Maria Sharapova

The Russian tennis player was involved in a doping scandal at the 2016 Australian Open after failing a drug test in which she was tested positive for the use of meldonium. This is a substance which protects heart issue by regulating metabolism, aiming for an increase in the endurance of the athlete. In addition, meldonium improves rehabilitation after exercise, protects the user against stress and enhances activations of the central nervous system functions.

“Meldonium improves rehabilitation after exercise, protects the user against stress and enhances activations of the central nervous system functions.”

Sharapova was initially banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation, however, the ban was later reduced to 15 months starting from 26th of January 2016, the date on which she was tested positive to the substance of meldonium.

It has to be mentioned that meldonium was a substance that has been banned by WADA on January 1st 2016, with the Australian Open taking place between 18th and 31st of that month.

Based on the latter, Sharapova stated that she hadn’t read the email sent by the International Tennis Federation in regard to the ban of meldonium.

In addition, meldonium is not approved for use in the United States but it is legal in Sharapova’s home country Russia.

“Sharapova claimed that she was taking meldonium because of magnesium deficiency and to treat a family history of diabetes.”

Lastly, Sharapova claimed that she was taking meldonium because of magnesium deficiency and to treat a family history of diabetes.

None of her claims changed the decision taken by the International Tennis Federation and hence Sharapova returned to competitive tennis in April 2017.

by Joseph Violaris

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