09 MayTalking about History of Steroids in Sports
The story of steroid use in sports began just before the World Weightlifting Championships of 1954. The Soviets had made their Olympic debut in Helsinki in 1952, and made quite an impact, but nothing compared to the show they put on in 1954. That year, the Soviets easily dominated most of the weight classes. As the story goes, John Ziegler (team physician for the United States) questioned the soviet team´s doctor after the medals were given out, and the soviet doctor said that his team had been receiving testosterone injections. That, in all probability, was the first time anyone had ever used anabolic steroids to enhance performance in an athletic event. According to some unconfirmed sources, testosterone preparations were used by Germany´s Olympic team in 1936 for the Berlin Olympics. At that time, there were rumors that an Olympic medal winner had previously used oral Testosterone preparations, but the benefit to be had from them (due to the technology at the time regarding oral testosterone) would have been minor. In the case of the Soviets, however, rumors of discarded syringes in their dressing rooms made it clear that they were not using oral steroids, they were using something different. And everyone wanted to know what it was.
That wasn’t, however, the first time anabolic performance enhancement had been attempted. As far back as the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece, athletes ingested various herbs and foods with the hopes of improving their performance. The big winner in the 480 B.C. Olympic Games said he ate nothing but meat for 10 months prior to the Games. Now we know that meat is especially high in B vitamins and Creatine, both of which can enhance performance. Early attempts to increase Testosterone were documented as early as 776 BC andagain, by Olympic athletes´ ingested sheep´s testicles, which they knew to be a source of Testosterone production (3). Although it might seem extreme to us now, to eat meat for ten straight months (or to ingest sheep testicles), this was a small price to pay for the prize money that was offered back then & up to 1,200 days pay for winning an event was common. There were no participation medals; they did not compete for the love of the game, to give it their best shot, or even for pride. They competed for money and prestige, end of story (1). And that is why they sought out performance enhancers.
By the late 1960´s the East Germans had also entered the fray and were giving steroids to their athletes as part of a state sponsored program to bolster national pride by winning Olympic Gold Medals. In 1968, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, East Germany´s Chief Medical Officer, wrote and submitted a report to the government in which he recommended the total collective administration of steroids to the entire East German athletes (2). In the couple of decades that followed after this report, the East Germans´ presence was felt at every major world wide sporting event. From the Olympics to World Championships, they took home both medals as well as world records.
Of course, there have been other documented instances of athletes taking various drugs and other substances in an attempt to enhance their performance. Thomas Hicks, an American marathoner in the 1904 Olympics, had to be revived after he drank Brandy lased with cocaine and strychnine. He won the gold medal, although I believe the Brandy/Cocaine/Strychnine cocktail never really took off in popularity among his fellow athletes. His fellow runners, the sprinters attempted to use nitroglycerine a couple of decades later, to dilate (expand) their coronary arteries; they later switched to experimenting with Benzidrine, an amphetamine.
At this time in the United States, professional sports were gaining prominence and athletes began to be able to support themselves by just playing their sport. Notably, at this time, there were no documented reports of athletes using steroids in sports other than Olympic competition. Nonetheless, at this time, a ban on Anabolic steroids was issued by the International Olympic Council, and in the coming decades, most professional sports organizations would follow suit. The original ban on anabolic steroids was enacted for ethical and moral concerns, not safety (as is often thought). Shortly after the first ban on performance enhancers came the first athlete caught breaking that ban. In the 1972, an American swimmer named Rick De Mont was found to be using a newly banned substance- ephedrine. At that time, ephedrine was an approved medication for asthma, and you guessed it- Mr. De Mont was an asthmatic with a prescription for it. Two years prior to that first the 1972 Olympics, Arnold Schwarzenegger won his first of seven Mr. Olympia titles, reportedly with the aid of Dr. Zeigler´s little blue Dianabol pills.
Steroid use in the Olympics went on, for the next couple of decades, in a game of Cat and Mouse between the athletes and the International Olympic Committee. For the most part, the athletes were very successful in avoiding positive drug tests. The East Germans developed several novel compounds to avoid detection, and were only caught when word leaked somehow. For the most part, the Russians and Americans were also very successful at this. Professional bodybuilding also marched onwards with competitors taking ever-increasing amounts of steroids and other drugs, without fear of testing positive.
By the 1990´s, Anabolic Steroids had been absorbed into society, and their use had penetrated every possible sport from the professional ranks down to the High-School level. There were the occasional scandals here and there, but nothing really captured the general public´s attention for very long. In 1987 the National Football League introduced it´s anti-steroid policy, and Major League Baseball was left as the most major sports organization in the world which still had no such policy.