The History of Doping

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By Angela Hickey

The Olympics have been around in one way or another for over 3,000 years, becoming a one-of-a-kind event where the best of the best athletes gather to participate for the honor of their country. When the best of the best do gather in one place, however, some will do whatever it takes to separate themselves from the pack.

The discussion of doping at the Olympics has been quite common over the years, and has made headlines recently once again in the case of fifteen-year-old skating prodigy, Kamila Valieva of Russia. Valieva had tested positive for the banned heart drug, trimetazidine, a performance-enhancing metabolic agent that helps prevent angina attacks and treats vertigo, after competing in the women’s single skating free skating program and becoming the first female figure skater to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics, winning gold for her country. 

Skating fans were outraged at the news; many split between blaming the girl for her illegal drug use or blaming her coaches, who have a long standing history of abusing their young female skaters. Despite whoever is at fault, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

Over the course of Olympic history, there have been countless doping scandals going back as far as the 1970s and 1980s; thousands of East German athletes, some as young as eight-years-old, were pumped full of performance enhancing drugs in a bid to demonstrate East German superiority over the West. 

In the late 1990s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) took the initiative in a more organized battle against doping, leading to the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. The 2000 Summer Olympics and 2002 Winter Olympics had shown that the effort to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs from the Olympics is not over, as several medalists in weightlifting and cross-country skiing were disqualified due to failing a drug test. During the 2006 Winter Olympics, only one athlete failed a drug test and had a medal revoked. 

The IOC-established drug testing regimen (now known as the “Olympic Standard”) has set the worldwide benchmark that other sporting federations attempt to emulate. During the Beijing games in 2008, 3,667 athletes were tested by the IOC under the auspices of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Both urine and blood testing was used in a coordinated effort to detect banned substances and recent blood transfusions. While several athletes were barred from competition by their National Olympic Committees prior to the Games, six athletes failed drug tests while in competition in Beijing.

After countless decades of athletic competition, the use of performance enhancing drugs still remains to be a huge problem, resulting in rather severe punishment. Repercussions have included being stripped of medals, being banned from competition, and in certain cases even legal action. Such was the circumstance in the case of Sha’Carri Richardson, who was banned from competing in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 after testing positive for marijuana. Sha’Carri has experienced serious consequences, despite the fact that marijuana has become a less restricted substance and is not even qualified as a performance enhancing drug. 

This also begs to question how the IOC picks and chooses which cases to treat more severely than others. Compared to Richardson, who was banned from even competing in the Olympics due to the recreational use of a non-performance enhancing drug, Valieva got off quite easily, still being allowed to compete despite her use of a registered performance enhancing drug. 

“Can we get a solid answer on the difference of her situation and mine?” Richardson said in a tweet after news broke of Valieva’s ruling, making certain comments alluding to the fact that this may have something to do with her race. No comment has been made by the IOC in response to these claims.

Even with these restrictions in place, there are still athletes who attempt to slide below the radar and attempt to get away with it. The IOC has worked hard to try and prevent athletes from utilizing performance enhancing drugs in order to win the gold, but there are still athletes who take the risk and lose it all.

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