Incidences of doping in sports have been recorded since the turn of the century. While we’ve been putting sports figures on pedestals for hundreds of years, and worshipping their talent and strength, it wasn’t until a few years ago that the bubble we’d created around these seemingly mythical sports figures burst. Lance Armstrong, the world’s hero in cycling, had an inspiring underdog story of determination but was in infamously exposed as a liar who doped his way to those prestigious titles. In the cycling world, Armstrong was certainly not the first to be found guilty of illegal doping practices, nor will he likely be the last, in a sport that has a long history of dubious practices. But Armstrong was a game changer, and it’s hard for sports fans not to accept that these days “cheating” is indeed often part of a winning game strategy.
Before Armstrong, a number of investigations into illegal doping practices had been taking place in the preceding decade. 2003 saw a revelation that numerous athletes competing in the Olympics between 1988-2000 had failed drug tests and were still allowed to compete. The company that provided athletes with nearly undetectable steroids was known as BALCO – The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative – and eventually made its way into the baseball world and San Francisco Giants star, Barry Bonds. In 2007, Bonds was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying about his involvement with BALCO. The 2007 investigation into anabolic steroids in major league baseball by Senator George Mitchell, known as the “Mitchell Report”, highlights these illegal affairs and makes recommendations for future prevention practices.
The highs of watching our favourite sports heroes win makes for painful lows when we find out the truth behind their seemingly inhuman feats of power. But until all athletes stop relying on exterior motivations for their goals, and until the fans, coaches and the media stop placing so much pressure on the significance of winning, doping looks set to continue indefinitely, making it that much more of a bitter pill for those athletes who rely on only their personal best performances and not performance-enhancing substances. Until then, we’re taking a look back at ten of the biggest media-covered doping scandals in history. They may not have changed the cheating game, but they’ve at least incited sports fans and dedicated sportspeople to begin the process for reform.
10. Thomas Hicks – 1904
One of the first examples of doping in sports came at the turn of the century with track and field athlete Thomas Hicks, who took home the gold in the marathon event from the 1904 Olympics. It turns out he was one of a number of runners in the event who had injected strychnine which, in small doses, acts as a stimulant. He collapsed after crossing the finish line and could easily have died from the incredibly dangerous substance. Needless to say, it’s now a banned drug in competition.
9. Andreas Krieger – 1986
The strange tale of Heidi Krieger is one for the records. East Germany had been supplying their Olympic athletes with steroids for more than 20 years. The athletes in question included shot putter Heidi, who started to receive the injections regularly at age 16. She went on to earn the European championship in 1986, but was left with all the traits of a man, after enduring long-term hormone abuse. When she retired in 1990, Heide had a sex change operation and lives now as Andreas. He is 44-years-old and has told the media that he’s unsure if he would have remained a woman or not, but that the choice was stolen from him with those little blue pills given to him by his coach as a young teenager.
8. Diego Maradona – 1994
Diego Maradona was an Argentine soccer player and considered one of the best, despite his controversial association with performance altering substances. He was often failing drug tests for cocaine – considered to be a stimulant – and eventually received a suspension from soccer for 15 months in 1991, in Italy. This didn’t seem to curb his bad habits, and three years later he was again banned from the game – in the 1994 World Cup, in the US – after testing positive for another stimulant drug, ephedrine.
7. Wu Yanyan – 2000
Prior to the 2000 Olympics, China was dominating in swimming events, specifically in female competition, and had been doing so for nearly a decade. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics China won four golds, and two years later the Chinese women took home a whopping 12 of the 16 World championship medals. However, it came to light between this time and the 2000 games that coaches and swimmers, including the reigning queen of the water Wu Yanyan, had been incorporating anabolic steroids into their winning strategies. 10 coaches and swimmers were suspended. Then, before the games in Sydney, China withdrew 27 members of its Olympic team, likely due to the IOC’s announcement to approve blood testing for the first time.
6. Floyd Landis – 2006
One of the first cycling sports stars to be publicly outed for doping, the American team’s Landis won the Tour de France in 2006 despite a huge lag behind in stage 16. Somehow, by the next round, he was in the lead. This left many scratching their heads at the sheer implausibility of his comeback. At this point, doping in cycling was not as widely known or as widely (unfortunately, unofficially) accepted a part of the sport as it is now. Landis’ urine samples after the event came back with three times the amount of testosterone than normal. The scandal rocked the cycling world, and uncovered a large number of other cyclists who were using performance enhancing drugs. Landis, in his downfall, pointed a finger at Lance, who adamantly denied his own involvement – that is, until 2012.
5. Alex Rodriguez – 2009
In 2009, Major League Baseball uncovered a large Biogenesis scandal that saw 14 players punished for their use of this company’s testosterone and human-growth hormones, over a number of years. Alex Rodriguez, also known as A-Rod by fans, was a popular third baseman for the New York Yankees and was the only player not to accept his punishment with a bowed head. Despite his admission to having used steroids in the past from 2001-2003, Rodriguez fought against his 211-game suspension as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, and eventually during arbitration it was reduced to 162 games. He has been off the field for the entire 2014 season.
4. Lance Armstrong – 2012
After the Landis scandal six years prior, Armstrong spent years vehemently denying his use of performance enhancing drugs, while literally dominating the world of cycling, amassing cash winnings, media attention and a worldwide following. After seven consecutive wins at the Tour de France, he was outed for his long-time doping use and in 2012 was stripped of all titles, and banned for life from competitive cycling. He has since publicly apologized for lying about his use of drugs for the purpose of winning, and for letting down his fans. It proved a bit too late for apologies and Armstrong has become one of the most maligned American athletes of all time.
3. Ben Johnson – 1988
The fastest man in history at the 1988 Seoul Olympics turned out to be taking steroids to help set his record time of 9.79 seconds in the 100-meter sprint. Johnson, a Canadian athlete, was stripped of his medal. US athlete Carl Lewis, the second place finisher, received the gold instead – although Lewis, technically, should also have been disqualified as he and Johnson, as well as several other racers, all failed drug tests during their Olympic trials. The only medalist who did not fail was Calvin Smith, who took home the bronze. Their race was later dubbed the “dirtiest race in history” by the media.
2. Marion Jones – 2007
Marion Jones was a hero to many young girls, as a world champion track and field athlete who rose to fame for her talent and power in the 2000s. She took home five medals in the 2000 Olympics, while her husband at the time, C.J. Hunter – an Olympic shotputter – had been called out by the IOC for failing drug tests. A year after their divorce in 2002, Jones gave birth to a son with sprinter boyfriend Tim Montgomery. In 2004, Montgomery was charged with his involvement in the BALCO scandal. At this point, having been closely linked to two performance-enhancing drug abusers, Marion Jones was further scrutinized. In 2007 she admitted to her use of steroids and involvement in the BALCO affair, which got her a six-month prison sentence for perjury because of her initial denial. She was also forced to forfeit all medals – including those five golds – and prizes dating back to her steroid use in 1999 and onwards.
1. Tyson Gay – 2013
In July of last year, US track and field athlete Tyson Gay was found to have tested positive for banned substances, forcing his withdrawal from the World Championships in Moscow. Gay had a 100 meter 9.69 second US-record, behind world record holder Usain Bolt. The track star has amassed countless medals in international competitions including a gold-medal sweep at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. He has been suspended until June of this year, and stripped of his silver medal from the 2012 Summer Olympics.