Stimulants such as strychnine, caffeine, and cocaine, and pain-killers like alcohol, were used by endurance athletes in the late 19th century. In 1904 a marathoner won his event in the St. Louis Olympics powered by brandy and strychnine injections. By 1928, in recognition of growing abuse, the IAAF banned stimulants, but without testing it wasn’t effective, and steroids, and blood doping rampaged through sports, with cycling being the most notorious offender. In 1966 cycling and soccer began testing, the Olympics issued its first banned substances list, and officials began anti-doping testing during the 1968 Summer and Winter Games.
Attached graphic shows total number of doping incidents per year detected by the Olympic anti-doping program from its inception to 2010. (Games Olympic drugs)
I offer a few interpretations of the seemingly wild swings on the chart, and leave other renderings to my readers. From the number of positive doping tests it appears performance-enhancing drugs are not as popular in the Winter Games. That view may be inaccurate because the total number of athletes competing on ice and snow is about four times smaller than in the Summer Games. Also, the introduction of novel doping drugs often precedes anti-doping technologies that can detect them. This leads to a cat and mouse games among athletes and anti-dopers and may explain the large differences in detected positive tests from one Olympics to another.
In 1976 the first steroids were detected with the largest prevalence among weight lifters. They were joined in ‘84 by track and fielders as registering the highest numbers of positive test incidents. Among the usual suspects, the huge bump in ’04 even included two horses drugged for equestrian events, while six more horses were doped in ’08. That same year, six athletes were caught with a new drug (EPO and its derivatives) that boosted their red blood cell count. (See my prior blog: What’s Doping Anyway). Does anyone really believe that ‘94 and’98 were totally “clean” years? More likely is that athletes were using newer, undetectable drugs that later contributed to the large incidence numbers as new tests arrived on the scene.