Written by Krishna Bora, B.Sc. (Microbiology) | 
Medically Reviewed by dr. simi paknikar, MD on Apr 18, 2016

Doping in the History of Olympics

Athletes had adopted doping methods since ancient times, but then it wasn’t illegal. After the death of a Dutch cyclist, it became important for the sports authorities to ban doping completely in sports.

The word ‘doping’ is derived from the Dutch word ‘dop’, which is the name of an alcoholic beverage. Dop is made of grape skins that the Zulu warriors used to enhance their performance during wars. The term became common when in 20th century, people started illegally drugging racehorses.

In the 19th century, cyclists and runners often used caffeine, cocaine and alcohol to enhance their performance in athletic events. The victory of Thomas Hicks, who won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1904 Olympics Games, is one such example. With the increased use of drugs and supplements to induce performance and win by unethical means, it became necessary to restrict drugs from games.

The first attempt was done in the year 1928 when the International Association of Athletic Federation became the first international sporting federation to ban doping. The lack of adequate tests to detect the presence of such performance-inducing drugs made the ethics and restrictions ineffective. The shocking death of Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen due to doping brought forward the seriousness of the issue; the pressure to introduce drug testing was then increased by the sports authorities.

Doping test was a very complicated procedure in the 19th century. Many players were suspected to adopt techniques to cheat the tests carried out during the athletic events. The most famous incidence of doping in history is of Ben Johnson’s case in 1980. Ben Johnson was a sprinter who tested positive for stanozolol when he defeated Carl Lewis and won a gold medal in the 100-meter men’s final at the Olympic Games. This case brought the urgency to develop new techniques to perform doping tests in the athletic events. The move resulted in a remarkable drop in the number of the top-level players in different athletic events.


  1. ATHLETE GUIDE TO THE 2020 PROHIBITED LIST - (http://www.usantidoping.org/files/active/what/usada_guide.pdf)

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