The 10 Druggiest Olympic Sports | The Fix
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The 10 Druggiest Olympic Sports

With London 2012 just a week away, organizers say that more athletes will be drug-tested than ever before. It's just as well. The Fix presents 10 Olympic events in which contenders can be counted on to try doping their way to victory.

  • 10. Archery and Pistol Shooting

    Unlike most Olympic sports, huge biceps won’t get you very far in these two events. A steady hand will. That’s why the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned beta-blockers for archery, pistol shooting and other sports that require balance—these drugs reduce anxiety, prevent muscle spasms and help shooters steady their hands. The biggest case of beta-blocker abuse to date was revealed after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which saw North Korean Kim Jong Su (pictured) stripped of two medals for his use of propranolol. 

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  • 9. Equestrianism

    Olympic doping isn’t just about athletes trying to perfect their own bodies. In the case of equestrian events, it’s about doing the same to horses. The IOC cracked down hard on horse doping prior to the 2008 Olympic games, suspending four countries whose horses had capsaicin in their blood. Rubbed on as a cream, this drug serves both as a pain reliever and a cause of hypersensitivity that makes horses more afraid of hitting their legs during a jump. The most famous case of horse doping was at the Athens games in 2004: Cian O'Connor won the show jumping gold and became a national hero as Ireland’s only medalist. The glory was short-lived. His horse, Waterford Crystal, would later test positive for two antipsychotic drugs typically prescribed to humans and O'Connor was stripped of his medal— leaving Ireland medal-less for the ninth time in Olympic history.

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  • 8. Penthalon

    In the 45 years since the IOC set up its anti-doping regulations, athletes have been busted with heaps of complex substances that alter both mind and body. But the first athlete to be booted from competition simply relied on beer. Swedish pentathlete Hans-Gunnar Lijenwall brought disqualification upon the Swedish men’s team at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City because he had two beers to calm his nerves before the pistol-shooting event. Later pentathletes would run into trouble with even more innocuous drugs. Australian Alex Watson earned a two-year ban for excessive caffeine levels before the 1988 Seoul games. He admitted drinking 12-15 cups of coffee and two or three cans of soda over a 12-hour period. Pentathletes eventually discovered the drugs other competitors so regularly abuse: Ukrainian Lyudmyla Blonska received a lifetime Olympic ban in 2008, after her second positive test for steroids.

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  • 7. Wrestling

    People like to say Olympic wrestling is the real thing, while that stuff Hulk Hogan did was all a show. It may be true, but real and fake wrestlers have one thing in common: steroids. Mammoth Swedish grappler Thomas Johansson was one of the first wrestlers to lose his medal, for a positive steroid test in 1984. Four years later, Afghan wrestler Alidad was disqualified from competition for taking the masking agent Furosemide. In the run-up to London 2012 a rash of wrestlers have already run afoul of doping laws. Some, such as Brit Myroslav Dykun and Canadian Colin Daynes, were trying to enhance their performance. But at least one was just trying to have fun: regular pot smoker Stephany Lee (pictured) was suspended from Team USA for a positive marijuana test in April.

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  • 6. Throwing Things

    Throwing a discus, hammer, shot or javelin in the Olympics requires strength and endurance. Just one year after the IOC started testing for steroids, East German powerhouse Ilona Slupianek received a year's suspension for steroid use. She returned to the 1980 Moscow games and took gold. Other beefy throwers who've sought an unfair advantage include Russian shot putter and 2004 gold medalist Irina Korzhanenko and Icelandic discus thrower Vésteinn Hafsteinsson. The most famous story is of C.J. Hunter (pictured), the US shot putter and ex-husband of Marion Jones, who tested positive for steroids before Sydney in 2000. Two Hungarians caused hilarity that year: discus thrower Róbert Fazekas claimed he couldn't provide enough urine for a sample because his deep religious beliefs hampered public peeing, while hammer thrower Adrián Annus provided plenty—it just wasn’t his.

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  • 5. Distance Running

    American Thomas Hicks won the marathon at the 1904 Summer games in St. Louis, Missouri thanks in no small part to two secret weapons. First, the big glass of brandy he chugged mid-race and second, the two injections of strychnine—a toxic chemical now used to kill birds and rodents. Over the years the drugs preferred by long-distance runners evolved to include amphetamines and EPOs, which are hormones used to increase red blood cells. While Russian and American runners have been implicated most prominently, the Chinese are suspected to be the worst EPO-abusers. That suspicion would have been confirmed at the 2000 Sydney games, the first to test for EPOs, but six distance runners were withdrawn from the Chinese team before they could be tested. Most think it was a classic case of admission by subtraction.

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  • 4. Cycling

    Before Knud Enemark Jensen drugs weren’t a problem in the Olympics, largely because they weren’t banned. That changed when the Danish cyclist passed out and fell from his bicycle during the 1960 games in Rome. He later died; tests showed amphetamines, caffeine and a drug that dilates the blood vessels in his system. Jensen’s death helped spur the IOC to ban PEDs and institute testing, but that didn’t stop other cyclists from dabbling with drugs. Substances of choice included a stimulant that affects the respiratory system, testosterone, steroids and a hormone that improves oxygen delivery to muscles. In 1984, American cycling coach Eddie Borysewicz found a new way to enhance performance despite the onerous doping rules: blood transfusions. He set up a motel room where cyclists received new blood to increase their red blood cells. The practice worked: four of the seven athletes won medals. Two years later the IOC banned it.

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  • 3. Swimming

    From the late '60s to the late '80s, East German female swimmers utterly dominated the sport. Turns out, they owed it all to steroids. In 1991, two years after the Berlin Wall fell, 20 former swimming coaches admitted running a systematic steroid program to beef up East Germany’s swimmers. Measured in medals, the program was highly successful. But the effects on the athletes, many of whom were unaware of receiving drugs, were devastating. A few other steroid busts aside, swimmers have shied away from performance-enhancers and leaned toward recreational drugs. Michael Phelps (pictured) was famously photographed smoking pot, and Amanda Beard has admitted using ecstasy and cocaine. Irish swimmer Michelle Smith combined both performance-enhancing and recreational drugs when she attempted to hide the steroids in her urine sample—by spiking the pee with whisky.

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  • 2. Sprinting

    When Canada's Ben Johnson ran 100 meters in 9.79 seconds at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, it stunned the world. Turns out, he was on steroids—and the biggest drug scandal in Olympic history was born. Dozens of sprinters followed in Johnson’s disgraced footsteps, including Britain's Dwain Chambers, who received a lifetime Olympic ban in 2003 for a positive steroid test, but will compete at London 2012 after a successful appeal for a reduction. American Antonio Pettigrew lost his gold medal in 2008 for using human growth hormone, while Greeks Ekaterini Thanou and Konstantinos Kenteris missed the 2004 Athens games after they staged a motorcycle crash to avoid a drug test. And Marion Jones (pictured), the American five-time gold medal winner, became a five-time gold medal returner after she admitted using performance-enhancing drugs at both the Sydney and Athens games.

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  • 1. Weightlifting

    The Olympics didn’t begin testing athletes for steroids until 1976, but the muscle-boosting drugs were a part of the sport long before then. In 1960 steroid pioneer John Bosley Ziegler, the scientist who first introduced ‘roids to athletes, administered anabolic steroids to the entire US weightlifting team. The Russians still won. By the time testing arrived, weight lifters were still heavily relying on the juice. The 1976 Montreal Games saw eight lifters busted. Then in Los Angeles in 1984, five more were found to have taken nandrolone, a steroid that’s more difficult to detect. Sanamacha Chanu (pictured), one of the most successful woman weightlifters in India, tested positive for methylhexaneamine twice, the first time just after the 2004 Athens games. And more strongwomen from Ukraine and Turkey have tested positive this year and will miss the fun in London.

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