Drug Testing In The Olympics


The use of performance-enhancing drugs has always been an issue and a concern for all athletic governing bodies, especially within the International Olympic Committee (IOC). While many athletes compete drug-free, history and research show us that some athletes seek to gain an unmerited advantage through performance-enhancing drugs.

Moreover, performance-enhancing drugs are defined as a substance such as anabolic steroid, human growth hormone, or erythropoietin that is used illicitly to improve athletic performance (Merriam-Webster, 2018). Knowing this, many athletes still tend to use performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge over his or her counterparts. According to Larry D. Bowers (1998), performing-enhancing drugs have been used since 776 BC in the original Olympic games. This is because ancient Olympic champions were professionals who competed for very large sums of cash.

To enhance performance these athletes consumed large amounts of meat, which was not a normal dietary staple of the Greeks. Athletes also experimented with different types of herbal medications to enhance their performance. In addition, these ancient Greek athletes drank wine potions, consumed different types of hallucinogens and ate animal hearts or testicles in their quest for a greater superiority over everybody else around (Bowers, 1998). Furthermore, during the ancient time, performance-enhancing drugs seemed like a norm and were very much acceptable among ancient Greeks.

However, many things have changed since the first Olympic games that were introduced by ancient Greeks. Furthermore, the very first rule against performance-enhancing drugs was implemented by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). This rule was implemented for Track and Filed in 1928 (International Association of Athletics Federation, 2013). This was due to many marathon runners using different types of mixtures like strychnine, heroin, cocaine, and caffeine to enhance his or her performance within the sport of Track and Field. In addition to the International Association of Athletics Federation, International Olympic Committee also joined the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in 1968 and ever since have been on the fourth front of preventing athletes and anybody from using performance-enhancing drugs.

International Olympic Committee has implemented many rules and regulations to punish and or completely eliminate athletes, coaches, or anybody else who tries to intervene with the purity of the Olympic games (US Legal, Inc., 2016).  As we can see now even though performance-enhancing drugs might have been acceptable by ancient Greeks it is no longer acceptable to use any sort of performance-enhancing drugs to get an advantage over other athletes.

Establishment of Medical Commission

In 1967, a British cyclist by the name of Tommy Simpson dies due to a large consumption of amphetamines and brandy in order to fight his illness. However, this large consumption of drugs had an adverse effect on his body thought his duration of taking this combination and thereby during the 13th stage of Tour de France his body shut down and Tommy Simpson died (Miah, 2008). This death forces many sporting agencies to rethink how sporting events are regulated. Later the same year, in 1967 the International Olympic Committee establishes a medical commission to fight performing-enhancing drugs. This committee was created on three principals. These principals are guided by the protection of the health of athletes, respect for medical and sport ethics, and equality for all competing athletes (International Olympic Committee, 2018).

First Drug Testing

International Olympic Committee conducted its first drug testing in 1968 during the Winter Olympic Games and later again during the Summer Olympics. Moreover, these athletes were tested for the banned substances like narcotics, stimulants, alcohol, sympathomimetic amines, psychomotor stimulants as well as other nervous system stimulants (Doping Cases at the Olympics 1968-2012, 2016). Furthermore, only one athlete from both the Winter and Summer Olympics tested positive During 1968. Once all the variables were accounted for, this athlete tested positive for excessive alcohol consumption. IOC was very limited in the way it conducted drug testing in 1968 during the Olympic games.

However, during the 1972 Olympic game in Munich Germany, the IOC conducted its first true drug test of Olympic athletes. During this test, the IOC collected 2079 samples in which seven athletes tested positive for (Canadian Broadcasting Network, 2003) Drug testing up to 1983 was very much a scheduled event. This meant that athletes knew exactly when and where the tests are going to be conducted and thereby mask or avoid drug testing. However, all of this would change in 1983 when many of the athletes withdrew from Pan Am Games as well as World Track and Field Championships.

Much of this testing caught many athletes by surprise. Been caught by surprise forced some of the athletes to withdraw from the Pan Am Games as well as Track and Field Championships. The ones that have used enhancing drugs had to decide if he or she was going to stay and try to cheat the system or withdraw without having their careers ruined by being caught. At the end of drug testing in a total of 19 athletes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

The Beginning of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

On November 10, 1999, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was established just prior to 2000 Sydney, Olympics. WADA was created to fight against performance-enhancing drugs on the International scale as an independent agency. However, in the early years of existence WADA was supervised by IOC, intergovernmental organizations, governments, public authorities, as well as private bodies fighting against performance-enhancing drugs (World Anti-Doping Agency, 2018).  Furthermore, in 2004 WADA took over the list of banned performance-enhancing drugs from IOC. This was a very important step for WADA as this allowed them to conduct more tests.

These tests were conducted as followed; “selected athlete submits a blood or urine sample, it is shipped to a WADA-approved and certified testing laboratory. The DCO or chaperone is responsible for making sure that the sample arrives at the laboratory in a timely manner and is secure during the transport process (The Athlete, para 2, 2014).”  In addition, it is important to understand that WADA does not impose sanctions, nor does it give out penalties. Organizations like IOC and Anti-Doping Agency take care of all the necessary penalties. During the 2004 Athens Olympics, WADA found 26 athletes who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. This was the highest percentage of athletes who have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the summer Olympics. Many of these athletes competed in weightlifting and track and field (Doping Cases at the Olympics 1968-2012, 2016).


As we can now see individuals have always been trying to improve his or her ability to perform at the highest possible level without any remorse for the system that is put in place to protect the athletes and the governing bodies who oversee them. WADA is here to help those governing bodies keep the integrity and honesty of their respective sport. Athletes that chose to use performance-enhancing drugs put their reputation and their health all on the line to succeed in a very competitive Olympic environment. There is certainly more research that needs to be done to understand why athletes of all levels choose to put his or her reputation and health on a line just so he or she has a better opportunity at conquering that first-place finish.


The Athlete. (2014). Drug testing, in sports. In The Athlete. Retrieved from http://www.theathlete.org/Drug-Testing-In-Sports.htm

Bowers, PhD, L. D. (1998, April). Athletic drug testing. Clinics in Sports Medicine17(2), 299- 318. Retrieved from https://www.sportsmed.theclinics.com/article/S0278-5919(05)70082-X/abstract

Canadian Broadcasting Network. (2003, Jan 19). History of performance enhancing drugs in sports. In Drug Use in Sports. Retrieved from https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000017

Doping Cases at the Olympics, 1968-2012 (2016, August 5). In Drug Use in Sports. Retrieved from https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004420

International Association of Athletics Federation. (2013, August 8). History of performance enhancing drugs in sports. In Drug Use in Sports. Retrieved from https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000017

International Olympic Committee. (2018). Medical and Scientific Commission. In Pyeong Chang 2018. Retrieved from https://www.olympic.org/medical-and-scientific-commission

Merriam-Webster. (2018). performance-enhancing drug. In Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/performance-enhancing%20drug

Miah, A. (2008, June 12). Gene doping – sport’s next big challenge. In Genetically Modified Athletes. Retrieved from https://gmathletes.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/gene-doping-sports-next-big-challenge-2008-jun-12/

US Legal, Inc. (2016). Drugs and testing. In US Legal. Retrieved from https://sportslaw.uslegal.com/drugs-and-testing/

World Anti-Doping Agency. (2018). Who we are. In World Anti-Doping Agency. Retrieved from https://www.wada-ama.org/en/who-we-are

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