Sometimes I wonder how would Sodoma and Gomorra look if seen by a tourist randomly passing by. Maybe they had clean, tidy suburbs, with terraced houses and the neighbor always greeting you as you come back home. The fact is God didn’t like the places’ lifestyle and destroyed them both with indescribable calamities. Now, we all know what happened in Sodoma and, in the end, God’s reaction seems a bit exaggerated (but can be comprehensible), while on the habits of Gomorra we can only make conjectures (or imagine on the basis of Saviano’s books). Going beyond the story of the “Bel Paese” and all its problems related to racketeering, you are maybe asking yourself why we are mentioning the biblical cities on a blog of sports and running. The answer is simple: they are the symbol of corruption par excellence. And what’s the symbol of fraud and corruption in sports world? Doping! Right, this is what we are going to talk about in this article and in the next one.
Ancient times: between Olympics and Lindisfarne
The agonistic activity in itself has always been subjected to fraud attempt by participants, either they were champions or not. Everyone for a different reason but with a common aim: the victory. And yet there was a time, that actually lasted centuries, during which doping was not perceived and, on the contrary, the use of stimulants and other substances that artificially improved the athletes performances was widely accepted. Where do you think Asterix and Obelix potions come from? Vikings, or Normans if you prefer, used hallucinogenic herbs in order to improve their brutality on the battle fields and prevent being overcome by fear and pain: the german term “Berserkr” indicates those warriors whom during the fight transformed and became like possessed by an incomparable fury.
Of marathons, Tour de France and shots
Coming to our days, up to the first half of the last century, the use of drugs was allowed even in the most important events, like the Olympics and the Tour de France. A clear example is what happened at Saint Louis in 1904. Thomas Hicks, an american born in the island of Her Majesty the queen Victoria, is a great athlete and for the olympic competition aspires to an important placement: he wants to at least conquer a medal, if not even the gold. During the competition, his coach Charles Lucas, seeing the difficulties of his athlete and knowing that in a short while he could say goodbye to his dreams of glory, decides to inject him a dose of Strychnine, a very toxic alkaloid, and to pour a glass of Brandy. At the time the use of Strychnine was considered as vital for an athlete who ran such challenging distances like marathons, in fact it wasn’t even in the list of the drugs prohibited by the olympic federation. Another witness comes directly from Henry Pelissier, winner of the Tour in 1919:
“You have no idea what the Tour de France is a Calvary. Worse than that, because the road to the Cross has only 14 stations and ours has 15. We suffer from the start to the end. You want to know how we keep going? That’s cocaine, for our eyes. This is chloroform, for our gums. The truth is that we keep going on dynamite.”
Basically, anyone used anything in order to reach the end and get the victory.
Open the eyes
The introduction of amphetamines at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 was the beginning of “prohibitionism”: the IAAF, the International Association of Athletics Federation, had already disqualified the first athletes in 1928, but the most striking event happened in 1977, when the german sprinter Renate Neufeld escaped from East Germany carrying the proofs of what was happening on that side of the wall. All of the olympic athletes representing eastern Germany were continuously subjected to treatments with anabolic steroids. During the same year, the thrower Ilonia Slupianek was found positive to those substances during the European Games in Helsinki, but the disqualification given by the IAAF expired two days before the beginning of the Praga edition in 1979, in which the german athlete took part winning the gold medal for weight throw. Nowadays large doubts about the regularity of the competition still subsist. Sporting crimes of East Germany were made known in their entirety only after the reunification, in 1993, when the opening of the secret archives brought to light the role of the STASI, the secret communist police. In accordance with the government and the higher places of the national federation, the secret services forced young hopeful athletes to take any sort of substance, in order to improve their performances and overcome the athletes of the western enemy. The result of this attitude was perfectly summarized by the words of Hans-George Aschenbach, East German skier, who declared that “for any olympic athlete there are at least three-hundred and fifty disabled”.
In the same years, while in Germany German athlets were mistreated, on the other side of the world, in Seul 1984, one of the most famous sportive scandal of the modern Olympic history was happening…