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By means fair or foul

To win by cheating in the biggest of the events, the Olympic Games, is certainly not a modern phenomenon. The Hellenic Greeks were no paragons of virtue either...
PTI | By Vijaya Sharma (HindustanTimes.com)
UPDATED ON AUG 09, 2004 10:17 PM IST

Just four years back, Sydney Olympics was infamously branded as the drug Olympics owing to the spate of athletes who were stripped of their medals for using drugs to power their performance. The XXVII Sydney Olympic Games had begun with three athletes positive for drugs on the third day of the Games, itself. Romnanian weightlifters Traian Ciharaen and Adrian Mateias and Iranian boxer Anoushirvan Nourian had tested positive for drugs and were banned from the Games!

Come 2004 and even before the Games have begun, drug abuse has cast its ugly shadow once again and how. In a stunning accusation, US athlete Marion Jones' ex-husband CJ Hunter has accused her of drug abuse. For all those who were witness to the Sydney Olympics none must have forgotten how Marion jones had stood by her then husband Hunter who faced the shame of being stripped off five of his medals for drug abuse.

According to reports Hunter has told federal investigators he personally injected Jones with banned substances. Hunter claims that he also saw Jones inject herself with performance-enhancing drugs in Australia.

Jones remains under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but has not been charged with any doping offense. She has repeatedly denied using drugs.

If found guilty Jones could lose her spot on the U.S. team for the upcoming Athens Games and perhaps forfeit her three gold and two bronze medals from Sydney.

But drug use in the Olympics is certainly not a modern phenomenon. The Hellenic Greeks were no paragons of virtue. The Olympic ancestors tried everything to enhance performance: from wine and strychnine mixtures to hallucinogenic drugs to mushroom and dogs testicles.

Strychnine was the much favoured drug to go faster, higher and further even when the Games were revived in 1896. Thomas Hicks, the 1904 Olympic marathon gold medallist reportedly took in a knockout combination of strychnine and brandy during the race. It took four physicians to revive him after his victory.

Cheating via drugs in the Olympic goes back to 668 BC. An exotic diet of dried figs powered the winning 200 meter sprint of Charmis. In 1988, stanozolol-charged Ben Johnson, eventually stripped of his gold, flashed down the 100 meter track in an electrifying 9.79 seconds. But athletes since the days of Ben Johnson have become more drug savvy. The new in thing is a dietary or nutritional supplement.

Some of the biggest names have the spectre of drugs chasing them.

Olympics sprint legend Merlene Ottey tested positive for Nandrolone in 1999 in Switzerland. Merlene pleaded not guilty saying she only took a dietary supplement.

But Dr John Hoberma, Professor, University of Texas and author of books suchas "Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and the Dehumanization o Sport" questions: Why do athletes who take dietary supplements end up with nandrolone in their blood?

Way back in 1904, Thomas Hick was the first Olympic athelete to have been caught taking drugs. But it was only in the 1968 Olympics that the IOC tested athletes for drugs. And even with the most thorough drug checks planned for the first Olympics of the millenium, Sydney
had its loopholes.

Sydney Olympics has a test for EPO but nothing to deal with Human Growth Hormone. Even the check for EPO is not foolproof. After a lapse of one month, EPO cannot be detected in the system. Also, blood doping, another method of drug intake, has no test at Sydney.

And, if the authorities think they are smart with random drug tests, the athletes are getting smarter!

The mantra is, take drugs, but escape detection. Athletes resort to telephone alerts for drug checks so that they can flush the drug out of their system. Masking agents like diuretics are in vogue, which wipe out every trace of the drug in urine samples.

For the moment, the athletes are clean. For a lifetime, they maybe scarred.

Success at what price?

It's not just athletes alone. The Iron Curtain countries have long since carried out systematic doping of athletes to grab more golds. Like Plan 14.25 designed by the East Germans. The secret Stasi files of the German police reveal brutal acts executed under the plan.

Each day Manfred Ewald, ex-member of Hitler's youth training programme, chief of East Germany's Olympic programme in the 1970's, carried out a chilling routine.

Ewald took care that his athletes did not miss the little blue pills, vitamins, he called them, which would make them stronger, faster. The pills, actually steroids, worked wonders. East Germany won an amazing 40 golds during the 1970s-80s.

But, for the female athletes, the 30 pills a day routine in the 1970s altered life forever.

In 1997, Heidi Krieger, former East German shot putter underwent a sex change from Heidi to Andreas Krieger. Simone Machallet, another former East German shot put champion, who has testified against Ewald, recalls the trauma they've lived each day of their lives. "We
looked like men, talked like men...", she said. The athletes developed excessive body hair, deep voices, and suffered gynaecological problems. Many others gave birth to deformed children.


Yet regardless of the horrifying after effects of drugs, nations continue with their doping agenda. Wade Exum, former head of the USOC doping committee resigned in disgust at the committee's policy. He said: "World perception is that the USOC does not run a doping control program, they run a controlled doping programme.

But the Olympics is not plagued by drug cheats alone. Bribery in the Games has a more than 2000 year old history. The earliest recorded cheater was Eupolos of Thessaly, who bribed boxers in the 98th Olympics. In the 226th Olympics, two Egyptian boxers, Didas and Sarapammon, were fined for fixing the outcome of their match.

In the Sydney Olympics, to exorcise charges of bout fixing in boxing, IOC gave double the bribe money to judges who reported match fixing deals.

But still again, in the last Olympics IOC failed to convince the Australians to stop betting in the Games. Athletes, coaches and officials were free to bet despite fears that gambling might lead to corruption and match fixing.

In the recent efforts to wipe out cheating from the Games, a World Ant-drug Agency (WADA) was set up; Canadian horseman Eric Lamaze faced a life ban after he tested positive for cocaine, Taiwanese weightlifter Chen Po-pu, Bulgarian triple jumper Iva Prandzheva and Kazakhstan freestyle swimmer Yevgenia Yermakova were branded drug cheats and barred from the Sydney Games.

But, above and beyond the world of cheating, every Olympics will  produce its own Lance Armstrong. Cycling champ Armstrong has battled cancer, a brain surgery and a broken vertebra to return to the Games, powered by nothing but the strength of the human will to go on...

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