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On top of the game

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0407291
  1. Karen Hebert, third year medical student1,
  2. Michele Verroken, Drugs in sport expert2
  1. 1University of Bristol
  2. 2formerly incharge of anti-doping in the UK

During the past year, newspapers have been full of stories about the misuse of banned substances in sport. Karen Hebert and Michele Verroken take a look at doping in sport

The British 4×100 metres sprint team was stripped of its World Championship silver medal earlier this year when Dwain Chambers tested positive for banned substances. This year, sports news has been filled with the scandals of élite players who have tested positive for a banned drug or ergogenic aid (a nutritional, physical, mechanical, psychological, or pharmacological procedure or aid to improve physical work capacity or athletic performance1). But chasing drug cheats has been difficult--increasing scientific expertise and technology have made it easier to keep a step ahead of drug tests. Sports agencies have to battle to implement rules and regulations to keep a fair and level playing field for all.


Development of doping

The word doping is thought to be derived from the Dutch “dop”--an alcoholic drink made from grape skins--which Zulu warriors drank to increase their prowess in battle. Doping was first used to describe the illegal drugging of racehorses and now describes the illegal use of ergogenic aids to improve sporting performance in people.2

Doping has been going on for centuries. Historians have described the use of diet and potions by the Ancient Greeks, and, in the 19th century, strychnine, caffeine, cocaine, and alcohol were commonly used. At the 1904 Olympic Games in Saint Louis, Thomas Hicks won a gold medal in the marathon with the help of raw egg, strychnine injections, and brandy.

Longstanding evidence exists of doctors' involvement in doping in sport. Philippe Tissie, a French sports doctor, experimented with doping in 1894. He prescribed mint water, rum, and champagne to a 30 year old cyclist and then documented the stimulatory effects.3

The International …

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