5 Cases of Early Doping in Sports that Will Shock You

| by Truth Seeker |

1. 1876: Cocaine Use in “Pedestrianism”

The leaves of the plant Erythroxylum coca found in South America, Mexico, Indonesia and the West Indies have served as a source of strength and energy for centuries.

After the Spanish conquest of Peru, European scientists began analyzing the plant. Around 1860, the German chemist Albert Niemann isolated cocaine from coca leaves and formed a base for further research.

16 years later, cocaine was classified as a “miracle drug.” An article from 1876 published by the Lancet [one of the oldest medical journals] presented cocaine as a possible panacea for all human diseases.

Naturally, cocaine found its place in athletic competitions as one of the earliest forms of performance-enhancing substances.

The history of pedestrianism [long distance speed walking] contains references to pedestrians supplementing with coca leaves to improve their results.

Mr. Edward Payson Weston, a man who drove the popularity of the sport to a new level, was among the noteworthy users of the unusual supplementation. In 1876, he entered a 24-hour ultramarathon and covered 109.5 miles/ 176km. Later, he admitted to chewing a coca leaf during most of the competition. Enhancers were not against the rules at the time, but people considered it cheating nonetheless.

Bodybuilders and Cocaine

A study published in 2014, concluded that cocaine abuse leads to “an imbalance between fat intake and storage“. The cocaine addicts examined by the researchers were consuming more calories than the non-addicts and yet still displaying lower body fat levels. Moreover, recovering cocaine users are known to gain extra weight upon stopping the harmful habit.

The ability of cocaine to alter the metabolism makes it attractive to drug-addicted bodybuilders trying to achieve leanness. Some bodybuilders take it as a stimulant during their workouts despite the dangerous effects. Nonetheless, cocaine abuse in bodybuilding is not that high because of the steep price and the availability of safer alternatives.

2. Ether and Amphetamine Doping in Cycling

Ether, a liquid originally used as a solvent and anesthetic, was considered a legit performance-enhancing substance in cycling. Some riders were carrying handkerchiefs soaked in ether around their necks. The belief was that the fumes could soften the pain in the legs.

According to the French cycling journalist Pierre Chany, the smell could turn a man’s stomach upside down.

Roger Lapébie, the winner of the Tour in 1937, revealed that he smelled ether during the final phase of the competition. Ether use lasted until the early 1960s.

Amphetamines (stimulants accelerating the impulses traveling between the brain and the body) quickly gained popularity in cycling as they improve stamina and reaction time.

In 1960, the Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen died during the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. Alvaro Marchiori (one of the doctors who performed the autopsy) revealed that traces of amphetamines were found in Jensen’s body.

Seven years later, the British cyclist Thomas Simpson had the same faith during the 1967 Tour de France after consumption of amphetamines and brandy. It’s been said that his motto was:

“If it takes 10 to kill you, take nine and win.”

FAQ: How do amphetamines increase endurance? A study from 2016 revealed that amphetamines enhance endurance by slowing the rise of body temperature. Rats loaded with amphetamines ran longer because it took more time for their bodily heat to reach alarming levels.

3. 1919: Alcohol in Tennis

Suzanne Lenglen (24 May 1899 – 4 July 1938) from France was one of the most notable tennis players of the 1920s. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1921 to 1926. Her performance solidified her position as the first diva of tennis. She was known for her unique style, extravagant outfits and dominating performances.

Lenglen drank alcohol directly on the field to get rid of all inhibitions. In 1919, Lenglen defeated Dorothea Lambert Chambers and won her Wimbledon debut. During the game, her father supplied her with a vial of cognac on two occasions as a mean to reenergize her.

The same happened during Lenglen’s victory over Helen Wills in the Match of the Century except that the aid came from her mother.

4. 1932 Olympics: Purified Oxygen

Between 1928 and 1932, Japan pushed the swimming performance of its national team to the highest level. Experts pioneered slow-motion underwater filming and analyzed the swimming style of Johnny Weissmuller – an American swimmer and actor who won all the sprint-swimming events at the 1928 Olympics.

The results were phenomenal. At the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Japan dominated and took 5 gold, 4 silver and 2 bronze medals.

The American team was in disbelief. After the games, the U.S. swim coaches Matt Mann and Robert Kiphuth formed a subcommittee burdened with the task to investigate whether the Japanese swimmers had breathed purified oxygen before the competitions or not.

Matt Mann categorized oxygen doping as unethical. However, Alan Gould, the Associated Press’ sports editor publicly disagreed with Mann’s statements and said that the Japanese would have won with or without the use of purified oxygen.

5. 1950: Use of Testicular Extract by the Danish Rowing Team

One of the first documented implementations of testosterone supplementation in sports goes back to the 1950 European rowing championships held in Milan. It’s been said that Axel Mathiesens, the team doctor of the Danish rowing team, supplied the athletes with Androstin 12 days before the competition.

According to some, the unusual substance was the reason why some of the competitors collapsed near the finish.

What is Androstin?

Androstin is a testicular extract which CIBA Switzerland began producing in 1931. The main purpose of the product was to reverse “male menopause”. The product remained on the market long after the birth of genuine synthetic testosterone.

Androstin production came to an end in 1961 after 3 decades of successful sales. The main purpose of the medicine was to treat impotence, infantilism, premature aging and endocrine obesity.

The presence of similar medicaments at the time proves that a form of TRT (testosterone replacement therapy) was commercially available in 1931 – four years before the official synthesis of testosterone.


Gootenberg P. Cocaine: Global Histories, London: Routledge, 1999

Dowdeswell GF. The coca leaf: observations on the properties and action of the leaf of the coca plant (Erythloxylon coca), made in the physiological laboratory of University College. The Lancet 1876 May 6; 107: 664–7

Steven B. Karch. A Brief History of Cocaine, 2nd Edition

Ersche, K., Stochl, J., Woodward, J. and Fletcher, P., 2013. The skinny on cocaine: Insights into eating behavior and body weight in cocaine-dependent men. Appetite, 71, pp.75-80

Ekaterina Morozova, Yeonjoo Yoo, Abolhassan Behrouzvaziri, Maria Zaretskaia, Daniel Rusyniak, Dmitry Zaretsky, Yaroslav Molkov. Amphetamine enhances endurance by increasing heat dissipation. Physiological Reports, 2016; 4 (17): e12955 DOI: 10.14814/phy2.12955

Coups de Pédales, Belgium, 2006

Penot, Christophe (1996) Pierre Chany, l’homme aux 50 Tours de France, Éditions Cristel, France

Maraniss, p. 141

Fotheringham, William (2007) [1st. pub. 2002]. Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson. London: Yellow Jersey Press. ISBN 978-0-224-08018-7.

Newton, D., n.d. Steroids and Doping in Sports: A Reference Handbook, 2Nd Edition. 2nd ed. ABC-CLIO; 2 edition (April 4, 2018).

Dettwiler, W., 2014. Novartis: How A Leader in Healthcare Was Created Out of Ciba, Geigy And Sandoz. Profile Books; Main edition.

Gleaves, J. and Hunt, T., 2016. Global History of Doping in Sport. Routledge

Jenkins, S., 2005. Sports Science Handbook. Brentwood, UK: Multi-Science

Engelmann, Larry (1988). The Goddess and the American Girl: The Story of Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195043631

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  1. Gaperda

    I really like to direction this website is taking.

  2. Lenny

    I also read that Tour de France cyclist Tom Simpson had also used the poison strychnine to try and improve performance.
    Then again dieters today are still dying through using DNP for weight loss.
    Check out Goldman’s dilemma – “Would you take a drug to win if the price was that it shortened your life?”

  3. Brett

    Truthseeker, why is it that steroid users like Serge Nubret did lots of press behind the neck, close grip upright barbell rows and pull downs behind the neck without hurting/injuring their shoulder joints?

    Do steroids play a part in strengthening the shoulder joints?

    As far as I know Serge Nubret never had a major shoulder injury.

    1. Truth Seeker Post author

      Those exercises can be done safely if you have the mobility. He also did pump training which means that he lifted weights that were way below his max.

      That’s my explanation at least.

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