9.79 – the time posted by Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, when he beat Carl Lewis (and by default the Americans) and won the Gold Medal. Two days later, we all learned what stanozolol was. No doubt Johnson had to be stripped of his medal, he did get caught after all. However, rather than shame the sport, we shamed the man and left him all alone. Ben Johnson went from the world’s fastest man, gold medal winner and the hero of an entire nation, to the sporting world’s principal scapegoat. What we know today is why that 100m final is largely regarded as “the dirtiest race in history,” because everyone else in that race was likely juiced up as well (with the exception of Calvin Smith, who was awarded the bronze after Johnson was stripped of the gold, who never tested positive during his career). In the aftermath, the Toronto Sun headline ran “Why Ben, Why?” as if Canada was just told that Santa Claus wasn’t real and it was Ben’s fault that we were experiencing a national loss of innocence.
1988 was a long time ago and the term “performance enhancing drugs” is part of the conversation that surrounds virtually every sport, particularly when someone is better than the rest. Some of the greatest athletes across the spectrum of sports have been put on a pedestal for what they can do and then promptly taken down when we learn how they did it – Lance Armstrong being the latest hero to fall on his sword. The reality though, in 2015, is that we already know the truth. Instinctively we know, like when Dorothy pulled back the curtain and there was no Wizard doing magical things; it was just an ordinary guy and it was all an illusion. Try to think of performance enhancing drugs in those terms – the curtain was pulled back in 1988,.
Are there athletes that “do it right” and “do it clean?” Yes, of course there are and they should be applauded for taking the moral high ground. However, we should not put on the façade of shock and despair when we discover that our heroes are, in a word, normal and that performance enhancing drugs are generally a systemic problem in sports. For us, it all started with Ben Johnson and stanozolol – now athletes are putting all sorts of things in their bodies to stay at the top of their game. These are the Top 15 Most Used Performance Enhancing Drugs.
*All defintions for the steroids are taken from MedicineNet.com, unless stated otherwise.
Want to hit 70 home runs in a single Major League Baseball season? Then, maybe you should consider giving Androstenedione a go. Androstenedione is a “steroid produced in the adrenal gland that is a precursor to testosterone and other male hormones.” Its medical purpose is to help with testosterone production for people with hormonal problems of low testosterone, mostly women and elderly men. For athletes, it bulks muscle and gives more strength. This performance enhancer was made famous after Mark McGwire admitted to using it. For physical evidence of how this drug works, just look at the guy and look at his numbers.
Also termed as a Human Growth Hormone, Somatotropin is a “growth hormone that is produced by the anterior pituitary (the front part of the pituitary gland.” So, where the McGwire-like steroid affects muscles, this one makes for stronger bones and tendons as well. Medically, HGHs have all sorts of benefits: helping with body atrophy, immune system function, increasing energy generally, and even improving skin tone. This drug is definitely prescription only – yet many athletes have used it to be lean, muscular, and injury resistant. HGH seems to be a popular performance enhancer in the MLB; the Mitchell Report in 2007 named 89 current and former players that have used it – Roger Clemens being one of them.
Banned by all the major sports leagues and the International Olympic Committee, Ephedrine is what Carl Lewis was caught using prior to the 1988 Olympics that ruined Ben Johnson. And due to Ephedrine being used primarily as a decongestant, Lewis, for some reason, had used it thinking it was some other herbal remedy. He was therefore given a pass. Argentinian soccer great, Diego Maradona, also took Ephedrine completely by accident in a “power drink” and was given the not so Golden Boot out of the 1994 World Cup.
Now the words “cocaine” and “performance enhancing drugs” really don’t seem to gel, but taking the drug can make athletes, according to this ESPN report, “perceive increased performance and decreased fatigue in the face of actual decreased performance in both strength and endurance activities.” Notable athletes to have taken cocaine during their careers include: Dwight Gooden, Martina Hingis, and again, Diego Maradona – who eventually got off the power drinks and onto the coke.
Usually in the form of creams, Testosterone “is an anabolic steroid, a hormone that contributes to male characteristics, including increased muscle mass,” according to Men’s Fitness. Although testosterone obviously occurs naturally in the body, increasing one’s levels not only helps bulk up, but also boosts energy in general, and therefore performance. Slugger Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is probably the most well known athlete associated with the use of testosterone.
Before you condemn this list and say that creatine shouldn’t be on here, the world renowned Mayo Clinic has classified it as a PED.
So what’s the fallout of a pro sports culture that’s awash in performance enhancing drugs? Creatine. And although Men’s Health suggests that Creatine “isn’t a Barry Bonds starter kit,” it’s what young adults and Average Joes are doing in an effort to bulk up like their heroes. In short, Creatine is a “compound the body synthesizes (makes) and then utilizes to store energy” and is sold as a supplement, usually in powder form, to increase performance.
This veterinarian steroid, yes you read that right – this one is meant for animals only – was really only intended for animal use (mainly for horses and cattle). What Boldenone provides is a slow and steady muscle gain, along with the production of red blood cells. Boldenone seems to be popular in the MMA community, with the likes of Stephen Bonnar and Antonio Silva among those who have tested positive for it.
How does Brett Favre start 297 consecutive NFL games? Vicodin. For someone like Favre, Vicodin worked more like a performance “maintainer.” Stories surrounding Vicodin and the NFL have it positioned on the level of a street drug; it’s been deemed as highly addictive and is banned by the NFL. Although sometimes obtained legally from team physicians to accommodate a genuine need, there are also stories of players stockpiling “leftovers” from previous prescriptions and having prescriptions filled by outside doctors or pharmaceutical company reps in exchange for tickets. In short, Vicodin is symbolic of the darker side of professional football.
The other street-like drug of the NFL is OxyContin and due to the heightened awareness of concussions and ex-player suicides in both the NFL and the NHL, it has been illustrated that pain killers have historically been an essential part of athlete performance. Again, like Vicodin, OxyContin for some athletes is essential and used by many; from the Brett Farves to the Bob Proberts, to the blue collar guy who, if he misses one game or one shift, could be out of the game altogether. In sum, the painkillers are going to be difficult to get rid of.
If an athlete is taking performance enhancing drugs on a regular basis, there is an excellent chance that Diuretics are part of their intake program. The function of diuretics, along with a steady performance enhancing diet, is to mask the steroid use. This is accomplished by the way Diuretics affect kidney function. In short, athletes take diuretics to dilute their urine, making it harder to detect steroid use. Diuretics (sometimes called “water pills”) are popular in sports like boxing, where athletes compete by weight. They use the pills to ”expel large amounts of fluid, which qualifies them to compete in a lower weight category.” Once they weigh in, they can stop taking the pills and gain some quick weight before the fight.
Normally used by breast cancer patients, Tamoxifen helps negate one of the side effects of performance enhancing drugs, namely enlarged breasts. The science behind it is this: athletes take testosterone injections for muscle strength, large doses in particular may cause the body to produce additional estrogen, which in turn can result in enlarged breasts. Now, in order to alleviate the byproduct of the testosterone athletes take Tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug, to mask the steroid use. In 2012, Marlon Byrd of the Red Sox was suspended 50 games for using Tamoxifen.
Basically an asthma drug, Albuterol works “by relaxing the muscles lining the bronchial tubes, allowing more air to flow into the lungs.” Taken normally, when it’s inhaled, it is difficult to discern whether Albuterol produces performance enhancing effects when taken by non-asthmatic athletes. Many high endurance athletes can develop what’s called “exercise induced asthma,” like Paula Radcliffe, and Albuterol allows them to continue competing at a high level. However, when Albuterol is taken orally or by injection (rather than inhaled), it can help build muscle just like steroids.
Propranolol, also called a beta blocker, is a medication designed to “block the effects of epinephrine, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.” This drug (or drugs in the beta blocker class) is for the athlete that requires strong nerves, a sense of calmness, and a steady hand. Its most prevalent use is in sports like golf, archery, and gymnastics. Two -time PGA major winner Greg Norman has commented on the use of beta blockers on the PGA tour. The Shark claimed, “in my day, lots of guys were on beta blockers…it wasn’t openly acknowledged, but it was obvious to the rest of us. A guy’s personality would change.”
Again, before you discredit this, there’s plenty of evidence that says marijuana does help performance, along with recovery, and we’re also not trying to say that it should be banned.
Do you remember the name Ross Rebagliati? He won Olympic Gold for snowboarding in Nagano, 1998. He tested positive for marijuana and the Olympic committee was caught off guard by the offense, unlike those in the snowboard community. In short, Rebagliati was allowed to keep his medal because marijuana wasn’t on the list of banned substances at the time (it is now). For Rebagliati, and other athletes in a variety of sports who like to “pass the dutchie,” it’s not a performance enhancer, “it’s a lifestyle.”
Rewind to Seoul 1988 and Ben Johnson. We did learn what stanozolol was and, at the time, hoped that someone really did spike his water bottle. Today, we almost instinctively know better. One thing you have to still admire after all these years is Ben Johnson’s likability, his confidence, and his unwillingness to take the blame for a corrupted sport entirely on his shoulders. In a recent BBC interview, Johnson claimed that he’s the best 100m sprinter in history and would have beaten Usain Bolt in his day. Bottom line, says Johnson, Bolt just “doesn’t have the power I have.” You gotta love that, even if you’d need to be on drugs to believe it.
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