5 October 1908


Although there is a universal condemnation of the taking of drugs by athletes today, it was not always so. Going back a century, discussion about the possible use of what we would call performance enhancing drugs took place in the national press without any obvious criticism. The impetus for this seems to have been the events surrounding the marathon race at the 1908 Olympics when Dorando Pietri had collapsed shortly before the finish of the race when leading. Officials helped him over the finishing line, but he was disqualified; nevertheless he achieved widespread fame (and at least one offer of marriage!) for his efforts. There was serious discussion as to whether athletes should be allowed to take oxygen during races to prevent this happening in the future, and this led on to suggestions that strychnine tablets (albeit very small doses) and ‘aromatic ammonia’ might also be employed as aids to athletic performance. An anonymous doctor who attended a Medical Exhibition at the Horticultural Hall, Westminster on 5 October 1908 was quoted in the following day’s Daily Mail as saying, “If a great scientist were to turn his attention to the effects of drugs upon athletes, the record-breaking which might follow would probably amaze sport lovers.”


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