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For as long as people have engaged in competitive sports they have been looking for ways to improve their abilities through supplements and drugs.
The earliest evidence of performance-enhancing drug use is traceable to 776 BC in ancient Greece.
They are believed to have used a derivative of opium called ‘doop’ to numb sensations of pain and allow a performer to push themselves harder.
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The history of anabolic steroids is much more recent.
It wasn’t until the middle of the 1940s after Nazi scientists developed the first steroids that such drugs ever existed.
Earlier in that century athletes were using combinations of cocaine, heroin, caffeine, and strychnine to improve performance.
The first rule against doping and steroid use in sports was instituted in 1928 by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).
This, the main governing body for track and field sports was the first international sporting group to place a prohibition on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Anecdotal accounts have given rise to the supposition that steroids were first developed by the 3rd Reich using prisoners, the Gestapo, and even Hitler himself as test subjects.
To enhance strength and aggression in their soldiers, it is believed that the Nazis used testosterone and testosterone analogs.
Conditions such as paranoia, mania, and overt aggression are all believed to have contributed to some of the poor tactical decisions he made toward the end of the war, and his eventual suicide.
In the 1950s, athletes began using amphetamines used by soldiers in WWII. Amphetamines were the first truly effective performance-enhancing drugs and were- not surprisingly- developed by the military.
Many will argue that the real history of steroid use in sports began in 1958 after the FDA approved the first anabolic steroid for sale in the United States.
Dr. John Bosley Zieglar, the “Godfather of Steroids,” created Dianabol for distribution by Ciba Pharmaceuticals with the go-ahead from the FDA. His research was based on successful Russian trials that came out of military testing on soldiers.
The Russian research only came to light after their use of the drugs on their national weightlifting team yielded frightfully positive results in the mid-1950s.
On his death bed in 1983, Dr. Zieglar expressed regret about his work. He denounced steroids for use in sports unreservedly.
The first recorded sports doping deaths are not attributed to steroids, however.
The deaths of Danish cyclist Knut Jensen and British cyclist Tommy Simpson are believed to have been caused by dehydration and nervous fatigue from amphetamine use while racing. Their deaths occurred in 1960 and 1967 respectively.
In 1967 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) commissioned the Medical Commission to resist the use of doping in sports. The Commission was given a trio of guiding principles;
The first Olympic drug tests were conducted during the 1968 Olympic games in France, and again that year in Mexico City. The list of banned substances at that time included stimulants and analgesics.
While there was wide suspicion that steroids were being used by a broad cross-section of athletes, the committee didn’t yet have enough evidence to set up strict prohibitions against them. Check out the best bulking cycles here.
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Of the 86 drug tests done during the 1968 Winter Games in France- not a single athlete tested positive, and of the 667 tests done at the summer games- only one competitor tested positive.
That comes to .15% of the total athletes at those events. This result inspired a great deal of push back against the prohibitions against steroid use in pro sports games.
It wasn’t until 1975 that anabolic steroids were finally added to the IOC’s already long list of banned substances.
It would have been added sooner, but because of delays in the development of a test that could reliably detect steroids in the user’s system, the ban was held back until sanctions could be fairly imposed.
In 1976, steroid testing was done for the first time at the Olympics in Montreal. From then on, sanctions against anabolic steroids and anyone associated with them have been ramping up.
In 1983, surprise testing began being used at the Pan Am games. Many athletes withdrew before they were able to be tested, presumably because they knew they could not pass a test.
Since those times, the steroid wing of the War on Drugs has been in full swing.
Athletes continue to ride the line between the competitive pressure to win against the athletes who are using it and compliance with the prohibition.
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The debate has raged on for decades now as to whether athletes should be allowed to use these drugs or not. Some say that if it wasn’t for the use of steroids- modern sports would be far less interesting than they are.
Some fans say they want to see the player’s abilities driven to greater and greater extremes, even if it means enhancement to get the positive effects of steroids.
Others argue that the spirit of fair play would be forever replaced by an arms race of ever increasing steroid use in sports games.
Today, athletes face the risk, not only of being prohibited from professional playbut the permanent ruination of their reputations.
Athletes who are caught or even suspected of using steroids are often lambasted in the court of public opinion. They are sometimes dropped in esteem to the level of street addicts.
Competitive athletes who do not use anabolic steroids face obsolescence in a sporting world full of performers who are willing to run the risks to their health and careers.
Still, some people are saying there are ways these drugs can be used responsibly.
They claim that the prohibition of steroids drives the science of responsible use underground where those pressured into using them do not have access to professional medical advice as they use.
Steroid use in sports is an ongoing problem that restrictions and punishments have historically failed to solve and are unlikely to solve in the foreseeable future. Many steroid use essays outline the issues in greater detail.