PEDs and the Olympics: Gaming the Games

Performance-enhancing drugs will be part of the Summer Games. How big a part depends on whom you ask, and who gets caught.

PEDs and the Olympics: Gaming the Games

On July 27, more than 10,000 athletes from 205 countries will converge in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. They’ll carry with them the pride of nations, years of preparation, and dreams nurtured from childhood, all for a chance at a singular moment of athletic glory.

Many of them will also carry anabolic testosterone, EPO, beta blockers, human growth hormone, masking agents, amphetamines, designer steroids, and shady posses of enablers and dealers that will hover outside the Olympic village like a black-market shadow convention.

There’s an old saying among critics of Olympic drug-testing standards: How do you discover who’s using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) find the ones wearing the medals.

Cynical, yes, but a doping scandal in the London Olympics is nearly as inevitable as a Bob Costas fireside treacle. using Olympic glory to prove the dominance of its nationalist ideology led to PED development in the Soviet Union half a century ago. the eastern Bloc teams were medal-winning machines, a fact not lost on the free world. But while the evil empire let the genie out of the bottle, everyone else decided to run with it—literally (remember Ben Johnson?). The desire to succeed at all costs is deeply hardwired in an Olympic athlete. it has to be to survive the daily trials of a prodigy destined for greatness. many begin their Olympic careers as toddlers being dragged to pre-dawn practices. Olympic hopefuls give their childhoods; many are prepared to give much more.


A famous survey by noted steroid expert Robert Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., conducted biannually from 1982 to 1995, asked elite athletes if they would take a drug that guaranteed them an Olympic gold medal but would kill them in five years. Every time Goldman administered the survey, more than half said they would.

This “death for glory” mindset is known as the Goldman Dilemma, and it’s the reason athletes take enormous risks for their health, reputations, and career—even if they don’t want to.

Such was the experience of the late Canadian track coach Charlie Francis. Despite the early successes of his roster of athletes, Francis noticed that they began regressing against competition they had previously mastered. He discovered why: PEDs. Unable to beat doped athletes, he decided to join them, and his athletes began winning again. Sprinter Ben Johnson was among them.