As a pro cycling fan, I’m rather well acquainted with the world of performance enhancing drugs. And the dopers that use them. It is, as you might imagine, a topic close at hand during any discussion of the state of the sport. At this point, I don’t really have any moral outrage. And it’s not just because I’m worn out by the succession of recent doping stories. It’s that doping has *always* been around. It’s part and parcel of the sport. The Festina affair is recent history, in this context. When you read any books dealing with the history of cycling, whether it’s the the last 25 years of pro racing or Dino Buzzati’s masterpiece on the ’49 Giro d’Italia, riders have *always* turned to drugs for an edge.
And if you’re not a cycling fan, and you’re thinking that this isn’t really a problem in the sports *you* appreciate, you’re almost certainly deluding yourself. Every sport needs to grapple with doping (and so do “sports” like golfing). It’s against this background that I think a new book- Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today – will be worth reading. Written by the author of Rant Your Head Off, it looks like a real history of doping in sports:
Dope starts in the mid-1800s, when doping was performed on racehorses with the intent of altering the natural outcome of races. Back then, the stables in which the horses were kept weren’t all that well guarded, so a doper could come along and administer a drug that would affect the animal’s racing. Sometimes the drugs were meant to give the horse a boost, and sometimes they were meant to slow the animal down.
[ . . . ]
You’ll get to see stories of doping in the Olympics from the quadrennial spectacle’s earliest days, the rise of various drugs (like amphetamines, testosterone, other steroids and eventually EPO and designer steroids), as well as read about doping incidents across a wide range of sports over the last century. You’ll read stories of doping in weightlifting, swimming, track and field, cycling, football (both kinds), baseball, as well as doping in other sports.
[ . . . ]
But most of all, what I hope you’ll get out of the book is an appreciation and understanding that doping is not a problem that just magically appeared over the last twenty years (despite how the many in the mainstream media seem to cast the story). The desire to boost human performance, and to find ways of pushing the boundaries of what we’re capable of, has existed for a very, very long time. And at one point in time, “the human experiments” that doping athletes perform were once even considered merely using technology in man’s quest to be better, faster and stronger. The perfectability of man/woman, if you will.
I intend to put my hands on a copy and review it when it’s finally released.