Doping through the ages

November 12, 2013 at 9:59 am | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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Performance enhancement has been around since the ancient Greeks, as Lance Armstrong recently reminded us. Nevertheless, the precise details of doping procedures in the Olden Days™ remain inexplicably under-researched. For your edutainment, I present here a summary of the little we know.

Stone Age performance enhancement mostly involved athletes poking sabre tooth tigers with sticks. It’s estimated that this technique resulted in several sub-four minute miles, although this is hard to verify, as no-one had yet invented clocks, tape measures or writing.

Roman darts

The Romans achieved performance advantages principally through confusing everyone about who was winning at darts.

The Vikings, in between all the pillaging, fornication and so on, were quite handy at rowing, winning the double sculls for over a hundred years on a carbohydrate-rich diet of porridge and ale. They were eventually beaten by the English, who achieved a tactical gain through judicious ingestion of cheese.

As French speakers, the Normans had a natural advantage. The Bayeux Tapestry was an elaborate subterfuge to disguise the Normans’ innovative use of needles.

The Tudors invented hose, or what we now know as ‘compression tights’.

In Stuart times, Samuel Pepys pioneered the meticulous recording of doses and effects, noting in a cryptic system of pseudonyms and symbolic references how ‘Maria’ had a ‘loin of mutton’ ‘fried’, for example, and became ‘very merry’.

crinoline centrifuge

The Victorians cultivated a demeanour of disapproval of pretty much everything; doping was no exception. Contemporaneous accounts indicate, however, that the lasting popularity of the crinoline was partly due to its suitability for concealing centrifuges.

Wartime doping continued despite strict rationing. Under the motto ‘COOK UP! for KING and COUNTRY’ , resourceful housewives fashioned effective stimulants from a mixture of dried egg, Spam and scouring powder.

In the modern era, the lines between legitimate and illegitimate means are becoming ever more blurred. Even amateur athletes can now source a variety of products from painkillers to inhalers, and most of us enjoy a protein supplement washed down with a nice sedative of a Friday night.

Doping in the future will involve food pills, jetpacks and women in PVC boots. Honest.

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