Bad Sports – Olympics 2000; athletes; drug abuse – Statistical Data Included

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA–The music started, and the 4-foot 10-inch, 82-pound Romanian gymnast pranced, jumped, leaped, and tumbled. When she finished her floor-exercise routine, Andreea Raducan ran into the arms of her coach. He swept the tiny gymnast up in his arms and tossed her on his shoulders. Her eyes sparkled with joy as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd. She’d clinched it. Against the odds, Raducan, 16, had won the gold medal in the individual gymnastics all-around competition.

On the medal podium, Raducan gazed at her gold medal and kissed it. Later, she said. “It feels as if I’m having a very nice dream.”

But Raducan’s dream quickly turned into a nightmare. A few days after her performance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stripped Raducan of her medal for taking an over-the-counter cold medication that contained a substance banned by the IOC as being a “performance-enhancing” drug. A Romanian Olympic team doctor said he gave Raducan the pills after she came down with a cold.

When Raducan contested the decision, she told the committee, “I innocently took a pill because I wasn’t feeling well. I did nothing wrong.”

But no gold. The IOC recognized that Raducan didn’t intentionally violate the Anti-Doping Code, which prohibits the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Olympic athletes, but stood by its position.

Bunch of Dopes

Raducan’s mistake was to take cold medicine. But other athletes at the Sydney Games apparently were not so naive.

The IOC ousted the entire Bulgarian weightlifting team after the athletes tested positive for drugs that can lower body weight or flush other drugs out of athletes’ systems.

Shot-putter C.J. Hunter, husband of U.S. track star Marion Jones, tested positive for steroids, drugs that can boost an athlete’s strength, speed, and endurance, prior to the Games. He did not compete in Sydney.

In all, the IOC tossed a record 35 Olympic athletes from the Games for doping, or using performance-enhancing drugs. According to Frank Shorter, a former Olympian and president of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), doping by Olympic athletes has reached “epidemic proportions.” Shortly after the Sydney Games ended October 1, the USADA assumed control of drug testing for U.S. Olympic athletes and vowed to crack down on the dopes who use drugs in sports.

Dopes in History

Doping isn’t a new problem in Olympic sports. Ancient Greek Olympians drank mushroom and herb concoctions for extra oomph. In 1904, marathon runner Thomas Hicks nearly died after gulping down what he called a “stimulating strychnine and courage-inspiring brandy.” (Strychnine is often used as a rat poison.) At the 1960 Games, a Danish cyclist died after overdosing on stimulants. For years, East Germany, formerly a Communist country and now part of Germany, government athletic trainers fed athletes large doses of testosterone, a male hormone that can increase an athlete’s muscle mass and strength.

The IOC began drug testing of Olympic athletes in 1976. But tests cannot detect all banned drugs. “Too often, abusers stay ahead of the testers,” said former Olympian John Naber.

Dying to Win

Athletes who abuse drugs risk not only disqualification from the Games but also their lives. Several performance-enhancing drugs have been linked to heart and liver damage. Other drugs can permanently deform bones.

For many athletes, however, it’s a risk worth taking. In 1995, Dr. Robert Goldman asked 198 U.S. Olympic-level athletes whether they would take a banned drug that would guarantee them victory but would kill them in five years. More than half of the athletes said yes.

Why would athletes jeopardize their health for Olympic medals?

Some experts cite the lure of big-money contracts and endorsements. Peter Ubel, a sport science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, blames the high value many cultures place on physical perfection.

“This is clearly a problem in other competitive industries as well, such as in Hollywood and in modeling, where the only way you can get an advantage is [by] doing something unnatural to your body,” he said.

Race Against Doping

Whatever the reason some athletes abuse drugs, the IOC, the USADA, and other Olympic sporting organizations agree that more needs to be done to combat doping.

According to Charles Yesalis, author of The Steroids Game, a solution needs to be found fast. Yesalis predicts that genetic engineering of athletes is on the horizon.

“Doping might soon be [overshadowed] by genetic engineering of high-performance bodies–injecting a virus to deliver genes that increase [oxygen] production, for example.”

CONSIDER THIS … What do you think drives athletes to abuse drugs?


According to the Healthy Competition Foundation, a nonprofit organization to combat drug abuse in sports, there are three general categories of prescription drugs that may be used as performance-enhancers:

Stimulants (amphetamines): Stimulants cause the body to run in overdrive. Among other dangers, stimulants can cause the user to collapse from exhaustion.

Blood Doping: Blood doping is done in two ways. In one method, athletes give themselves their own blood through transfusions. Or, athletes administer a hormone, like erythropotin (EPO), causing the body to produce an excess amount of blood. In both cases the body has more blood than normal, increasing the number of red blood cells in circulation. This causes the body to carry increased levels of oxygen allowing athletes to run or jump farther and faster without cramps. This can also cause the blood to thicken or result in clots.

Anabolic (steroids): The body responds to exercise and stress by creating more muscle. Steroids naturally produced in the body are the conduits to muscles being created through activities like running or weight lifting. Steroid doses in excess of what nature intended can cause devastating side effects to the sex hormones, including sterility. Liver damage and liver cancer can also result from high levels of steroid use.

Nutritional Supplements: Nutritional supplements can be dangerous for very different reasons than prescription drug misuse–in part because no one knows exactly what many of them can do. Taken in small doses, nutritional supplements may not be harmful, but in high levels they may be extremely dangerous.

Human Growth Hormone: Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is not technically a drug. It is an artificial source of the natural hormone that promotes growth. The body is highly sensitive to HGH. A tiny increase at puberty accelerates the slow but steady rate of growth begun at birth. Natural production of too much growth hormone (a disease called acromegoly) leads to disfigurement and early death. Tampering with a “master control system” like HGH is potentially dangerous, especially in the young adult years when the body is so sensitive to it.


Performance-enhancing drug abuse isn’t limited to professional athletes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 500,000 teenagers–175,000 girls and 325,000 boys used steroids, in the past year alone.

According to the Healthy Competition Foundation, one in four teens knows someone who has abused performance-enhancing drugs. Only half of the teenagers surveyed were aware of even one side effect of the drugs.

The Healthy Competition Foundation urges athletes of all ages and levels to take a pledge to abstain from using performance-enhancing drugs. To find out more, visit the foundation’s Web site at


Below are some key words used in this issue of Current Events. Knowing their meanings will be helpful in understanding recent news events.

* IOC (page 1). The International Olympic Committee is the governing body of the Olympic Games. More than a hundred delegates from countries all over the world make up the IOC. Their headquarters are located in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Host cities for the Olympic Games are selected by national committees that then present their choices to the IOC. The IOC visits potential sites, tours the facilities, and makes their decision. The cities for the Summer Games and Winter Games are chosen seven years in advance. Members of the IOC are not allowed to accept instructions on voting from any government or other group or individual.

* Department of the Interior (page 3). In 1849, the U.S. Congress passed a bill creating the Department of the Interior. At that time, the department was formed to manage the nation’s internal affairs. Now, the department manages most of the U.S.’s nationally owned public lands and natural resources. This includes nearly half a million acres of federal lands, mostly in the western regions of the country, and the entire National Park System. The Interior Department also enforces laws that protect threatened and endangered species.

The Interior Department governs several U.S. bureaus and offices including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, among others.

Bruce Babbitt is currently serving as secretary of the Interior Department. President Bill Clinton appointed Babbitt as secretary in 1993.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Weekly Reader Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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