Olympic Athlete Doping

23 January 2012

At each Olympics, a few athletes are caught doping and disqualified from competition. That's a high price to pay for someone who's spent so much time and energy training for their event, so why do athletes dope? And what is doping, really?

Doping means enhancing your physical performance by taking any of a number of banned or illegal substances, and it's considered cheating. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) first introduced doping controls at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games. Now they regularly test athletes for a number of banned substances, usually by urine tests. Here's a short list of some of these drugs. The full list is much longer, and constantly expanding as researchers try to find new ways for athletes to enhance their performance without getting caught.

Anabolic Steroids

These are commonly what people refer to when they say "doping". Steroids are compounds that act like the hormone testosterone.

Did You Know?
testosterone naturally helps men build muscle and burn fat more easily than women

Steroids have a similar effect, allowing athletes to increase muscle strength and endurance, train harder, and recover from injuries faster. The downside? A long list of scary side effects: organ damage, increased aggression, acne, sterility and baldness (in men), growth of facial hair and deepening of the voice (in women).


These are drugs that stimulate the brain and body. They allow athletes to compete for longer without feeling tired. However, they can cause aggression, heart problems, headaches, and can be addictive.

Narcotic Analgesics

This category includes painkillers such as morphine and heroin. These drugs increase an athlete's tolerance of pain so they can compete harder, even with injuries. The problem is that they're also highly addictive. They can cause drowsiness, or even coma. Also, pain is there for a reason! It tells you to stop what you're doing because it hurts. Without the feeling of pain you can badly injure yourself.

Blood Doping

This means giving an athlete more red blood cells. More red blood cells means better endurance of the muscles.

Did You Know?
red blood cells carry oxygen to the cells of your body, including the muscles

Blood doping is done by injecting blood in an athlete's body just before they compete. More red blood cells means more oxygen to the muscles and better performance. Side effects include kidney damage, circulatory system overload, blood clots, and HIV infection (from an infected blood donor).

Pharmacological, Chemical and Physical Manipulation

Basically, this means messing around with a urine sample to hide a positive test for a drug. It could mean adding a chemical that can "cover up" the drug, flushing it from your body before the urine test, or using someone else's urine sample instead of your own. All of these methods can be caught if proper testing procedures are followed.

Did You Know?
animals can be caught doping too! Horse or dog trainers sometimes give their animals performance-enhancing drugs to make them run faster or jump higher. Unlike human athletes, animals have no choice about doping

The bottom line in all of this is that while doping can give athletes a short-term competitive edge, the nasty consequences of taking drugs may be life long. And it can mean having that gold medal taken away.

Learn More!

BBC Sport

Next-Gen Olympic Doping Methods

Wikipedia — doping

World Anti-Doping Agency

Kim Paulson works in a laboratory where she studies heart disease. She keeps her own heart healthy by jogging. She also loves climbing things, exploring new places, and reading a good book.


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