On Track – Drugs in Sport

This story originally appeared in Deadly Vibe Magazine Issue #13 December, 1998

We have just opened The Vault – all the back stories from old editions – dating back to the 1990s. To know where we are going, it's important to understand where we have been. And that story you can follow in the Deadly Vibe Vault!

Recently at the World Swimming Championships in Perth there was a huge drug scandal involving Chinese swimmers. One swimmer was caught with human growth hormone in her luggage and four others failed drug tests. The incident has caused the issue of drugs in sport to be heavily debated again.

It’s not a new topic. As far back as 1904, the winner of the Olympic marathon was taking drugs and brandy during the race. More recently debate has centred around whether the drug testers are actually able to catch the cheats. This has been the case since Canadian Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

He was a very high profile athlete, the most visible hero of the Games. A year earlier he won the 100m world championship in a world record. The question on everyone’s lips was why had Ben not been caught before. Clearly the drug testing has been more effective since Ben was caught. We only need to look at how the performances in many track and fields have dropped off.

In my event, the 400 metres, the world record was set in 1985 run in a time of 47.60 by East German athlete Marita Koch. The closest that anybody has come to running anywhere near the world record war Marie-Jose Perec. She ran 48.25, over half a second slower at the 1996 Olympic Games, more than 10 years later.

It seems drugs have effected women’s events more than men’s. The only woman’s world records set in the last 10 years have either been in new events such as 400m hurdles, 500m and the pole vault or those records set by Chinese middle distance runners who are under great suspicion.

When I line up to run against my competitors, in the back of my mind I know of the possibility that some of those other girls take drugs.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that I’ve prepared and competed honestly to the best of my ability.

Cathy Freeman


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