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The dirtiest track races in history

Ben Johnson became the first Canadian to be declared the fastest man in the world, only to have his title rescinded two days later

doping

The use of performance-enhancing drugs has influenced the outcome of the Olympics since its inception in ancient Greece. In the modern Olympic era, athletes, coaches and doctors have all discovered ways to improve performance by boosting testosterone. By the mid-1960s, sports federations began to ban performance-enhancing drugs, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) following suit in 1967.

When you think of doping in track and field, there are a few athletes who come to mind. Here are some of the most notoriously dirty races in the history of the sport.

Men’s 100m – Seoul 1988 Olympics

Ben Johnson (right) in the men’s 100m at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul

The men’s 100m at the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul is sometimes referred to as “the dirtiest race in history.” The world-record-winning time of 9.79 seconds set by Canada’s Ben Johnson was rescinded two days after the race when Johnson tested positive for steroid use.

Although Johnson was the only athlete disqualified, many others in that field were assumed to be doped, including the eventual winner, U.S. sprinter Carl Lewis.

Lewis was allowed to compete at the 1988 Olympics despite testing positive for small amounts of banned stimulants found in over-the-counter cold medications. 

The late Canadian sprinter Desai Williams, who finished sixth overall in Seoul, was also accused of using performance-enhancing drugs due to his affiliation with Dr. Jamie Astaphan (the same doctor who supplied the PEDs to Johnson and many other sprinters).

Women’s 1,500m – London 2012 Olympics

The women’s 1,500m heats London 2012 Olympics. Photo: W/C

The women’s 1,500m at the London 2012 Olympics has the highest total disqualifications in an Olympic final, with five. The original gold and silver medallists from Turkey, Aslı Çakır Alptekin and Gamze Bulut, were both disqualified for blood doping. Alptekin has been banned for life after three repeated doping violations.

The current silver medallist, Tatyana Tomashova of Russia, had served a two-year doping ban from 2008-2010 for manipulating drug samples; and the seventh-place finisher, Natallia Kareiva of Belarus, and the ninth-place finisher, Yekaterina Kostetskaya of Russia, were later disqualified from the 2012 results after being found guilty of doping.

Although Tomashova’s medal has not been revoked by the IOC or World Athletics, there has been a lot of speculation around her London 2012 result.

Women’s 400m – Athens 1982 European Championships 

The women’s 400m final at the 1982 European Championships was one to remember, as East Germany’s Marita Koch clocked a world record time of 48.16 seconds to win gold, while Jarmila Kratochvílová of Czechslovakia won silver in a national record time of 48.85 seconds.

Marita Koch of East Germany (centre) in a 400m race at DVFL-Sportfest in Moscow in the 1980s. Photo: C/C

Koch’s time at European Championships has only been bettered by two athletes since 1982: 48.14 by Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain (who is currently suspended by World Athletics for whereabouts violations until February 2023) and 47.99 by Kratochvílová.

Koch’s achievements, along with the performances of many other East German athletes, have been under suspicion that they were achieved with the help of performance-enhancing drugs.

According to a report, Koch did use the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol from 1981 to 1984, with dosages ranging from 530 to 1460 mg/year. This drug was, and remains, illegal, but was not detectable at the time.

Kratochvílová has been outspoken about her innocence, despite a Czech newspaper Mladá fronta DNES uncovering a state-sponsored doping program run by the Czech government in 2006. Kratochvílová’s name was not on the report. 

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