Doping, such a long history (1)

Doping, such a long history: ancient practices

No, doping did not wait for the era of spectacle sport and surpassing oneself at all costs that we are going through to make people talk about it. Man, since time immemorial, has always sought to extricate himself from his condition as a small fragile mammal and to exceed his limits. As soon as sport, especially in Antiquity, became a central social phenomenon, the first cases of doping were listed by historians of the time. First part, ancient, of our journey through the history of doping.

Heroes, demiurges and titans

The anabolic virtues of plants on the human body have been known since the dawn of time. China and Korea were, as early as 3 BC, major consumers of ginseng for its properties on resistance to effort. The primitive populations of Africa as those of America already had recourse respectively to the Kola nut and the coca leaf. The word doping itself comes from the term “dop”, an alcoholic drink allowing to enter into a trance during religious holidays.

But it is obviously from the Greeks, with the ancient Olympic Games, that the most precise doping stories come back to us. Since the start of competitions in 776 BC. In AD, historians have written about substances used by athletes to improve their performance. There are many references to specialists who gave them advice and magical concoctions before the tests. Antiquity was already full of Ferrari doctors! The oldest texts report the absorption of very large quantities of sheep testes. Such a diet had the effect of drastically increasing the level of testosterone - the same hormone that is exploited today through anabolic steroids. The term anabolic comes from the Greek “anaballo” meaning “to push back”. At that time, the belief in transposing the attributes of an animal to whoever consumes it was widespread. Thus, Milo of Croton reports that the wrestlers devoured a titanic quantity of pork to inherit their build. The jumpers threw themselves on the goat meat… to jump higher. Boxers and pitchers were turning to bull meat. Red Bull did not invent anything! As early as the third century BC, the Olympians tried to improve their performance by consuming mushrooms, as evidenced by the writings of Philostratus. Herbaceous beverages, alcohol-based decoctions such as mead, or strychnine and hallucinogens were therefore very popular. Sage even had the favors of Roman sportsmen.

FRANCE - MAY 14: Nike offering laurel wreaths to the winners of the games and a sash for the winner, engraving by Benedict Piringer (1780-1826) from a Greek original, from Collection de Vases Grecs de Ms le Comte de Lamberg, by Alexandre de Laborde, 1813-1824, Paris. (Photo by DeAgostini / Getty Images)

men and gods

If the athletes were caught with their hands in the pot of hallucinogenic mushrooms or gorging themselves in the back of a pigsty, they were severely punished. The fight against doping was already a reality. The sentence was also final: they were banned for life from the Games - sanction that would satisfy the current defenders of the final suspension for doping - and their names were engraved in the marble of the statues placed on the way to the stadium. The pedestals supported “zanes”, life-size bronze statues of Zeus. These sculptures were not there to honor the great athletes of the time, but to punish, in perpetuity, the athletes who violated the Olympic rules. The inscriptions in these great registers of shame also served as a warning to the athletes of the time who passed by on their way to the stadium where more than 40 spectators awaited them. Even today, stone plinths lining the entrance to the Olympic stadium in Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games (000 BC -776 AD), recall the anathema and the stigma that afflicted cheaters and their families.