For as long as there have been athletes there have been steroids. Steroids provide a means of getting a leg up over the competition and pushing your body and your abilities to the max during training and on game day. While steroids haven’t always received the most positive support and attention from sports leagues and media outlets, its influence on the history of sports and ability to turn an ordinary athlete into the extraordinary cannot be denied.
Steroids weren’t always the science they are today and they have come a long way from unpredictable results and questionable safety to precision enhancement drugs with little to no long-term negative effects. It’s a fascinating lesson in sports history for any modern day athlete to understand how far steroids have come.
Steroids from Basic Beginnings
The earliest signs of performance-enhancing drug use stem from the ancient Olympic Games in Ancient Greece around 776 BC. Because the athletes in the games competed for great prizes and rewards and were considered to be equivalent to our modern day celebrities there was a lot of pressure put on winning.
A win wasn’t just for the individual but for the honor of a family, or even district. These ancient Olympians experimented with a variety of doping methods. One of the most popular was opium juice. Because opium contains a small percentage of natural morphine it was known as the strongest pain medication available during that time.
The pain minimizing effects probably allowed for athletes to put their body through greater strain all the while feeling little physical repercussions. Along with opium, athletes also mixed wine with various roots and herbs. Though the meat wasn’t a common staple of an average ancient Grecian’s diet, many athletes of the time took part in eating mass amounts of meat or other animal parts like the heart or even testicles.
These parts were said to increase power in an individual. Though not based in science, it’s most likely that sudden mass meat consumption boosted testosterone production and really did give an extra boost of the drive to the consumer. Because ancient civilizations were highly involved in the competition, whether through city growth, wars or entertainment all of these methods were considered perfectly legal.
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Steroids in the Middle Ages:
During this time period warfare entertainment was at the height of its popularity, these sports included anything with heavy bloodsheds like gladiator matches, jousting, sword fighting and the like. Because of these sports, it was even more important to be a strong competitor as any loss meant you could be facing death.
Athletes learned to use hallucinogens to combat their fatigue, the most common being strychnine, which is currently used to kill pests and rodents. Hallucinogens allowed the competitor to be in a dazed state which can actually improve the focus of the athlete and make them stronger opponents by being harder to knock down.
The Beginning of Modern Day Steroid Use:
The discovery of the coca leaf at the end of the 19th century lead to the beginning of modern day drug use. The coca leaf is the plant that cocaine is derived from and during those times was a very popular recreational drug much like alcohol nowadays.
The coca leaf was often mixed with wine, or taken as the rudimentary form of cocaine we know how to battle fatigue and fight back hunger. Professional athletes were becoming more prevalent with modern day athletic competitions on the rise.
This meant that athletes who performed on an as-needed basis now had to actually train their bodies to stay ahead of the game and they supplemented their training with steroid use. Sports teams would dope together to boost their practices and workouts.
The 20th Century to Today:
With steroid use in full swing athletes were pushing their bodies to tolerate higher and higher combinations of lethal drugs like heroin, strychnine, and cocaine. It was so common that many teams had their own compounds or “secret formulas” they thought to be the most effective.
But the more athletes pushed themselves, the more their bodies started to shut down, killing themselves by their own ambition. In 1928 The International Association of Athletes Federation (IAAF) became the first to ban the use of steroids out of concern for the athletes.
While steroids started being produced and distributed commercially, even going so far as to be handed out to troops in the field, more athletic associations banned them to prevent abuse and overdose. Starting in the 1960’s drug testing became the norm across the board for all athletes and competitors, including horses in major races.
Non medically prescribed steroids are now banned by all major competition associations and are illegal in many countries. Use of steroids found in competing athletes can not only get an athlete disqualified from a specific competition but can ban them from all future competitions and even strip them of their past titles (Lance Armstrong is the best example of this).
Testing for steroid use has become an incredibly advanced science with new tests being developed constantly. Steroid testing has become such a controversial issue that it is now referred out of associations and is contracted out by actual labs that not only complete tests before competitions but also save specimens for a period of years to be tested for future allegations of doping or as new tests are developed.
Though steroid overuse can cause damage to the system, many consider the laws banning steroids to be too dramatic. In safe doses, steroids can be highly effective enhancement tools and help an athlete reach great heights in his or her field.
With all enhancements and drugs there are two sides to every story and removing the stigma of steroids and instead of teaching people how to use them safely and effectively there’s no telling what humans can push their bodies to do. The history of steroid use while flooded with bad examples of athletes who have abused drugs to cheat the competition, also has a long history of showing what humans can achieve with enhancements.
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