Athletes have been taking drugs to enhance performance since competitions began. 19th-century athletes were recorded using caffeine, alcohol and opium in attempts to improve their performance. New Zealand newspapers reported on doping in international cycling in 1908 and at the 1912 Olympic Games. Newspapers also debated the ethics of rugby players taking oxygen at half time to stimulate their play. New Zealand athletes did not have regular drug tests until 1989, immediately before the 1990 Commonwealth Games. Drug testing was initially supervised by the Hillary Commission and the New Zealand Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association. In 1995 the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency (NZSDA) was established; it became Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) in 2006.
Doping cases in sport are not all about human athletes. Racehorses have been doped to either make them run faster or to ruin the chances of a favourite winning. In 1930 the New Zealand Truth newspaper claimed that caffeine, strychnine, arsenic and cocaine had been used as stimulants for horses. ‘In years gone by it was almost an everyday occurrence to note racehorses being given “nips” of whiskey or brandy before racing, but now even this is barred!’1
Caught out or owning up
There have been some prominent cases of New Zealand athletes who were caught out or confessed to doping. Commonwealth Games gold medal winning weightlifter Graham May confessed to using steroids (which had not been on the banned list at the time because there was no reliable test for them), but his offer to return his 1974 gold medal was declined. Discus thrower Robin Tait, another Commonwealth Games gold medallist, also confessed to taking steroids. Swimmer Trent Bray tested positive for the drug nandoline in 1999. He was eventually exonerated six months later by a Court of Appeal decision over the time taken to test his urine sample. In 2009 marathon runner Liza Hunter-Galvan was banned from competition for two years after being found to have used erythropoietin (EPO).
In 2004 New Zealand cyclist Stephen Swart admitted that when riding for the Motorola team in the 1995 Tour de France he and his team mates had taken EPO. Swart’s confession was to have wide-reaching consequences as one of his Motorola team mates was prominent US cyclist Lance Armstrong. The evidence Swart and others gave to the United States Anti-Doping Agency in 2012 led to Armstrong being stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he had won between 1999 and 2005.
Doping in international cycling
Cyclist Stephen Swart said about taking performance-enhancing drugs: ‘I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. I regret I was put in that position and feel cheated in some ways, knowing that I had the ability to give more at a natural level but obviously that was subdued by what was going on. Maybe things can change and make it better for the generations in the future.’2
Cheated of their moment of triumph
New Zealand cyclist Bruce Biddle narrowly missed out on a bronze medal for the 200-kilometre road race at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A few days after the race bronze medallist Jaime Huelamo of Spain was stripped of his medal after testing positive for the drug coramine. However, as Biddle himself had not been tested for drugs he was never awarded the bronze, despite being recognised as third place getter.
Athlete Nick Willis finished third in the 1,500 metres at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The race winner, Bahraini Rashi Ramzi, was later found to have taken a banned substance and was stripped of his gold medal. In 2011 Willis was finally awarded the silver medal for the 2008 race.
Valerie Adams was disappointed to come second in the shot put at the 2012 London Olympics. Within days the gold medallist, Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, was found to have taken a banned substance. Adams finally received her gold medal at a ceremony in Auckland a month after the Olympics.