Athletes use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) has captivated the attention and imaginations of the public in recent years who are both intrigued by the possibilities and appalled by the deceptive facade their favorite athlete-icon has to maintain in order to play the game.
Here is a list of books from various sports who have endured scandals along with Chris Cooper’s own excellent reference work which breaks the science of sports doping down for the lay-man.
Some of the books include excerpts of my favourite quotes, but in a recent computer mishap, I lost a bunch of notes pertaining to the other books I read. All of these books delve into a lot of detail about the various drug regimens used by each respective athlete
The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the Olympic 100m Final – Richard Moore
The race that shocked the world was the also the defining event which bought the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport to the public consciousness.
This book provides the riveting backstory to the personalities, training and political chicanery at the highest levels and removes any shadow of doubt that sports and drugs are forever intertwined. Best read in conjunction with a viewing of the excellent documentary “9.79”, this book races to the top of one of my favourite reads this year. Highly entertaining and superbly written by anyone interested in sporting competition, PEDs or who can simply recall those 9.79 seconds of athletic perfection.
“For Johnson, the benefits of Francis’s new regime were startling. He was becoming the kind of athlete that Francis could only have dreamed of. It was his capacity for improvement that set him apart. In five years Johnson doubled the weight he could bench press, from 81kg to 165.5kg: he only weighed 72,5kg, No wonder he was able to up-end Lennox Lewis.”
“Francis told the inquiry about his experiences as a young sprinter at Stanford and what he witnessed at the Munich Olympics, about becoming a coach, about his conversations with East German coaches, and his belief that, if his athletes were clean, they might as well set up their starting blocks a metre behind their rivals.”
Ziegler, however, became alarmed at their enthusiasm. While he prescribed his new wonder drug in small doses – no more than 5mg a day – he quickly realised that his clients were ignoring him, using ever larger amounts in the quest for greater benefits. He couldn’t understand why his clients wouldn’t follow instructions. ‘What is it with these simple-minded shits?’ he complained. ‘I’m the doctor! ‘
Steroid Nation: Juiced Home Run Totals, Anti-aging Miracles, and a Hercules in Every High School: The Secret History of America’s True Drug Addiction – Shaun Assael
Gold’s Gym – Venice California. circa 1980s. Steroid dealer Michael Zumpano holds sway over the small assembled crowd of gym rats in an impromptu seminar for anyone wanting to learn the secrets of the chemically assisted. Among that audience was misfit genius, Dan Duchaine who hung on every word. Together they would go on to collaborate and co-author the now infamous “Underground Steroid Handbook”. From these inauspicious beginnings, few would have predicted that the trickle of interest sparked by this union would lead to the torrent of events outlined in Shaun Assael’s, Steroid Nation.
Whereas many of the books on this list focus on a single sport, this ambitious work traces the evolution and eventual explosion in PED use from the early 80s-2000’s. Among the bodybuilding subculture, the names of the various pioneers and luminaries are instantly recognisable. – Duchaine, Bill Phillips, Bruce Kneller, Patrick Arnold, Scott Connelly, Victor Conte are all pivotal pieces in this multi-layered chess game between dealers, smugglers, manufacturers and law enforcement.
The accumulating media scandals featuring celebrities and high profile sports stars only served to further pour fuel on a growing fire leading to the misunderstood demonisation and criminalisation of these potent, but otherwise mostly benign substances.
But the Pandora’s box had been opened and the steroid genie was out of the bottle. America’s love addiction with PEDs had been sealed and the law enforcers would always be running at a handicap in an unwinnable race of prohibition.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough for someone wanting an entertaining, well written and researched, wide-angle lens perspective of the steroid scene over the last 30-40 years. For those that enjoyed Chris Bell’s documentary, “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”, this book makes the perfect companion piece for those wanting to delve deeper into the backstory on the rise of the Steroid Nation.
“To Duchaine, Gold’s was a supermarket of dysfunctional young women who looked up to him and considered him the stable one. And in the world that he had helped to create — that world of make believe where people never got married or held day jobs and worked out slavishly so they could carry an ideal of perfection through an imperfect world — perhaps he was.”
“When Rozelle was named commissioner in 1969, Dianabol was as common as salt tablets. In the San Diego Chargers locker room, bowls of the pink tablets used to be laid out on a table for anyone to take”
“At the meeting attended by a half-dozen subcommittee members, de Mérode announced that he had serious reservations about the machine that was responsible for the five positives that Catlin had disclosed, a high-resolution mass spectrometer. It was too new to be trusted, he said. Catlin bit his tongue. The Prince had been the one who approved the machines in the first place. What he was saying now was plainly just an excuse. It also showed the way things worked. He was dealing with it by burying the whole episode. The Prince had once again decided that guilty athletes didn’t need to be punished in his Olympic realm.”
“Bill Romanowski opened up the tackle box he had brought with him to Qualcomm Stadium and proudly showed it off to the reporters gathered around him. Divided into neat sections were 500 pills that amounted to a tasting menu from the kitchen of the NFL’s most lunatic linebacker. If there was an heir to Lyle Alzado, it was Romo.”
“In a conversation with a reporter for the Spanish daily El Mundo, Samaranch confided that he had two issues with doping. The first, he said, is that it is “harmful to an athlete’s health,” The second is that “it artificially augments his performance.” Had he stopped there, he would have been fine. But the aging Samaranch went on to draw a distinction only a businessman could love: “If it’s just the second case,” he added, then “for me that’s not doping.” Reading the remark in his lab in Los Angeles, Don Catlin buried his head in his hands. The cycling scandal involving Willy Voet proved what he had been saying all along: that things were getting worse, not better. EPO? Asaflow? They made Ben Johnson’s stanozonol look quaint by comparison. Yet the best the leader of the Olympic movement could do was to say he didn’t think any of it was wrong”
“When Weider decided to sell the stable, he found a suitor in American Media, an upstart company that had recently acquired a trifecta of supermarket tabloids — National Enquirer, Globe, and Star. Its CEO was a veteran magazine executive named David Pecker. During a private dinner with Weider, Pecker had brought up Schwarzenegger. According to Weider, Pecker believed the actor’s links to the company were still vital to the magazines’ interests. “Joe, we’ve done enough on Arnold,” Pecker confided, referring to the Enquirer’s coverage. “We’re going to lay off of him. We’re not going to pull up any dirt on him,”
The Doper Next Door: My Strange and Scandalous Year on Performance-Enhancing Drugs – Andrew Tilin
Alternatively titled, “Help! My wife is keeping my balls prisoner in a pickle jar besides her bed”, “The Doper Next Door” recounts a whiny, depressed, middle age suburbanite who delves into the world of hormone replacement therapy and anti aging drugs. After much research and handwringing, he adopts a very conservative (submaximal) hormone replacement dose of bioidentical testosterone together with DHEA. Almost overnight he transforms into a swaggering-sex-god-superman powerful enough to punch holes through steel…with his dick.
He chronicles the highs and lows of the experience over the course of a year; the physical, psychological and the performance enhancing effects of his “drug” use. As a recreational bike rider, he feels the pangs of guilt associated with his increased performance and questions the ethical validity of his actions as a “doper”. Considering the testosterone draining effect of a constantly haranguing wife, I’d say this is more of a thinly veiled endorsement for absconding from a bad marriage than the lifelong daily commitment of smearing your balls in hormone boosting Androgel.
A neurotic self assessment that does little to further the cause of those seeking to advocate or pursue legitimate avenues available for men wishing to restore their health and vitality of their earlier years.
Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports – Mark Fainaru-Wada & Lance Williams
“With few exceptions, the more than three dozen athletes who
appeared before the grand jury admitted taking steroids … all to
run faster, jump higher, hit the ball farther, and, ultimately, make
more money. Some of the confessions were grudging and evasive. Others were extremely forthcoming. It came down to the same thing: Competitive sports, it turned out, was part mirage, a game of shadows. “ – Game of Shadows
In this engaging book, Fainaru-Wada and Williams pull back the curtain on America’s national pastime revealing the intriguing backstory of one of it’s most publicised steroid scandals .
Years earlier, Canseco’s book “Juiced” was released as a “tell all” confessional of the rampant doping that occurs within baseball’s ranks. Most dismissed his rantings as the fabricated last remonstrations from a former bitter player destined to fade into obscurity. However it proved to be poignant forewarning to the coming storm that was to rock baseball to its very foundations.
In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were embroiled in a home-run chase set to eclipse the long standing record of 60’s slugger, Roger Maris. Rival and baseball’s bad-boy, Barry Bonds was perturbed by the attention McGwire (whom Bonds considered a lesser, second rate hitter) was receiving. Bonds knew McGwire was receiving a pharmaceutical edge and committed himself to levelling the playing field.
Enter Victor Conte; a shameless self promoter who reinvented himself from failed musician to supplement shill, turned drug dealer to the stars. Like a modern day mad scientist, Conte and his BALCO entourage were committed to creating a chemical Frankenstein possesed with the prowess of a sporting Superman. Thus began a relationship that was to transform not only Bond’s on field ability, but the image of baseball, forever.
Even if you know little about, or aren’t even a fan of baseball, this is an engrossing uncovering of the story behind the surreptitious dealings and congressional investigation into steroid use.. A high level of detail is committed to discussing the drugs used by various athletes on Conte’s star roster. Bonds was said to have run the gamut of pharmaceuticals in a cycle that would make any bodybuilder envious including Deca, Winstrol, Testosterone, HGH, insulin, Tren, Clomid and two BALCO specials – The Clear and The Cream – designed to mask detection of many of the above agents.
But it’s not to suggest that the “crime” rests solely on the athletes’ shoulders. Despite the tainted records and public and political outcry, Wada and Williams show evidence of the tacit conspiracy existing between team owners, trainers and the powers that be who themselves look the other way as long as the cash registers keep ringing up their own record-hitting revenues.
Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the Greatest Sports Conspiracy Ever – Reed Albergotti & Vanessa O’Connell
I wasn’t interested in cycling nor the Armstrong scandal until I recently watched the documentary “The Armstrong Lie”. I became engrossed with the various personalities and operatic rise and fall of an athlete in perhaps one of the biggest doping scandals in the history of sport. Cycling it had seems had become yet another sport synonymous with doping.
Armstrong is indisputably an incredible athlete and if that old dictum serves correct, would still have been the champion given a utopian drug-free level playing field. But reality is more nuanced than fanciful idealism. Athletes are always caught in the middle in a world that demands increasingly better, superhuman performances in this “celebrity-worshipping culture and money-mad world of sports gone amok.”
As a probable sociopath, his skills at subterfuge and political maneuvering were equally as honed as his skills on the bike. His coercion of others driven by his vindictive drive to win along with an Icarus like desire to “fly that little closer to the sun” by undertaking one more tour, was to be his undoing.
In this respect, the book recognises without judgement what Armstrong had to do to succeed. He was driven beyond belief, hard working, talented and above all systematic in his planning to engineering the best team, equipment, circumstances and doping schedule. The fact that he was able to juggle this level of complexity, maintain the conspiracy, win numerous tours after battling cancer and still avoid prosecution for so long could in itself could rank as one of the most ingenious deceptions in the “black hat hall of fame”
But it’s hard to vilify Armstrong as the primary antagonist when those he skewered can hardly be classed as innocents. Everyone involved had their own agenda as “hangers-on” or “co-conspirators” and it’s clear the “kill or be killed” dynamic operating at this highest level of sports.
The corporate sponsors who profited from Armstrong and then ran for cover to distance themselves from the ensuing fallout, are shown to be prime candidates both complicit in and enabling top tier professionals to perpetuate their deception. The same can be said for the media that made Armstrong their darling, then equally relished his demise. The public who now, so hypocritical and quick to moralise chose to believe the “beautiful lie” by virtue of their own, “head in the sand” ignorance.
The book is wonderfully written and and its “movie-like” pace never gets bogged down despite it’s scope, the interweaving story lines and large “cast of characters”. In a field of books covering the Armstrong scandal, it’s difficult to say whether this book stands ranks higher than its competitors, but I would say it’s a superb entry level book into cycling’s greatest scandal.
Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong – Juliet Macur
“Your morals are your morals, mine are mine. Who are you to
judge me and who am I to judge you?” – Louie Simmons, “Bigger, Faster, Stronger.”
“All you guys lied! All of y’all and the story have lied. Should you have asterisks behind your name? All of you lied. All of you have said something wrong. All of you have dirt. When your closet’s clean, then come clean somebody else’s.” – Barry Bonds after testimony leaked in 2005
If anyone can be painted a villain in print, then Macur uses broad strokes to malign the character of Armstrong in what amounts to at times scathing and vindictive axe to grind. She constantly refers to their personal interactions over the last ten years- the sudden shift in power of a man fallen and down; Casting aside her journalistic objectivism, she doesn’t spare him the boot heel based on a decade of built up emotions for past slights. The contempt she feels for Armstrong is palpable and all too often, petty.
Macur expounds more on the sociopath as a child theory; the product of a mother that led by example when it come to fudging the rules and gaming the system. She eviscerates many of the myths that went into creating the “cult of Lance” and is mostly dismissive of his work done for charity as a PR stunt.
Macur is also critical of Armstrong’s natural talent, crediting the drugs as being the largest contributors to his success which in itself an absurd assertion and does nothing to aid the credibility of her overall argument.
That’s not to say this is a bad book. It’s excellent in its scope and coverage, and provides additional information not featured in “Wheelman”. She again corroborates much of the techniques and doping methods found in other accounts. It’s just not at all balanced in her treatment of her primary subject. Whereas “Wheelmen” rationalises the drug use to some extent, Macur’s narrative smacks of an author intent on settling old scores.
Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat: The Science Behind Drugs in Sport – Chris Cooper
“To summarise: the inhibition of an inhibitor leads to the activation of an inhibitor of an inhibitory pathway. This is the point where most people might be tempted to give up on biochemistry!” – Chris Cooper, “Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat…”
Studying the effects of PEDs over the past 20 years, biochemist Chris Cooper provides an accessible analysis of the science of how sports doping works along with an objective view of the ethical, political and moral issues involved in their use.
The first part of this book provides an historical overview of performance enhancement in sport and a discussion of the biological limitations of human performance. Cooper discusses the different classes and type of drugs, their performance boosting effects on human physiology and the detection methods used to catch the cheats. He delves into the science of which genes are responsible for performance and the transcendent future possibilities of gene manipulation.
Of particular interest is the objective nature in which Cooper tackles the ethical and moral dilemmas that arise from athletes’ drug use. He looks at the question of what constitutes cheating – why can athletes boost performance in some areas via “technology doping”; better designed bikes, altitude training, or buoyancy swimsuits that have led to 43 world records being smashed in one event; para-olympians who purposefully break their own bones, sit on sharp objects or strangulate their testicles in a process called “boosting” in order to raise blood pressure and positively affect their performance, yet chemical assistance is prohibited.(Today’s runners are only 10% faster than those 100 years ago)
From a larger perspective, why is there a pill available for everything in society, yet athletes are punished for wanting to gain a temporary edge in performance? Why are athletes’ careers destroyed with draconian punishments for substances that sometimes convey little to no performance advantage whatsoever?
Providing an objective rationale for these questions and more, Cooper isn’t necessarily an advocate for a blanket legalisation of everything but he’s honest enough to concede that a war on performance enhancing drugs is as winnable as a war on drugs in society.
This is possibly one of the best books breaking down the complexities of pharmacology and it’s effects on biochemistry, specifically that of elite athletes, I’ve read to date. Cooper makes the science accessible to the layman in an entertaining and informative way referencing a range of real world examples. An underrated work demanding on wider attention.
“However HGH on its own cannot increase muscle protein synthesis or strength.14 Any weight gain appears to be mostly due to fluid retention. It is also not without other side effects including joint stiffness, muscle pain, and high blood pressure. So why do people keep taking it? I surmise two possibilities. The first relates to the fact that anything that can cost up to $20,000 a year on the black market has to be good for you; the athlete’s version of shopping therapy”
“that we are in the same place scientifically as we were with testosterone in the 1980s. Maybe just like then the doping coaches and athletes are right and HGH really works; we scientists have just not been clever enough to devise the proper ethical experiment to show the effect. My suspicion is that in this case the scientists are right and the dopers are wasting their money—though it has to be said I would not be completely surprised to be proved wrong.”
“However, he eventually relented and injected Virenque. Virenque rode the time trial of his life and responded: ‘God, I felt good. That stuff’s just amazing. We must get hold of it.’ In truth Voet, mindful of injecting his elite charge with an unknown mixture an hour before one of the most important races of his life, had swapped the magic potion for a sugar solution. As Voet said: ‘There is no substitute for self-belief. The bottom line was that there was no more effective drug for Richard than the public. A few injections of “allez Richard” going round his veins, a big hit of adoration to raise his pain threshold, a course of worship to make him feel invincible.’”
“So how does caffeine work and why is it so much better than amphetamines at enhancing performance? There is a growing consensus that its ability to act at low concentrations as a brain stimulant is the key (chapter 3 ref. 14). In contrast to amphetamines, caffeine does not act to affect adrenaline levels. Instead it affects a different messenger molecule called adenosine.”
“The popular press claim that we are on the cusp of a revolution in brain function, heralded by the breakthroughs of methylphenidate, modafinil and ampakines. Maybe there is something in Cephalon’s illegal marketing strategy after all? Just as an aspirin can cure our headache, a dose of methylphenidate will make even your ‘normal’ kid smarter in school while modafinil will get them into a top university. Yet as we have learnt throughout this book improving top performance is a very different story to removing an obstacle to performance.”