A Powerfully Concentrated History of Performance Enhancement

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8th century BC Greek Olympians load up on mushrooms, herbs, and wine to boost speed.

6th century BC Indian surgeon performs the world’s first rhinoplasty (nose job).

1599 Vatican condemns plastic surgery for tinkering with God’s creation.

1675 King Charles II bans coffee for inspiring jittery, seditious talk.

1888 British dictionary defines “doping” as “a mixture of opium and alcohol given to race horses.”

1889 Pitcher “Pud” Galvin injects himself with ground animal testicles, wins 364 games.

1904 American marathon runner wins Olympic gold while chugging egg whites, brandy, and strychnine.

1940s Nazis give their troops amphetamines. So do the Japanese, British, and Americans.

1966 The Rolling Stones release “Mother’s Little Helper.”

1969 Track & Field News hails steroids as the “breakfast of champions.”

1973 The Six Million Dollar Man debuts; today, he’d be worth $29 million.

1983 A presenter at a urology convention drops trou to demo his new impotence treatment, a Viagra precursor.

1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger says he has “no regrets” about steroid use: “It was what I had to do to compete.”

1997 Former East German shot-put champ has a female-to-male sex change after years of artificial testosterone use.

2003 Olympics removes caffeine from its list of banned substances.

2004 Viagra sponsors online fantasy baseball game “Clutch Performances.”

2006 Disgraced sprinter Ben Johnson promotes Cheetah energy drink: “I Cheetah all the time.”

2007 Provigil spotted in Britney Spears’ purse.

2008 FDA okays Latisse, a glaucoma medicine, as the first prescription drug for “longer, fuller, darker lashes.”

2008 US Olympic Committee launches “Don’t Be an Asterisk” anti-steroids campaign.


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  • Elizabeth Gettelman is a former managing editor and public affairs director at Mother Jones. To follow her on Twitter, click here.