Doping and sports - 1870-1879


In April 1877, 500 miles long walking competitions were organized and one year later, there was even one 520 miles long in the Agricultural Hall of Islington. Those competitions were immensely popular, with over 20,000 spectators daily. This encouraged similar competitions for cyclists.


In 1879 the first six day track cycling races were oirganized. They lasted day and night for a total of 144 hours. It is therefore not surprising that stimulants and doping products were used during those debilitating competitions. The French riders preferred a mixture based on caffeine, the Belgians preferred ether-drenched sugar cubes or alcohol-containing syrups, while the sprinters used nitroglycerin.

The cyclists also drank coffee 'enriched' with caffeine and as the race progressed, they added rising doses of cocaine and strychnine. In low doses strychnine has a stimulating effect, while higher doses are toxic. It is a miracle that no one died, given that the trainers experimented with several types of poison and powerful drugs.

The fascination for the six days spread across the Atlantic. The more the spectators, the higher the prices and that caused the riders to have an increased incentive to stay awake to be able to cover the greatest distance. Their exhaustion was counteracted by the caretakers with nitroglycerine, which improved the breathing of the riders.

But the side effects of this dangerous substance, such as hallucinations, also rose. American champion Major Taylor (1878-1932) for example, refused to continue in the New York six-day race:

"I can no longer drive safely, because on the track that man with a knife in his hand has been following me for quite some time."

Joseph Rice, another American cyclist jumped from his bike and shouted that half of his head had been taken away, and that he would be killed if he drove on. The next day he shouted to the audience that they were not allowed to throw stones and brick rubble at him. Another rider got off, turned his bike around and drove in the opposite direction.