Doping and sports - 1900-1924


Violating Olympic rules was tackled harshly during the ancient Olympics, but there is no records that the use of doping or performance-enhancing substances was considered to be cheating. Nor have efforts been made to discourage the use of ergogenic substances. After the use of doping in sports emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, it was even considered a normal practice until World War I. It was not until the 1920s that a few timid attempts were made to sanction doping as a formal violation of the rules.


At the beginning of the 1920s, there was also a lot of experimenting. The riders spontaneously presented themselves as guinea pigs, especially in track racing comparative studies were done on the effects of different stimulants. The influence of champagne for example, was investigated during the last kilometers of a long distance race, as well as the impact of some inhalations of pure oxygen on speed and endurance. In another experiment, long distance runners had to walk through an oxygen tent after each round to see if this was beneficial for their performance. The experiment was labeled as 'gas doping'. The six-day-riders experimented with spermine, an extract of bull testes, to boost male strength and stamina. Later, adrenaline, the only known hormone at the timewas injected in runners.


At the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, American athlete Charlie Paddock (1900-1943) won the 100m after he drank a glass of sherry with two raw, whipped eggs.


The Belgian cyclist Maurice Protin (1899-1994) remembered a story from 1923:

"Italian champion Otavio Pratesi (1889-1977) warned me that the little balls that Belgian cyclist Emile Masson (1888-1973) supplied were either aniseed scented clay balls or a strong poison that left the person who took them a wreck. I myself took Hémostyl from Dr. Gaston Roussel (fresh blood serum of a horse), it was enough to take a spoon twice to three times, my performance improved enormously and later I recommended the product also to the riders who were under my care."


After the 1-1 draw of their friendly match against Germany, the Swiss accused their opponents of having swallowed dope. The Swiss had won the European Championship and won silver later that year at the Olympic Games in Paris.


In 1924, Leslie Knighton (1887-1959), as manager of Arsenal Football Club was involved in one of the first doping cases in British football. A week before the important game against rival West Ham United, he played host to a prominent physician, who was a heavy fan of the club and who suggested him at the end of the visit to give the players 'courage' pills before the game. After the physician assured him they were completely innocent, Knighton accepted the stuff and handed out the "little silver pills" to his team just before the match. Although the pills increased the energy of the players successfully, the side effects caused a raging thirst. The game ended in 0-0 and a replay followed. The Arsenal players then refused to take the pills again and eventually lost 1-0.


In 1924, French journalist Albert Londres (1884-1934) followed the Tour de France for his newspaper 'Le Petit Parisien'.

On his way to the town of Coutances he heard that Henri Pelissier (1889-1935), winner of the race the year before, together with his brother Francis Pelissier (1894-1959) and Maurice Ville (1901-1982) left the Tour after an argument with organizer Henri Desgrange (1865-1940) .

The next day the journalist published an interview with the three in his newspaper entitled "Les Forcats de la Route" (the convicts of the road):

"You have no idea what the Tour de France is," Henri Pelissier said, "it is a Golgotha.Worse than that, because the road to the cross consisted of only fourteen stops and ours of fifteen. You want to know how we can go on until the end?" He pulled a bottle from his pocket." That's cocaine for the eyes and this is chloroform for our gums. "Maurice Ville emptied his shoulder bag and said," This is an ointment to get warmth in our knees again."

"And pills, you want to see pills? Look, here are pills." All three of them showed three boxes. "The truth is," said Francis Pelissier, "that we continue on dynamite."

"At night, in our rooms, we can not sleep, we vibrate and dance as if we were doing the St Vitus Dance ..."

"There is less meat on our body than on a skeleton," said Francis.

Much later, Francis Pelissier stated:

"Londres was a well-known reporter, but he did not know anything about cycling, we pulled a little bit a fast one on him with our cocaine and pills, but the Tour de France in 1924 was not a breeze ... we drove on dynamite."

The fact is that the brothers Henri (1889-1935), Francis (1894-1959) and Charles Pelissier (1903-1953) were the first to be the subjects of a serious doping scandal, when leaving the Tour de France in 1924. They admitted they had used strychnine, cocaine, chloroform, aspirin, 'horse ointment' and other medicines.

Henri Pelissier was an impatient and angry man. His first wife committed suicide, his second shot him dead. His misconduct almost certainly came from the use of drugs.