How archives can reveal the sporting cheats of the past

Recent discoveries by WADA and the IAAF have meant that the issue of doping in sport is making headlines again, but the use of performance-enhancing drugs is not the only way to cheat. Take the modern pentathlon, for example, in which, as a multi-discipline sport, there are plenty of ways to gain an unfair advantage.

1In shooting you can take beta-blockers to calm your nerves and keep you steady, a practice so endemic during the early 1970s that a leading pentathlete suggested it might be easier and cheaper just to allow everyone to take them. In fencing you can rig the grip of your epee so that it electronically registers hits that haven’t happened as Boris Onischenko famously demonstrated at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

2In swimming and running you can blood dope to enhance strength and speed something that some competitors at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics appear to have done before IOC regulations were tightened up. Then, if you really want to get ahead, in the riding event you can drug the horses and scupper your opponents’ chances altogether as was done at the 1982 World Championships in Rome.

The Library’s Modern Pentathlon Collection documents all of these incidents of cheating, and more, from the viewpoints of pentathletes, officials, journalists and the sport’s national and international governing bodies. To find out more visit Archives & Research Collections.

Words and pictures supplied by Adrian Nardone.

About Emma

Subject Librarian for Mathematical Sciences and Computer Science and Liaison Librarian for Widening Participation and School events.
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