The Increasing Use of Drugs to Enhance Performance in International Triathlons

Foreign Policy Brief #78 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | May 30, 2023
Photo taken from: education.triathlon.org

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Summary

Endurance sports have long been the target of allegations and investigations into doping. No one needs an introduction to the name Lance Armstrong, for example, cycling’s worst offender and villain in terms of doping and ruining the lives of the people that accused him of cheating. Triathlon, an endurance sport that involves swimming, cycling, and running consecutively, is also no stranger to doping and cheating.

Analysis

Triathlon has a fairly short, when compared with the likes of cycling and running, history of doping. The sport really was not founded until late in the 1970s. Triathlete Magazine recently posted online a brief history of doping in the sport which included many elite triathletes. Some of these dopers have had pretty severe repercussions due to their doping, and due to some of these athletes there are more protections in place to attempt to curtail doping in the sport. 

A few weeks ago, professional triathlete Collin Chartier’s doping was discovered and he has been handed a 3-year ban from the sport.  Chartier is yet another perpetrator of dishonesty, and cheating, in endurance sports.. He is just one triathlete in a much larger group of endurance athletes that have perpetuated a long history of cheating.

Nina Kraft was one of the earliest dopers in triathlon, who tested positive for Erythropoietin (EPO). She was a German triathlete who, prior to the positive test, had won the famed and world-renowned Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii; and, she won Ironman Germany, as well in 2004. She admitted to doping, and was given a one-year ban from the sport. After her ban, she had a successful comeback in both triathlon and running. The largest consequence of the events of her doping was that the German Triathlon Federation created the Elitepass for triathletes, which allowed only athletes with the Elitepass to be eligible for prize money at races with the major condition that they be subjected to unannounced drug testing. 

Bridget McMahon, a Swiss triathlete, tested positive for EPO after winning the gold medal in triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She admitted to taking “small doses”, otherwise known as microdosing, of EPO. She never gave up the name of her supplier, however; and was given a two-year ban and never raced again as a professional athlete. However, she then entered as an “Age Grouper” (Non-professional triathlete race division) and won every race that she enetered.. It should be noted, however, that Age-Group athletes are not nearly as strenuously tested (if they even get tested) as the professional triathlon field. Another Age-Group athlete that tested positive was Eduardo Solis, a Costa Rican non-professional triathlete; he tested positive for the use of EPO and various steroids. 

EPO has long been the drug of choice for endurance athlete dopers. It is the main substance that Lance Armstrong, and many other cyclists, used through the 1990s and into the early 200s. It is a drug that is prescribed for patients, in a medical setting, that need to produce more red blood cells. Athletically speaking, the boost of red blood cells in your body allows your blood to carry more oxygen to your muscles when exercising, which allows your muscles to produce more work. For a triathlete, or other endurance athletes, it means that they are able to go longer in distance, and go faster too. Access to this drug is very easy to gain, Collin Chartier bought it online in November and began using it soon afterward. 

It has long been the stance of dopers, especially cyclists, that all of “the top athletes” worldwide are under the microscope in terms of testing. It also has been well documented by athletes in almost every sport that unannounced testing occurs and is an inconvenience to their lives, but, testing has also made it more difficult for athletes to use performance enhancing drugs. 

It remains to be seen what more can be done in terms of anti-doping measures globally. We have seen the creation of various agencies, and organizations, that are supposedly testing athletes in and out of competition. We have brand new tests to detect new substances, and can retroactively test blood samples from previous events. We have seen varying lengths of bans given out to athletes, Lance Armstrong was handed a life-long ban from competing in the sport of cycling for example. 

Ironman athlete Lionel Sanders, a professional triathlete from Canada and known associate of Collin Chartier’s, has a proposal which may help triathlon recover its image from the dopers. His suggestion was that 20% of all prize purses on the professional circuit (the Professional Triathletes Organization races) go towards drug testing athletes out of the competition. This would roughly equate to $120,000 per race – as each race offers a winner’s purse of $600,000. This is a creative suggestion that puts the athletes at the center of the solution rather than having outside agencies involved, or in the case of Russia at the Olympics – having governments involved. 

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