Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall in Mexico City

One thousand Russians are known to have benefited from doping and the cover-up of doping in the state-sponsored program to provide illicit advantage to Russian athletes, particularly during the 2012 London Olympics, the 2013 track and field world championships in Beijing, and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The first major report on Russia from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in July, 2016 included a recommendation to the IOC to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. As a result, over a hundred Russians were eventually forbidden from competing in Brazil.

WADA released a follow-up report on December 9, 2016 – a far more comprehensive review of the state-sponsored doping program in Russia, and it was damning. And there will likely be another round of medal shuffling – at least 15 Russian medalists at the Sochi Winter Games had urine samples that had been tampered with.

It’s a grim time for international sports – the insidious plague of doping and the lengths individuals and countries will go. It makes me pine for those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s (yes, written with ironical intent), when our views on doping were less sophisticated.

The first person ever disqualified for “doping”, as it were, was when Swede Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall was discovered to have ingested an illegal substance prior to competing in the modern pentathlon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics – beer.

It’s said that he had a couple of beers and that traces of alcohol were found in urine. Unlucky for Liljenvall, 1968 was the first year that the IOC included urine testing, as well as alcohol on the list of banned substances. Unfortunately, Liljenwall took his two other teammates down with him, as they lost their bronze medals as well.

Why beer? After all, alcohol is a depressant, not a simulant. This article supposes, probably correctly, that in certain hand-eye coordination events, like pistol shooting in the pentathlon, you need to calm yourself, as opposed to gear yourself up. That’s the same reasoning why anti-psychotics are sometimes illegally injected into horses in equestrian events – to calm down the excitable horses.

Today, getting disqualified for beer sounds silly. Getting banned for caffeine too, but I suppose only to the non-athlete. My mind wonders how many cups of coffee or cans of red bull would it take to get you to world record levels…but I suppose that is not what WADA is looking for.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and until 2004, it was a banned substance. In fact, the second person ever banned for “doping” was a Mongolian judoka named Bakhaavaa Buidaa, who lost his silver medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics after over 12 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter was found in his urine. At least that’s how a lot of sources explain this incident.

But there are also references to Buidaa taking Dianabol, an anabolic steroid that provides a low-cost way of building muscle quickly. Since combining caffeine and Dianabol is a popular routine for athletes who need muscle mass to compete, it’s possible that both were in the judoka’s system.

Caffeine was taken off the banned substance list, but it is still on the IOC monitoring list.

General George S. Patton on the warfront.

I recently learned that one of the Olympians from the 1912 Summer Games in Stockholm, Sweden was General “Old Blood and Guts” George S. Patton – American military hero from World War II. As this wonderful Wired article relates, Patton put in a wonderful effort in the modern Olympics first modern pentathlon. The pentathlon is composed of shooting, swimming, fencing, horse riding and running – the concept being that the officer of that time might have to do all those kinds of things in order to get a message safely to its receiver in a time of war.

In 1912, Patton was a promising junior officer with a reputation for being dedicated, and a hard-driving leader. And despite Patton’s short time to prepare, he finished fifth in the pentathlon, behind four Swedes. Here are a few remarkable anecdotes related to one of the most well-known military leaders of the 20th century.

Patton had a bigger gun: Patton fired 20 bullets with a .38 caliber pistol, while his competitors were using .22 gauge pistols. When judges examined the paper target and saw only 17 holes, Patton claimed that all of his shots hit the target, but because of his higher gauge bullets, larger holes were found in the target. Patton claimed that the missing shots went through existing holes. The judges did not agree, and so he finished 20th, instead of first if he was to be believed.

Patton entering the stadium after his pentathlon run at the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games.

Patton was doped up: The final event of the pentathlon was the 4k race (about 2.5 miles), although it included a run through a thick forest and very muddy pathways. Patton, who had known for only two months that he was heading to Stockholm to represent the US in the pentathlon was not in the condition he would have preferred. But Patton was a ferocious competitor, training hard on the ship – SS Finland – from US to Europe, and then applying a level of energy and aggressiveness that could only be described as all out. In the 300-meter run, he simply swam to exhaustion, but took seventh. In the 4k run, the US trainer decided that Patton could use a little help with a bit of “hop”. That was the nickname for opium, a legal pick-me-up back in the day. Patton ran hard, ended up walking into the Stadium, crossing the finish line in third, and promptly passing out, for several hours.

Patton was an aggressive fencer, but not as aggressive as his wife: Patton approached fencing like he approached warfare – aggressively. In fact, Patton placed fourth in fencing, defeating the French fencer, Jean de Mas Latrie, who had lost only to Patton. As the Wired article quotes a Patton biographer, “Throughout his career, disdain for defense was a Patton trademark. To attack was to succeed, to defend was to invite defeat.” But in this passage from Michael Keane’s book, George S. Patton: Blood, Guts, and Prayer”, Patton was no match for his wife, who was preparing for the family’s move from France to the US, after Patton’s assignment to the École Militaire in Saumur, France.

George and Beatrice Patton
George and Beatrice Patton

As the family prepared to return to America, Beatrice was left to pack their belongings while George attended the fencing academy. The day before they departed, Patton casually remarked to his exhausted wife, “I hope you remembered to pack all those swords under the bed.” Walking into the bedroom, Beatrice discovered dozens of swords and scabbards of which she had been completely unaware. Frustrated that her husband had not appreciated her efforts or informed her of the swords he had been collecting, she angrily picked up one of the weapons and began chasing him around the house. A frantic Patton scurried over chairs and tables, pleading with his furious wife, “Don’t! Don’t! Please don’t!” Beatrice eventually brought the sword down on a table, missing her husband, but hard enough to embed the sword in the edge of the table. A newly compliant husband now offered to help his wife pack his collection.

Here is a clip from the movie, Patton, which has nothing to do with the Olympics, but is still fun to watch.