The toxic torch of the modern Olympic Games

Vet Hum Toxicol. 2003 Mar;45(2):97-102.


One of the most enduring symbols of the Olympics is the torch or flame, an icon of peace and sportsmanship that has its roots in Ancient Greece. According to the Creed of the Olympics: "The important thing in the Games is not winning, but taking part. The essential thing is not conquering. but fighting well." The modern Olympic Games (1896-2000) have been heavy laden with controversy, as athletes have abused performance enhancing drugs to thrust themselves into the limelight in search of gold. It was not until 1967 that the International Olympic Medical Commission began banning drugs. Full-scale drug testing was instituted in 1972.: Retrospective review of modern summer and winter Olympics Game sources (1896-2002) was done for documentation of drug abuse, drug-related overdoses, and positive drug screens. Data were collected for the type of drug documented. the athlete's name, their country of origin, and Olympic event. Seventy cases were identified. The most common class of agents were steroids (29), followed by stimulants (22), diuretics (7), beta-2 agonists (2), and beta blockers (1). Alcohol and marijuana, while not historically prohibited, have been outlawed by several individual sport federations. Toxicities of these 2 agents were most likely under-reported. Countries of origin of individual athletes included Bulgaria (7), USA (7), Sweden (4), Spain (4), Japan (2), Poland (2), Greece (2), Canada (2), Hungary (2), Russia (2), Austria (2), and Great Britain, Norway, Romania, Armenian, and Latvian, each with 1. The most common Olympic events in which drug abuse was documented were weightlifting (25), trackand field (12), skiing (5), wrestling (5), volleyball (3), modern pentathlon (3), cycling (2), swimming (2), gymnastics (1), and rowing (1). As athletic pressures and financial gains of the Olympic Games heighten, more toxicities are likely to occur despite attempts at restricting performance-enhancing drugs.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Agonists / history
  • Anabolic Agents / history
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / history
  • Diuretics / history
  • Doping in Sports / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Sports / history*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / history
  • Substance-Related Disorders / history*


  • Adrenergic Agonists
  • Anabolic Agents
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Diuretics