SEARCH 2000 Games

Monday, July 24, 2000

Why pro-style hypocrisy no solution to doping

  More and more, Olympic-sport officials talk about calling a testosterone truce, if you will, in the war against performance-enhancing drugs.

 It's an understandable sentiment concerning a frustrating issue. Every couple of years, in the months leading up to an Olympic Games, the mass media finally notice that sports such as track and field, swimming and cycling exist. Unfortunately, much of the sudden attention centres on doping. Will there be testing for human-growth hormone at the Games? Are the Chinese swimmers juiced? Is the International Olympic Committee doing enough? Meanwhile, many professional athletes continue to dope with impunity because there's no testing in those leagues.


 You can see why many amateur sport leaders might suggest it's time to put the sample bottles away. Why not go the way of the pros? No tests, no positives, no scandals.

 It's an easy way out, but it's not the right thing to do. It has been proved repeatedly that athletes will do whatever is necessary to win. If there's no testing and no fear of being caught, they'll put their health at risk for the sake of a gold medal. We saw that in Canada during the 1980s with the national sprint and weightlifting teams.

 A tragic example of what can go wrong when drug use is unabated came to light a few months before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The story, first documented in Der Spiegel magazine, is worth repeating.

 At 26, Birgit Dressel was the picture of health and considered to be on the cusp of greatness in the seven-event heptathlon. In reality, the statuesque West German had been on a regimen of performance-enhancing drugs for years -- various steroids and preparations, including injections of animal cells. At a time when she seemed ready to break through on the world scene, Dressel was, in fact, already dying. Her bodily functions, her organs, had begun shutting off. Her last two days were horrible.

 On April 8, 1987, while practising the shot put, Dressel felt pain in the left hip and buttocks. She consulted the first more than 20 specialists who tried, in vain, to save her life. First, Dr. A, an orthopedic surgeon, injected her with Xylonest, a local anesthetic, and Voltaren, a pain killer. A few hours later, he injected Dressel with MyoMelcain, a combination of local anesthetic and honey.

 The next afternoon, the pain was agonizing and Dr. A prescribed an "intensified drug treatment." Dressel was given two injections, more Voltaren and Baralgin, and sent home with the tablets of Godamed and Tranquase-5, and suppositories of Optipyrin, drugs that contained acetylsalicylic acid, ethenyamide, diazepam, barbituric acid and codeine.

 A police investigation into her death determined Dressel, desperate for pain relief, swallowed at least 10-15 Godamed tablets at home. A neurologist, Dr. B, was called and diagnosed lumbago. He suggested ice packs. When Dressel's agony continued through the night, Dr. C advised aspirin and heparin cream.

 The next morning, Dr. A visited Dressel at home and found her to be tortured with "labour-like" pain. He suspected renal colic, the first of many misdiagnoses that day. Dr. A injected Meta Attritin (described as a mixed preparation). But the pain persisted and she was taken to a hospital. There, Dr. C, in consultation with Drs. D and E, confirmed there was "no disease in the urological sector" and she was given Buscopan intravenously for her pain.

 That afternoon, Dressel was transferred to the accident-surgery ward, where four surgeons took over -- Drs. F, G, H, and I. Dr. F attached a venous drop and infused two ampoules of Buscopan diluted in Sterofundin. The surgeons suspected "disease of the vertebral discs or spinal cord."

 Three more physicians appeared -- Drs. J, K and L. By now, the woman complained of a great thirst. Her lips and fingernails turned blue. Soon, she lost consciousness. Two nerve specialists, Drs. M and N, were contacted. Dressel's heart raced, her breathing quickened. A trauma team was called, including Drs. O, P, Q, R, S, T and U.


 At the request of the intensive-care doctors, Dressel bent her arms and opened her eyes one last time. An oxygen mask was put over her head. One hour later, at 7:45 p.m., she was transferred to intensive care. The diagnosis: Suspected toxic reaction, the correct one, finally. But it was too late.

 The last two doctors at her death bed, Drs. V and W, administered four jars of whole blood and high doses of endogenous hormones and, finally, bicarbonate, intended to balance the metabolic derailment.

 "The tortured body of Birgit Dressel," wrote Der Spiegel, "did not want any more. High-performance sport and thousands of pills had become too much for it." On April 10, two days after she experienced the pain at shot-put practice, Birgit's body gave up.