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  • Thursday, February 10, 2000

    Czech authorities admit to secret doping program

    By JAN SLIVA -- Associated Press
     PRAGUE -- Czech sports authorities have admitted former communist Czechoslovakia ran a secret, state-directed doping program which ended only after Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was caught using banned substances in 1988.
     
     The program was allegedly modelled after East Germany, Czechslovakia's Communist neighbour known as the world's leading doping power.
     
     In the past, little attention had been paid to doping in Czechoslovak sports.
     
     The admission follows a publication of a controversial book in which a leading Czech sports doctor detailed the program publicly for the first time, arguing the majority of top Czechoslovak athletes used banned substances heavily in 1980s.
     
     In the book called Doping, or the Backstage of Top-level Sports, published last month, Dr. Jan Hnizdil said that anabolic steroids, the most widely used banned substance in the 1980s, were prescribed to top Czechoslovak cyclists, cross-country skiers, track stars, wrestlers, weightlifters and canoeists from age 18.
     
     The program ended after the Seoul Olympics in 1988, where Johnson set the 100-metre world record but later tested positive for steroids.
     
     In fear that a similar test might catch Czechoslovak stars, the country's authorities decided to follow the official line of the International Olympic Committee, which tightened enforcement after the Johnson scandal.
     
     Following publication of the book, the chairman of the Czech Anti-Doping Committee, Jaroslav Nekola, confirmed a state-directed doping program existed in the communist Czechoslovakia.
     
     But he said the committee decided shortly after the fall of communism here in 1989 to draw a line behind what he called the "doping era" in order not to scandalize the athletes who used banned substances.
     
     "We knew this program was there but we had no exact proof of who took what, therefore we decided not to pursue the matter any further or dig in the past too much," Nekola said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If we came out with these revelations, some athletes could easily sue us."
     
     He said attempts were made in the early 1990s to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate drug use in former Czechoslovakia.
     
     The plan was dropped at the urging of Vera Caslavska, multiple Olympic gold medallist and the most famous Czech sports woman of all times, who argued it would be improper to scandalize the athletes because they were "respected personalities" here.
     
     Nekola said state-regulated doping in Czechoslovakia was not as meticulously documented as in East Germany and it would be difficult to prove the respective doping cases at the court.
     
     "What Dr. Hnizdil does is really sick," Nekola said. "I mean why would you want to scandalize these people when everybody knows the 1980s were not a clean era ?"
     
     In the book, Hnizdil describes how the selected athletes were forced to join the so-called Program of Specialized Care aimed at rapid improvement of Czechoslovakia's results in selected sports. Those who refused faced the risk of being dropped from national teams.
     
     "There were quotas for medals which Czechs and Slovaks were obliged to win at various championships," Hnizdil says. "These results were then immediately presented as the triumph of socialism."
     
     Hnizdil quotes two famous Czech athletes of the early 1980s, shot-putter Remigius Machura and sprinter Josef Lomicky, who publicly confess to having used various banned substances throughout their careers, and accuse other athletes of doing the same.
     
     "Athletes, who took drugs, didn't ruin their health," Machura claims, describing in detail how and when he took the drugs.
     
     Machura, former indoor European champion, tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid Stanozolol in 1985. He was suspended for life, only to be reinstated two years later.



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