“If you are caught you put your hand up, there’s no point in doing anything else. It just makes you look like a fool.”
- British shot putter Neal Brunning, after tested positive for drugs in 1992.
Doping is a scandal that crops up in almost all sports. Just this week, world athletics was rocked by the news that Jamaican superstars Veronica Campbell Brown and Asafa Powell tested positive for banned substances ahead of the track and field World Championships in Moscow.
But while cheating in sport is without exception a shameful business, there is sometimes a laugh to be found in the terrible excuses dreamt up by the athlete involved. Here sports writer Mike Rowbottom rounds up some of the best.
The “penis enhancement” defence
Asked to explain three positive tests for the banned steroid
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) between October and January 2010, Olympic 400m champion LaShawn Merritt maintained that they were down to him taking an over-the-counter product to enhance his manhood. That proved to be something of a stretch, and the international authorities banned him for two years.
Merritt has since returned to the sport, his punishment served. But the stigma of a statement released on his behalf at the time smay never go away: “To know that I’ve tested positive as a result of the product that I used for personal reasons is extremely difficult to wrap my hands around,” was his rather unfortunate choice of words.
The “too much sex” claim
In similar territory was US sprinter Dennis Mitchell, after he tested positive for testosterone in 1998. Mitchell claimed his manly hormones had been raised to excessive levels the night before his test because he had consumed five beers and made love to his wife four times, it being her birthday. Mitchell’s story was believed by USA Track and Field but, sadly for him, not by the IAAF, which banned him for two years.
Race-walker Daniel Plaza also brought the sex into his defence, explaining his positive test for the banned steroid nandrolone by saying he had had prolonged oral sex with his pregnant wife, a defence based on the suggestion that pregnant women can produce nandrolone naturally. Plaza, too, received a two-year ban, although he was later exonerated.
The “Too much meat” excuse
Then there’s food. Tennis player Petr Korda, who tested positive for steroids, claimed his levels had been affected by eating steroid-fed veal. His defence was undone when experts testified that, to achieve the levels he had, he would have to have eaten forty calves a day for twenty years.
The “I’m a chimera” line
In 2004, US cyclist Tyler Hamilton, charged with illegal blood doping, countered that he was a chimera – a person with abnormal genetic cells. “I have a twin that was never born,” he said. “That’s why my blood contains a different blood-type than my own.” Unconvinced, the UCI banned him for two years.
The “fake brother” trick
When a dope tester knocked at the door of Austria’s sprint champion Andreas Berger in 1993, he was greeted by a man looking uncommonly like Berger who announced: ‘Oh sorry, my brother is not at home,’ before promptly shutting the door.
There was a delay before the householder could be contacted again. It subsequently transpired he had been engaged in catheterising clean urine into his bladder. Painful. And even more painful soon afterwards when he was bursting to take a leak. His first sample was taken. But then a wily tester asked Berger to provide a second sample, in his own time. The first sample was clear; the second showed traces of doping, which Berger soon admitted.
Foul Play – The Dark Arts of Cheating in Sport, by Mike Rowbottom, is out now on Bloomsbury, £12.99)