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Extreme doping: 4 cases of drug-taking run wild

This year’s Tour has just clocked its first positive test and what better way to mark it than by remembering some of the sporting world’s most outrageous examples of extra-legal supplement-taking. Testosterone never seemed so pedestrian!

Tom Simpson in 1967: his urine would likely have failed a flammability test
Tom Simpson in 1967: his urine would likely have failed a flammability test

FOR NEARLY AS long as athletes have been pitting themselves against each other in arbitrary feats of coordination and endurance, doping has remained the refuge of the less able and the ethically suspect. But while we’re more than familiar with doping’s esoteric and multi-syllabled modern forms, athletes haven’t always been so respectful of chemistry’s cutting edge.

4. Andrew Johns (Ecstasy)

Widely considered the greatest Rugby League player of all-time, Andrew Johns is the highest scorer in Australian NRL history. In August 2007, while travelling on the London Underground, Johns was arrested for fare evasion and found to be in possession of a single ecstasy tablet.

Though he initially claimed that the capsule must have been placed there by an unknown, generous other as he attended a crowded social occasion, he later confessed to regular abuse of the drug.

Having suffered a variety of mental health issues over the course of his career, Johns claimed that ecstasy helped alleviate the pressures associated with being a public figure. It also cleared the system within 48 hours, making it the perfect choice for side-stepping the NRL’s predictable testing regimen.

3. Robert Garrigus & Friends (Marijuana)

Prior to finally breaking through on the PGA Tour with a lucrative victory at last year’s catchily-named Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Robert Garrigus was just a journeyman golfer with a career of near-misses to his name.

Or so it appeared, until the newly-minted member of golf’s big-time decided to unburden himself and detail his lengthy history of drug and alcohol abuse. Narratives of redemption always make good copy, but Garrigus’s account of his wilderness years spent on the second-tier Nationwide Tour made for uncomfortable reading, and not just for golf’s ruling bodies:

“Oh yeah, there were plenty of guys on the Nationwide Tour who smoked in the middle of the round… We always talked about it. You could go in the Porta John and take your drags.
“I had a very high tolerance, and I didn’t know that it wasn’t helping me,” he says. “All you’re thinking is that it feels good, so it must be good for what you’re doing. It wasn’t until I quit that I realized how stupid it was. But I don’t regret any of it because it put me on the path I’m on now.”

2. Dock Ellis and the Psychedelic No-Hitter (LSD and Speed… maybe)

One of Major League Baseball’s most celebrated pitchers of the early 1970s, Dock Ellis was a prominent member of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ World Series-winning team of 1970 and a member of the 1971 All-Star team selection. Official decorations aside, the Californian is best remembered for being maced by a security guard at Riverfront Stadium in 1972 (surely a first) and pitching a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres a year earlier, a feat made notable by his subsequent claim to have spent the game labouring under the effects of LSD.

The subject of inexhaustible debate and analysis, the LSD No-Hitter has since passed into the realm of MLB myth and lore, even earning its own animated tribute.

Did it happen? Could it happen? The only person who knew for sure, Dock himself, succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver in 2007.

1. Tom Simpson (brandy and amphetamines)

Though his status as one of the genuine greats of British post-war cycling is undisputed, Tom Simpson is best remembered for the manner of his career’s end than his numerous achievements, which included victories in Paris-Nice, Bordeaux-Paris and the World Road Race Championships.

Having made a positive start to the 1967 Tour de France, Simpson began to suffer from a mysterious stomach ailment during the race’s second week. As the peloton took to the mountains in severe heat during the Tour’s 13th stage, Simpson could be seen drinking brandy and at the tail of the field, struggling to keep up with the race favourites.

“He was riding like an amateur then, going from one side of the road to the other and sometimes he went dangerously close to the edge of the road. And there’s no barrier there. Once you go over, you go over.”

As the day wore on, the Englishman’s behaviour became more and more erratic, eventually culminating in his collapse on the Col du Ventoux. Unresponsive, he was taken to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead. Though authorities were keen to emphasise the influence of dehydration in the death, an autopsy later found traces of amphetamines in Simpson’s system.

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