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Tokyo Olympics approach to performance enhancing drugs is rigorous

By Chris Lewis - posted Monday, 26 July 2021

While some athletes still use illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), I refute the suggestion that the Tokyo Olympic Games (OG) will be amongst the dirtiest ever games in terms of athletes taking illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  

I argue this despite World Anti-Doping Agency reporting a 50 per cent decline in drug tests in 2020, albeit this lower level still represented 167,759 tests across all sports for the year.

I focus on the sport of athletics to argue my case.


First, while it is likely that some athletes were tempted to take advantage of lower drug testing rates in 2020 due to coronavirus, all athletes remained subject to heavy scrutiny on the basis of substantial testing and having to provide whereabouts details.

With the International Olympic Committee noting that the pace of testing “was almost back to normal during the second part of the year”, the Athletics Integrity Unit (which tests for World Athletics) also reported that 60 per cent of its planned out-of-competition testing during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 went ahead.

During 2020, the Athletics Integrity Unit’s Registered Testing Pool (RTP), which tests the top 10 to 15 male and female athletes in each athletics discipline, collected 4,767 samples from 1,177 athletes with 4,204 out-of-competition tests. This included testing 784 elite athletes from 79 countries.

In other words, leading track and field athletes ran the same considerable risk as the 2019 male 100m world champion Christian Coleman and 2019 female 400m world champion Salwa Eid Naser who were both banned for violating article 2.4 of the anti-doping rules, which relates to “any combination of three missed tests and/or filing failures”.

Second, taking PEDs in 2020 and stopping in late 2020 or early 2021 when greater testing resumed, is unlikely to give you lasting benefit.

While the literature suggests that the benefits of PED use can last for many years, with one study arguing that power lifters who have stopped taking steroids had an advantage in their sport years after, there is little data that can quantify gains made on PEDs and losses once the PEDs were stopped under the same training protocol.


There are few athletes that would reveal the truth about the rate of improvement and decline from PED use, as such admissions would ruin their reputation.

My own considerable observation of PED use by bodybuilders, powerlifters and athletes concludes that most strength gains are lost within three to four months once the effective dose ends.

This is why Ben Johnson ran a best of 6.57 for the 60m in his comeback to competition during 1991 and 1992 after his two-year drug ban, despite running 6.41 during 1987.  

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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All articles by Chris Lewis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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