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The dilemma of Australians striving for sporting excellence, and the temptation of PEDs

By Chris Lewis - posted Tuesday, 31 January 2023

It will be a tragedy for Australian sport if Peter Bol’s B sample confirms a negative test for the synthetic use of Erythropoietin (EPO), a banned performance enhancing drug (PED) used by athletes to enhance their endurance capacity, potentially resulting in a four year ban that may well end Bol’s top level running career.

After all, Bol had helped put Australia’s men on the global track stage again with his fourth place finish at the 2021 Olympic Games (OG), a reminder of past great days for Australian male track runners as was the case when Darren Clark placed fourth in the 400m at both the 1984 and 1988 OG.

But, as someone who has followed athletics for years, along with the illegal drug use, it would be naïve for anyone to assume that all Australian athletes are clean, or that some will not be tempted to push the boundaries these days to gain an edge in order to match and beat the world’s best.


The desire to keep up with the latest PEDs strategies that can beat the current drug testing technology has long been evident.

In Australia, as of the early 1980s, I knew many top athletes that were taking illegal PEDS.

While the PED use may have not been systematic from the top level down, and was limited to athletes and their key advisors, it was an era largely without out-of-competition (OOC) drug testing which made it very easy to pass the tests at the major meetings where testing was likely to occur given the short clearance times of certain anabolic steroids at a time when testing was much less advanced.

Even after extensive OOC testing was introduced in Australia following the embarrassment of the global superstar sprinter Ben Johnson being caught on drugs following the 1988 OG 100m final, some Australian athletes from the 1990s adopted the latest PED strategies that included the use of human chorionic gonadotropin to boost testosterone levels, growth hormone and EPO which were still hard to detect, and other synthetic drugs as the drug testing regime was always trying to catch up.  

PEDs can enhance sprint times by around 3 per cent alone for males, with one champion thrower informing me that his distance improved by 10 per cent from such use.  

For myself, most of the people I knew cheating were not bad people. They were simply doing what they believed was necessary to succeed at the highest level.


While drug testing (and intelligence about illegal PED use) has evolved to get better and better each decade, a most welcome development as confirmed by the many champion athletes that have been caught in recent times, the temptation to take illegal PEDs remains.

But I am not going to yell out “cheat, disgrace” or anything else.

I have long come to the realisation that success in athletics, within an environment where the drug testing is imperfect, is still not preventing illegal PED use by some.

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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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