Lance Armstrong, stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and now facing deeper scrutiny, marks one of the most dramatic examples of an athlete’s fall from glory. In the end, Armstrong’s legacy may be more for his charity work than his superhuman racing, but he’s not the first athlete to have had his achievements rescinded.
The American Jim Thorpe was denied his two 1912 Olympics gold medals when it was discovered that he had participated in professional sports — although his medals were restored in 1982, about 30 years after his death. Ibragim Samadov of the 1992 Unified Team was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal following a temper tantrum at the awards ceremony, and Ara Abrahamian was stripped of his bronze medal in 2008 for similar reasons.
But technicalities and sportsmanship aside, the majority of athletes who have lost their honors have performance-enhancing drugs to blame.
Commonly known as doping, there is a long history of athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs. Ancient Olympic athletes attempted to boost testosterone by eating sheep testicles, a prime source for testosterone; they also used hashish, cola plants, cactus-based stimulants and fungi with varying rates of success. The ﬁrst documented case of doping is in 1865, when Dutch swimmers used stimulants. In the late 19th century, European cyclists used a variety of drugs, including Vin Mariani, a cocaine-laced wine used to alleviate pain and exhaustion.
During the 1904 Olympics, American track star Thomas Hicks was given a large glass of strychnine, brandy and egg whites. Due to the lack of regulations in the early games, Hicks’ gold remained his own, however, he immediately retired and never raced again. (Apparently, strychnine can have that effect on people.)
The NFL began testing in 1987, added suspensions in 1989, and instituted year-round random testing in 1990. Since these rules have been in effect, 54 players have been suspended.
But beyond suspensions, the following athletes actually lost their Olympic medals or international titles — and their achievements as some of the world's greatest athletes will forever be questioned.
1. Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall
The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City saw the ﬁrst instance in which an athlete was disqualiﬁed for drug use. Liljenvall, a member of the Swedish modern pentathlon team, was stripped of his bronze medal after his blood alcohol level was found to be above the allowable limit. Apparently, he drank a few cold ones prior to the event to soothe his nerves. The entire Swedish men’s team had to forfeit its bronze medals.
2. Ben Johnson
Six of the eight finalists at the 100-meter final during the 1988 Seoul Olympic failed drug tests or were implicated for their use during their careers. Gold winner Ben Johnson, whose remarkable performance earned him the title of the "fastest man in the world," had his medal stripped shorty after his phenomenal performance when he tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol.
3. Marion Jones
The first woman to win five medals (three gold, two bronze) at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, track superstar Jones eventually tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from perjury. Jones was stripped of her medals in 2007, banned from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sentenced to six months in prison and two years of probation.
4. Barry Bonds
With a record-setting seven Most Valuable Player awards, the 14-time All-Star and 8-time Gold Glove-winner holds seemingly endless Major League Baseball records, perhaps most famous being the all-time Major League Baseball record of 762 home runs. Questions remained about Bonds’ use of steroids and he was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to a grand jury. There were no medals to be stripped, and he was not suspended per Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement, but his legacy will forever have an asterisk attached.
5. Floyd Landis
American cyclist Floyd Landis won the Tour de France in 2006, but urine samples showed he was using synthetic testosterone. He denied the claim, but his title was stripped and he was banned for two years. He consistently has professed his innocence, but has since been in hot water for fraudulent fundraising to pay for his defense.
6. Alberto Contador
One of five riders to have won all three Grand Tours of road cycling, Contador was the winner of the 2007 Tour de France, the 2008 Giro d'Italia, the 2008 Vuelta a Españaand and the 2009 Tour de France. He also won the 2010 Tour de France and the 2011 Giro d'Italia, but was stripped of these titles later after being found guilty of doping.
7. Lance Armstrong
After trudging through more than a decade of doping allegations, Armstrong announced that he would not seek to arbitrate the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s charges against him, allowing the agency to ban the cyclist for life from involvement in any sport that follows the World Anti-Doping Code. Armstrong will also be stripped of his historic seven Tour de France titles as well as medals and earnings from races.
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