The fame and glory earned by the Olympic victor is unmatched in any contested sporting event. It was as true during the ancient Olympic Games as it is in the remarkable spectacle of this summer's Rio Olympics.
The problems that besiege the modern Olympics- - controversy over suspicious judging results in boxing, 6-time gold medal winner Ryan Lochte telling NBC a maybe fictionalized robbery story to cover up boorish behavior, and using cosmetic water treatment methods to hide polluted competitive venue waterways -- are not new. The grandiose ancient Olympic festivals experienced their own concerns over partisan judging, overt self-promotion, mixing of politics and sports, profiteering, and bribery.
The Greeks that participated in the ancient Olympic Games (776 BC to 393 AD) were among the first documented athletes to experiment with herbal medicines, drink magic wine potions, and ingest other substances to gain a competitive edge. Sound familiar?
In what may be a surprise, though, is that the organizers of the ancient Olympic festivals did nothing to discourage the use of supplemental herbs and ergogenic substances to help the athletes run faster, throw farther, fight off fatigue, and enhance the ferocity of their athletic battles. After all, in the ancient Games only the victors were honored, not the second and third place finishers.
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that concern arose among medical professionals about the prevalence of steroids, stimulants, diuretics, and peptide hormones in sport and their potential harmful side effects. Years later, the public began to question the legitimacy of the astounding Olympic feats by female athletes from the Iron Curtain countries of East Germany and Romania.
The word "doping" became part of the lexicon of sports. The athletic playing field no longer seemed level.
Nowadays, Olympic athletes caught taking prohibited substances to gain a competitive advantage are universally viewed as cheaters. Case in point is the Team USA swimmer Lilly King publicly calling out her Russian breaststroke competitor for two prior banned substance drug busts and still being permitted to swim in Rio. And she was only one of the 120 Rio athletes competing that were previously suspended for doping.
The introduction of the athlete biological passport, which can detect variances in markers for doping over time, by Olympic officials makes cheating of know banned substances easier to detect. Yet, as globally observed by the apparently state sponsored Russian doping scandal, the practice of dodging the rules continues only with greater sophistication.
After a thousand years the ancient Olympic Games ended because the movement lost its mythical significance. One hundred and twenty years after the beginning of the modern Olympic Games in Athens, it is fair to question whether today's contestants and the coaches, administrators and officials that organize and manage the Games have lost their way, too.