Coming clean

Alex Williams explores the long and ignoble history of doping confessions in sport

By Alex Williams.   Last Updated: 19/01/13 6:10am

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Lance Armstrong has finally admitted to using banned substances during his reign as Tour de France king from 1999 to 2005.

His is the latest in a long line of shame-faced confessions, some of which were unexpected bombshells while others fell firmly into the 'long time coming' category.

But which confessions have been the most dramatic? And has everyone been as stubborn as Armstrong in admitting their guilt? Read on to find out.

Henri Pelissier, Francis Pelissier and Maurice Ville

The history of doping scandals in the Tour de France can be traced back to 1924, when three participants gave an explosive interview to journalist Albert Londres. If the Tour is tough these days it was inhuman in the 1920s, when riders had to finish carrying every item of clothing they started with despite tackling stages which lasted from the cold and dark of the early morning through the intense heat of the afternoon.

When Henri was prevented from discarding a jersey during the 1924 event he, his brother Francis and Ville quit the race. They then met up with Londres to vent their frustrations at the conditions they had to compete in. The trio showed Londres the cocktail of substances they used while racing, including cocaine, chloroform and horse liniment. "In short, we run on dynamite," said Francis.

Londres labelled the riders 'Convicts of the Road' and, although Francis later claimed they exaggerated their story, the lid had been lifted on drug use at a time when there were no doping sanctions.

Renate Neufeld

Sport in East Germany was shrouded in secrecy. Despite widespread suspicion of their dominant performances, only one GDR athlete - Ilona Slupianek - ever officially tested positive. But when sprinter Neufeld fled the country she took with her claims that she had been systematically doped from an early age.

Neufeld also produced tablets and powder she had been given, samples which were subsequently tested and reported to have contained anabolic steroids. East Germany's doping issues were not fully revealed until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Neufeld's decision to speak out provided an important insight which hinted at the extent of the problem.

Ben Johnson

Johnson's meteoric rise to the summit of sprinting ended with possibly the most notorious doping scandal in history. In 1987 the Canadian won the 100 metres world title by knocking a tenth of a second off the world record and a year later won Olympic gold in the event while once again running the fastest time in history.

A positive test for the steroid stanozolol followed, rocking the sporting world to its core. Johnson initially denied using performance-enhancing drugs but eventually relented when he testified in front of a government investigation in 1989. Johnson admitted to being on a steroid programme for several years but claimed he was sabotaged at the Olympics and should not have had stanozolol in his system.

Willy Voet

The Festina affair, possibly the biggest scandal in the history of the Tour de France, was set into motion when Festina soigneur Voet was stopped and searched by customs officers on the Franco-Belgian border. Industrial amounts of doping products were found in his car, including the then undetectable blood-boosting drug EPO. Voet was taken into custody and spilled the beans - the team was running a comprehensive doping programme.

Amid police raids and media outcry, team manager Bruno Roussel confirmed Voet's story and the Festina team were thrown out of the race. Some of the riders were not as forthcoming but by the time star climber Richard Virenque finally admitted to doping in October 2000, the team's practices in the 1990s had become common knowledge. Voet would go on to write a book, Breaking the Chain, which revealed even more about organised doping in cycling.
Dwain Chambers

Chambers was the top sprinter in Europe and Britain's top 100m man since Linford Christie, when an out-of-competition test came back positive for the designer steroid THG in 2003. At first Chambers claimed he had been misled over the contents of a supplement he was taking but that could not save him from a two-year ban.

The winter before he was due to return to competition, Chambers admitted that he had been taking the drug for 18 months before he was caught, although he still maintained he did not fully understand its contents after being given it by Victor Conte of the BALCO laboratory. It was only in 2007 when Chambers admitted the scale of his programme, which included several other banned substances, and claimed that the doping scientists will always be one step ahead of the drug testers.

Jose Canseco

Even when the literary efforts of Willy Voet and Tyler Hamilton are taken into account, it is perhaps six-time Major League Baseball All-Star Canseco who has penned the most explosive doping confessional. His 2005 book Juiced, written following his retirement, detailed his own steroid use while also making explosive allegations against several other players.

Most of the people he named in the book denied the allegations at first, although in the following years some of those he accused admitted to using steroids, including Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez. Canseco was widely criticised due to his detailed and sometimes unapologetic recounting of his drug use, but his frank admission was a watershed moment for baseball's 'steroid era'.

Marion Jones

The path that led to Jones' confession followed a similar course to the Armstrong saga. The American sprinter and long jumper was a prolific winner on the biggest stage who constantly had to deal with doping allegations but never officially had a positive test. Like Armstrong, Jones issued a string of denials before admitting her wrongdoing.

In another parallel with Armstrong, Jones had stated under oath that she had not used banned substances during the BALCO investigation. The confession came in 2007 and although Jones claimed she was told the drugs were legal supplements, she did admit to lying to federal agents and was sentenced to six months in prison. The final similarity with Armstrong was a sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey, where she maintained that she believed the substances were legal at the time.

Genevieve Jeanson

Jeanson was the golden girl of Canadian cycling in the early part of the 21st Century but her reputation was sullied when she missed the 2003 World Road Championships, held in her home country, after registering a haematocrit (volume percentage of red blood cells) level above the legal limit.

Although such spikes in blood values only triggered a two-week 'ban', doubts over her cleanliness were raised further when she missed a drug test the following year and, in 2005, she tested positive for EPO. A denial followed but she finally came clean two years later and in a shocking turn of events said she had been using the blood-boosting drug since the age of 16. Her coach Andre Aubut and doctor Maurice Duquette were subsequently banned for life.

Tony Mandarich

Mandarich is known as one of the best prospects in the history of the NFL Draft who went on to become one of the biggest 'busts' in the league after turning professional. Mandarich came out of college as a unique blend of size and strength and was drafted second overall by the Green Bay Packers in 1989.

He was viewed as a can't-miss player but found it hard to become a starter for the Packers, let alone the dominant offensive lineman he was expected to be. He retired after an unremarkable career in 1998. His hulking physique led many to speculate that he was using steroids but he did not admit his doping until 2008.

Mandarich said he used several products throughout his college career but stopped when he turned professional as there were more tests and they were harder to beat. That, along with a painkiller addiction, contributed to his poor play in the NFL.

Floyd Landis

The disqualified winner of the 2006 Tour de France admitted to doping four years later, sparking a chain of events which would lead to the downfall of his former team-mate Armstrong. Landis' denials following his positive test for testosterone reached epic proportions and he even released a book, Positively False, protesting his innocence.

But after serving a two-year ban he rocked the cycling world by not only coming clean about his own drug use but also publicly claiming that there was a team-wide doping programme at the US Postal Service team. He had shared his knowledge with the United States Anti-Doping Agency and, after a federal investigation was dropped, the agency eventually banned Armstrong for life.

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