The First Banned Performance-Enhancing Substance? Beer.

And what event did the athlete attempt after drinking? Why, shooting a gun, of course!
The First Banned Performance-Enhancing Substance? Beer.

The Olympics took quite a while to get around banning athletes from using drugs. Decades passed, with competitors freely using amphetamines and strychnine, before the committee finally got together in 1967 and said, "Okay, we need to do something." They compiled a bunch of types of drugs, most of which we won't concern ourselves with today, since no one in the following year's games used any of them. The list also included alcohol.

The 1968 games played out. Among the many events was the pentathlon, during which each athlete faces the vastly different sports of riding, swimming, running, fencing, and shooting. You might best know the event from this past Olympics, when one German coach was kicked out for punching a horse. 

Braving the pentathlon for Sweden in 1968 was Olympic veteran Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall. He performed well in the riding and fencing segments, then the night before the shooting competition, he was so anxious, he couldn't sleep. He drank two beers before shooting, to calm his nerves. Then he submitted to a drug test, apparently fearing nothing. He did well enough in later events to win his team the bronze. 

Only later did officials announce that Liljenwall's blood had clocked in at over the limit for alcohol. Sweden had to return their medals, and though Liljenwall came back for the next games in 1972, he never won again.

This all sounds like a bit of a misunderstanding. The man had gone for a drink because he was nervous, but surely alcohol doesn't give you an edge when shooting. Alcohol slows your reflexes, right, and handling a gun when you're drunk is dangerous for everyone except your target. But actually, one or two drinks does increase your performance in competitive shooting. The NCAA specifically bans alcohol and beta blockers during rifle competitions for this reason. "Calming the nerves" isn't just a metaphor—with some sports, that's half the game. 

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For more alcohol facts to calm your nerves, check out:

6 Ridiculous Drinking Myths You Probably Believe

How a Conspiracy to Raise Beer Prices Invented Hipsters

5 Examples of Irresponsible Drinking Gone Terribly Awry

Top image: kazuend/Unsplash

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