With the Olympics almost upon us our thoughts turn inexorably to the art of cheating. And while we should deplore all malignant efforts to gain an unfair advantage, cheating is an integral part of the Olympic story. After all, if, as Damon Runyon said, all life is six-to-five against, who can blame a few for trying to tilt the balance back a bit? Even the ancients did it. The Romans were said to have used their shields to reflect sunlight on to their testicles. This increased their testosterone, and performance levels rose. I wonder if this still works on everyday domestic tasks where performance can be a problem?
Remember the Ukrainian sisters, Tamara and Irina Press, who picked up five track and field Olympic golds between 1960 and 1964? They would certainly never be mistaken for Gisele Bundchen. They smashed umpteen records but their careers came to an end when gender-testing was introduced. The testing was pretty rudimentary: Mary Peters, Britain’s 1972 pentathlon champ, recalls being ‘ordered to lie on the couch and pull my knees up. The doctors then proceeded to undertake an examination which, in modern parlance,-amounted to a grope. Presumably they were looking for hidden testes. They found none and I left.’
But the best cheats think outside the box. Boris Onischenko, another Ukrainian, had won silver in Munich 1972 in the fencing. But he had wired his epée to trigger the electronic scoring with his hand and register a hit at will. This came to light when the British fencer Jim Fox protested that his opponent was scoring without hitting him. The Ukrainian left in disgrace under headlines such as ‘Disonischenko’ and ‘Boris the Cheat’ (what is it about swordsmen called Boris?)
I have run a couple of marathons and spent most of the time longing to grab a lift.