American marathon runner Thomas Hicks won the gold medal at the 1904 Olympics – but nearly died trying. At mile 10 Hicks was already reliant on the support of handlers; by mile 20 they were dosing him with a mixture of strychnine, a rat poison, and egg whites.
As Karen Abbott describes:
“He began hallucinating, believing that the finish line was still 20 miles away. In the last mile he begged for something to eat. Then he begged to lie down. He was given more brandy but refused tea. He swallowed two more egg whites. He walked up the first of the last two hills, and then jogged down on the incline. Swinging into the stadium, he tried to run but was reduced to a graceless shuffle. His trainers carried him over the line, holding him aloft while his feet moved back and forth, and he was declared the winner.”
At the time mixtures of strychnine, heroin, cocaine, and caffeine were widely used by endurance athletes, a practice which persisted until heroin and cocaine became available only by prescription in the 1920s. Hicks’s case marked the first recorded instance of drug use in the modern Olympics.
from "The Olympic Games 1904", report by Charles J.P. Lucas / wikimedia commons