A powerful false positive

Nationalism, science and public opinion in the oxygen doping allegations against Japanese swimmers at the 1932 olympics

Mark Dyreson, Thomas Rorke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

At the 1932 Olympic games the Japanese men's swim team upset their heavily favoured American hosts. Among the many explanations offered for the surprising result, some Americans charged that the Japanese team had doped by inhaling supplemental oxygen before they raced. The Japanese admitted to the practice while they and their supporters noted that no rule existed barring such a practice. Nevertheless, allegations flew and attracted the scrutiny of scientists interested in the question of whether or not oxygen enhanced sporting performances. The great majority of commentators concluded that Japan had done nothing illegal or unethical, that Japanese oxygen usage had not given their swimmers any advantage, and that the charges were ultimately a jingoistic attack by certain US swim officials against their rising rival. Nevertheless, the stigma of doping clung to the Japanese team for many decades afterward. Scientists referred to this case in their textbooks, the press regularly re-circulated the charges and IOC officials who began in the 1930s to worry about the use of performance-enhancing substances treated the incident as the first evidence of doping in Olympic history. Nationalism ultimately held more power in shaping the narrative of Japanese oxygen doping than scientific opinion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)854-870
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of the History of Sport
Volume31
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - May 24 2014

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public opinion
nationalism
science
Olympic Games
performance
textbook
incident
Japan
narrative
history
evidence
Public Opinion
Nationalism
Olympics
Oxygen

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

Cite this

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abstract = "At the 1932 Olympic games the Japanese men's swim team upset their heavily favoured American hosts. Among the many explanations offered for the surprising result, some Americans charged that the Japanese team had doped by inhaling supplemental oxygen before they raced. The Japanese admitted to the practice while they and their supporters noted that no rule existed barring such a practice. Nevertheless, allegations flew and attracted the scrutiny of scientists interested in the question of whether or not oxygen enhanced sporting performances. The great majority of commentators concluded that Japan had done nothing illegal or unethical, that Japanese oxygen usage had not given their swimmers any advantage, and that the charges were ultimately a jingoistic attack by certain US swim officials against their rising rival. Nevertheless, the stigma of doping clung to the Japanese team for many decades afterward. Scientists referred to this case in their textbooks, the press regularly re-circulated the charges and IOC officials who began in the 1930s to worry about the use of performance-enhancing substances treated the incident as the first evidence of doping in Olympic history. Nationalism ultimately held more power in shaping the narrative of Japanese oxygen doping than scientific opinion.",
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