For John Oliver, the Olympic Games are more than “your biannual reminder that NBC exists” or the greatest producer of “inspiration porn.” They’re also a harsh reminder of the performance-enhancing drugs athletes use to win gold.
“There’s a long history of athletes circumventing the rules,” Oliver explained on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight. “In the 1904 Olympics, one of the marathon runners rode 11 miles in a car.” Today, the cheating goes far deeper. “As for the modern era, while no one knows exactly how many athletes dope, there are some shocking hints. One leaked survey found that an estimated 29 percent of track and field athletes at the 2011 World Championships said that they had doped within the past year.”
Enter anti-doping chaperones, who have the job of making the sure the athletes don’t cheat their drug tests. Things can get even more awkward when they must maintain unobstructed views while collecting urine samples. “But despite rigorous testing, athletes are clearly slipping through the cracks for a number of reasons,” said Oliver. “For start, there are multiple tests, and none of them can detect the full range of drugs athletes might be on, from anabolic steroids to EPO to human growth hormone to the most powerful drug of all: love.” (That last one was thrown in for laughs, of course.)
Oliver pointed out that “testing itself is much less black and white than you might assume” due to high testing thresholds that prevent excessive false positive results while still making it possible for athletes to dope. He cut to a clip of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who has become the poster child for doping, but showed how the problem is greater than any individual. After presenting a serious plan to address doping, he noted the possibility that people might not care enough to take action. In that case, he said, we should “at the very least make our syrupy athlete promos a bit more honest.” Find out what he has in mind in the clip below.