Positive by Werner Reiterer

“For countless generations, the Kaffir tribesmen of South Africa used a ceremonial drink called ‘dop’ when engaged in war or athletic contests. Brewed from alcohol and cola, the drink improved energy and stamina. When the Boers settled in South Africa , they made the term part of their language; they added ‘e’ to it, thereby introducing to the world the word ‘dope’.”

You would have to be pretty naïve to believe that there are no drugs in sport. The cycling scandals, the Olympic weightlifters, Chinese swimmers and, of course, Ben Johnson are, however, only the tip of the iceberg. Nine time Australian Discus champion and 1995 Australian senior athlete of the year, Werner Reiterer, tells the story of the proliferation of drugs throughout top-level competition from the perspective of an athlete who has been on both sides of the fence. That’s right – both sides. His story as a “natural” athlete is inspiring, uplifting but, ultimately, quite sad. The story of his experiences after making the decision to dope will blow your mind. I challenge anyone to read this book and not come away with a completely different perspective on high level sport in general.

In this book you will learn the story of a very promising discus thrower who rose up the ranks in Australia and eventually the world. You will learn that when he broke a junior world record, he was treated with indifference by a hypocritical system which perpetuated the problem while simultaneously denouncing it in the media. Werner went to two Olympics as a “natural”, steadfastly sticking to his guns. In the end he gave in because “To go through all the pain and sacrifice, the hard winters, busting your guts morning and night, then to travel the world and be beaten by inferior athletes with inferior technique is very hard to deal with”.

Not only does this book talk about one person’s experience as an athlete who decided to dope, it also describes the system which allows it to happen. The extent of the cover-ups and conspiracies which allow, even encourage, athletes to resort to artificial means of performance enhancing is unbelievable. At the very highest levels of sporting organisations, players of all strata collaborate to ensure that athletes are not only able to dope, but that their country’s athletes are on the best dope available and, most importantly, that their athletes pass all the drug tests. The feigned naïvety of these organisations with regard to drug testing and even the way that they handle positive results is just downright depressing.

The extent of doping in high-level competition, particularly track and field is absolutely astounding. The argument put forward by many people against doping is that those who dope have an unfair advantage over those who don’t. However, when it gets to the point where an overwhelming majority of the athletes are on dope, it becomes more the case that anyone who doesn’t dope is at a disadvantage. Dutch coach Henk Kraayenhof puts it so “People like to think that things are better since Ben’s [Johnson’s] first positive. I argue the opposite. Ben Johnson getting caught promoted drug use – He won.” Speaking of Ben Johnson, the post 1988 enquiry into his positive revealed that, since 1981 he’d taken Dianabol, Stanozolol, Furazabol, HGH, Testosterone and many masking agents. In seven years he had passed every drug test, in the two years leading up to the Seoul Olympics he passed a total of 19 drug tests.

Pearls of wisdom scattered throughout the book will make you sit up and take note, things like “Since the Seoul Games, more than 100 Australian athletes had been caught. Of course, few were role models generating money for organisers or sponsors. They were mostly third-tier athletes. ‘Socially digestible positives’, one authority described them as”. He also tells of how, when random out of competition testing was introduced, times were suddenly slower and distances of throws would drop, at least until the dopers figured out ways around the testing. Of course, the figures relating to his increases in performance after beginning his doping are equally, if not more, noteworthy.

The rather negative tone of the material contained within the pages of this book is lightened somewhat by the occasional retelling of experiences at international competitions. As an athlete who has been to many an international competition, I found this diversion more than amusing, however those who can’t relate to such experiences may find this a distraction from what is otherwise a very strongly directed statement about drugs and sport in general.

If you’re into sport, especially the Olympics, you must read this book. This is a book which should have been on the best seller lists prior to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, when it was released. The IOC, AOC, AIS, IAAF and many other acronyms did there utmost to prevent this book from ever getting published. When it was clear that that plan wouldn’t succeed, they spent their efforts trying to prevent anyone from knowing about this book. To an extent, they have succeeded. This book is very difficult to find (or at least it was difficult for me to find). The narrative is very relaxed and direct, very “tell-it-as-it-is”. I found it difficult to put down in the two days that it took me to read it. An excellent read, and a timely one considering the material. Highly recommended.

4 Comments on Positive by Werner Reiterer

  1. Hello Daniel, although it is many years later I have just bought and read Werner’s book. I purchased it from a library sale. I am disappointed to note that the powere that be went after him instead of supporting him with his decision to come clean. Honesty and integrity are fundamental values of a civilised society. Well done, Werner and thank you for your article, Daniel.

  2. I read the book recently and was struck not only by the raw honesty of Mr Reiterer, but of the massive damage control out into place by those shielding the illusion of drug-free sport. Now I don’t want my sons to get to competitive levels! I am appalled that on a google search all I see is ‘confessed drug cheat’, rather than ‘super brave, super human discus champion.’ I naively and hopefully thought Sydney was ‘clean’ – and now I know it wasn’t and likely all the athletes my kids and I cheered on were doped to the eyeballs….of course, after the Chinese woman beat all the men’s swimming records in Beijing we knew at least the Chinese were in on it. Great book, Mr Reiterer.

  3. Ii have owned Positive for many years. I brought it at a $2 style shop. I find it incredibly sad that such a book ends up in such a place. Since reading it I have never looked at sport in the same way again. What makes me laugh is that most people still believe that sport is clean. What I do wish is that this book and its author gets the recognition it deserves, but sadly it won’t because the people in charge of sport will never honest with themselves and the sports they claim to represent.

  4. great book – couldn’t put it down – found the anecdotes of interest esp the insights into some of he personalities of australian and international athletes and other celebrities (doc neeson, arnie) – book was an easy read and believable – didn’t once question that the author was genuine in his claims about the extent of drug use – well researched

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