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The story of the first Paralympic Games doping result and the wheelchair basketball gold medal America lost

By Con-struct (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons By Con-struct (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This article is part of a ParaSport News series of articles looking at doping in the Paralympic, Deaflympic and disability sports movement.  It was originally published on Quora on April 13.


The 1992 Games in Barcelona are memorable in the history of doping and the Paralympic movements.  These Games were the ones where the first doping sanctions at the Paralympic Game took place, and the results of these controls cost the United States a gold medal in men’s wheelchair basketball.  The situation is exceptional in a few ways in the history of the Paralympic Games.  The Barcelona hosted Games were the first where it appears an anti-doping program took place with confirmed positive test of the results, with some National Paralympic Committees having providing doping control training to their national delegations, and were the first Games held under the organization of the International Paralympic Committee which was formed three years earlier in 1989.

Women playing wheelchair basketball

The United States women take on Australia at the 1992 Games. Image credit: Australian Paralympic Committee [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Before explaining the context of the loss of gold as a result of a failed doping test, it is helpful to have the backstory.  On the Olympic level, the first doping rules in sport were created by the IAAF in 1928.  There does not appear to have been any real means of testing for this after it despite the rule.  Drugs were particularly common in some sports including cycling, weightlifting and athletics.  In 1960, the first Olympian would die at the Games because of doping.  That was Danish cyclist Knut Jensen.  In 1967, British cyclist Tommy Simpson died because of doping during in the Tour de France.  This in part spurs the creation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Medical Commission to combat doping.  The first doping tests would then be in use at the 1968 Olympic Games. 86 tests performed and zero positive results at the winter games, and 667 tests performed with 1 positive result at the Summer Games. Swedish competitor Hans-Gunnar Liljenwal became the first Olympian stripped of his medal for doping.  1972 sees more drugs tested for. 1976 sees anabolic steroids tested for the first time.  1988 sees Canadian Ben Johnson stripped of his gold in that class 100-meter race where pretty much everyone failed the drug test.

In the starting in the early 1980s but really accelerating into the late 1980s and early 1990s, the United States and other countries start cracking down on doping, steroid abuse, etc.  This is done both inside international and national sporting federations, and through legislative actions.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Paralympic movement is in a place of transition.  Prior to this period, the precursor to the Paralympic Games were really a sports for all.  Think Special Olympics but for people with physical disabilities like spinal cord injuries.  The Games are becoming more competitive, with medals starting to mean more to countries and sportspeople spending more time training. You could not just place boccia or lawn bowls or table tennis on the weekend and expect to medal.  The Games were also becoming more inclusive.  They were opening up to more people with different types of disabilities. From his position in the IOC, Juan Antonio Samaranch is building more bridges to bring the IOC and the disability sports movement closer together.  The movement was professionalizing and fast, with the 1992 Games being situated in that period of between sports-for-all and full professionalism that would be more or less achieved at the 2000 Summer Games.

The first doping controls at the Paralympic Games appear to have taken place at the 1984 Stoke Mandeville Games, with 8 sportspeople getting their urine tested and all results coming back negative.

Paralympic sportspeople were not getting tested by national doping agencies at this point.  That would not happen in the United States until 2000, a year after the creation of WADA.    Powerlifting was a bit ahead of the Games as they had introduced anti-doping rules by 1984.  International Sports Organisation for the Disabled, the precursor for IWAS, was also keen to implement doping controls and had taken steps to try to do this for the 1988 Games with increased number of tests compared to 1984.  IWAS formally created policy related to this in 1991 for all sports and then under the name ISMWSF implemented it in time for Barcelona. Doping control for the Barcelona Paralympics was thus managed by the International Coordinating Committee of World Sports Organizations for the Disabled.

The 1992 Games were the first where there were positive results.  The exact numbers appear a bit unclear, with between 3 and 5 tests coming back positive for steroids out of 300 tests given.  Outside of David Kiely, one report says the other positives were all in powerlifting.  None of the available research really suggests a perception of doping problems in disability sport outside of powerlifting, testing was relatively new to the Paralympic Games, and the processes in place were more primitive than they are today.  The legal environment was still in a state of flux.  Doping was a major issue on the Olympic side, and people had died because of doping in sports.

That’s the context for this event.  Context is key.  According to Kiely in National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) v. International Paralympic Committee (IPC) before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Kiely was given the drug Darvocet by his coach for a toe injury that occurred in training a week before the games.  The drug was given to him the day before the United States played the Netherlands in the gold medal game.  The injury sustained in practiced aggravated nerve root pain that had continued to bother Kiely during the Games.  Prior to giving Kiely the drug, his coach checked to make sure it was not on the Medical Controls Guide list as a prohibited drug.  It was not.

The issue that came into play here was that propoxyphene is a substance in Darvocet.  Propoxyphene was on the banned list, while the drugs that contained it were not specifically listed.  At the hearing over the positive drug test, Kiely’s major argument was that Darvocet was a pain killer and did not enhance his performance.   He argued that given this, the panel deciding outcomes should take that into consideration on a case-by-case basis.   CAS rejected this argument while being sympathetic to his position, as doing so required too large a degree of subjectivity to make this determination.  They referenced this in their ruling saying,

“This is perhaps unfortunate phraseology, because the word “guilty” suggests reprehensible conduct and does not allow the outsider to distinguish between cheaters and inadvertent violators. There is no suggestion anywhere that [the athlete] was a cheater, in the sense of seeking an unfair advantage. He simply failed to keep his body free of banned substances. That is enough.”


While his intention was not to cheat, it was not deemed relevant to the outcomes and applied a strict-liability standard in doping enforcement.  They also said the name of the product is not relevant, so that Darvocet was not listed did not matter, only that it contained Propoxyphene.

The CAS case in 1996 involving Kiely was the first time CASE had used the principle of proportionality in determining an outcome of a case in terms of punishment for the case.  They decided that Kiely’s positive doping results resulting in a loss of the gold medal for the United States men’s national wheelchair basketball team was proportional to the drug offense.  This proportionality principle would be used in future cases for determining suspension lengths, fines and loss of competition results.  Netherland’s silver medal at the 1992 Games became a gold as a result of the US having had their medal vacated because of Kiely.  All but two of the US gold medals were returned to the IPC, with one medal lost in the mail and one US team member refusing to part with their medal.

Basically, Kiely became the first American and first non-powerlifter to be found guilty of a doping violation in the history of the Paralympic movement.  It was also the first case of doping where a whole team lost their medal at the Paralympics because of the doping actions of one player. This was because his coach checked the list of banned substances for the name of the specific drug, not for the drugs that drug contained.   His accidental ingestion was rejected, even though CAS acknowledged it was not his intention to cheat and that the drug likely did not enhance his performance.   It is the accidental start of the history of catching doped up athletes at the most elite disability sports competition on the planet.


Laura Hale
About Laura Hale (2569 Articles)
Laura Hale is a sport journalist, specializing in Paralympic and disability sport news. Prior to helping found ParaSport-News, she spent two and a half years working as a journalist on Wikinews, a citizen journalism site. As a journalist, she has covered the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, the 2013 IPC Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, and a number of other sporting events. She has additional experience with Paralympic sport having worked as a Wikipedian in Residence for the Australian and Spanish Paralympic Committees. She has a PhD in Communications from the University of Canberra.

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