120 years, 120 stories (Part 16) : Doping, scandals and the death of a cyclist during an Olympic event


The Olympic games have always witnessed some exceptional performances from different athletes and we have already brought to you some of them in our special Olympic Diaries. However, this particular story, unlike those heroic ones, is not about a special display in an Olympic event. Rather, it is the story of Knud Enemark Jensen, who participated in an event that got marred by some unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances.

At the onset of Maria Sharapova’s doping incidents, it seemed fitting to bring out the story of possibly the first instance of doping in the biggest sporting event of the world. It happened in 1960, during the Olympics held at Rome. However, the doping incident was accompanied by a real unfortunate death of a cyclist, Knud Enemark Jensen.


Knud Enemark Jensen was born in Arhus, Denmark. One of the better cyclists of the country, he came to fame in 1960 when he won the individual Nordic Championship, along with the silver medal in the team time trial, as a part of the Danish team, at the same event. Quite naturally, he was included in the Olympic team of his country that were to take part in the cycling event at Rome.

The event:

The Olympic 100 km team time trial road race took place in an unbearable condition for the athletes, with the weather showing over 40-degree heat in the Celsius scale. The extreme temperatures caused Jorgen B. Jorgensen, one of the four-man Danish team, to drop out of the race. Jorgensen had a sunstroke after the first lap. His dropping out meant that the other three team members, Niels Baunsof, Vagn Bangsborg and Knud Enemark Jensen, had to finish the race for the team not to be disqualified. What followed next will remain as one of the most unfortunate incidents of the Olympics.

Jensen, also suffering from the heat waves, was feeling dizzy, tired and extremely exhausted. Albeit he told his teammates about this, they could not but assist him complete the race instead of letting him go to take rest. And that cost Jensen the most valuable thing he had – his life!

With Baunsof clutching his jersey on one end, keeping him from falling, Bangsborg sprayed some water, leading to an apparent improvement in Jensen’s condition. But it did not last long. As soon as Baunsof let go of him, Jensen collapsed and fractured his skull on the pavement.

Death and the hint of a doping scandal:

An ambulance and the doctors rushed to the spot in aid of the Danish. But no treatment could save him from the jaws of death. Knud Enemark Jensen passed away that afternoon without regaining consciousness.

Many would think that the death will be the end of this story. Sadly, it is not. Oluf Jorgensen, the Danish cycling team’s trainer, later told his government investigators that he had given Jensen and some other cyclists Roniacol (nicotinyl alcohol), a vasodilator. This drug is considered to be a performance enhancement one and it would surely fall in the category of doping.

Much to his country’s good luck, Jensen’s autopsy saved them the embarrassment. A few months later, when the doctors who performed the autopsy submitted the final report, it stated that the death was the result of a heatstroke, and that no drugs were found in his system. However, the complete autopsy report was never made public and people had to rely on the doctors’ statement at that time.

Aftermath of the event:

The incident of Knud Enemark Jensen took a new turn a few years later when, Alvaro Marchiori, one of the doctors who conducted the autopsy, revealed that the team of physicians actually “found traces of several things”, including amphetamine. While it is practically impossible to validate Marchiori’s claim, it cannot be defied that the incident was probably the first one that had the hint of a doping scandal. Quite expectedly, it brought forth some changes in the rules and organization from the International Olympic Committee. They decided to form a medical committee in 1961 and later started to test the athletes for prohibited drugs from 1968 Olympics.


Did you know this unfortunate story of Knud Enemark Jensen? Let us know how you felt after reading this, in the comments below.

Photo by peter pearson