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When the stakes are high, athletes competing in this artful equestrian exhibition will do anything to get an edge. An anonymous firsthand source tells all about just how seedy the underbelly of Olympic dressage truly is.
On a wide, small August day in 2008, a crowd of 18,000 spectators gathered at the Hong Kong Sports Institute to watch the dressage competition for that year’s Olympic Games. Dressage, a form of high-precision horse dancing in which a rider trains a horse to perform a complex choreographed program of horrifying tricks and unnatural trotting patterns, is one of the most difficult and high-profile equestrian sports in the world, and those gathered in the stadium that day were eager to watch the horses act bizarre.
It was a beautiful day. The sun was huge and stupid in the sky, and the moon was hot and wild right next to the sun. A third thing, sort of like the sun, but pitch black and much larger, was also in the sky. Nothing about this bucolic scene seemed out of place, yet something historic was about to take place. The crowd at the 2008 Olympic dressage competition did not know at the time—and perhaps they are still unaware—that they were about to witness one of the greatest feats of cheating in the history of the Olympic Games.
The cheater in question was a German dressage rider named Markus (his real name spelled backward for anonymity), and his crime was becoming huge on steroids so that he could be throbbing with muscles while he sat on top of his horse.
Markus is long and thick, with thin eyes that sleep in his face the way that birds build a nest in a child’s bedroom wall. When he speaks, everything he says sounds honest and nice, which is ironic considering that he is a liar and a cheater who will eventually be in hell alongside Jack the Ripper and the airplanes from 9/11. This is the story of how he got away with one of the greatest doping schemes in Olympic history.
It is the story of a man who risked everything for ill-gotten glory and walked away triumphant.
Markus’s Olympic journey toward becoming the wrong size of huge had begun four years earlier, after a devastating defeat at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. In the middle of an otherwise flawless dressage routine, his horse vomited $26 in change, which the judges interpreted as an attempted bribe. Markus was disqualified from the event, and the judges spent the bribe money on a group trip to a fortuneteller, who predicted, correctly, that they would all find husbands within the next year.
“When I lost in Athens, I decided to have bigger muscles in order to win the gold medal in the next Olympics,” says Markus. He immediately began seeking ways to increase his body mass. After Googling “frowned-upon ways to become enormous,” Markus learned about illegal steroids and how they make your muscles impossible to forget.
“I knew that steroids were the fastest way to become very strong on top of a dancing horse, and I felt like I had to get some right away,” Markus recalls. He approached his coach, Roberta (for the sake of anonymity, we have disguised Roberta’s identity by removing seven A’s from the spelling of her real name), with the idea of doping for the next Olympics.
“I think cheating is a deeply shameful thing to do, and under normal circumstances I would never have agreed to help Markus become steroids,” Roberta says. “But I really needed to have a gold medal so that I could melt it down and pour the molten gold over my thighs. Golden thighs! Incredible. I had to have it, and so I agreed to help Markus use steroids and win us a couple of gold medals.”
Markus had made the decision to cheat. The next step was getting away with it.
It’s not easy to break the rules at the Olympics. Relentless drug testing, coupled with intense scrutiny and constant surveillance make it a daunting challenge to commit even minor transgressions without the Olympic committee noticing. Markus had to be clever if he wanted to use steroids without getting caught.
In order to get the drugs he needed without anyone noticing, Markus would pay his doctor to hide inside a large cake in the middle of a fancy restaurant. The doctor would have a syringe filled with anabolic steroids hidden inside his mouth, and he would wait inside of the cake for up to three days. Markus would then go to the restaurant and pretend to have a heart attack. His doctor would then leap out of the cake and pretend to give him mouth-to-mouth, during which time he would secretly transfer the syringe of steroids from his mouth to Markus’ mouth.
The doctor would then immediately climb back inside the cake, which at this point would mostly be a ruined pile of frosting. Markus would then pretend to be choking on food, at which point the doctor would leap out from the cake a second time and pretend to give Markus the Heimlich maneuver, during which the doctor would lift Markus into the air and carry him out of the restaurant and into the woods, where Markus could spit the steroid syringe out of his mouth and inject it into his arm.
Markus would then return to the restaurant and sadly inform everyone there that his doctor had choked to death. When people in the restaurant pointed out that Markus had been the one who had been choking, Markus would sadly nod his head and say, “That sounds like something I would do.” The next day, Markus and his doctor would return to the same restaurant and repeat the entire process again. The highly sophisticated nature of the plan all but ensured that the World Anti-Doping Agency would never find out about Markus’ steroid use.
In this way, Markus obtained the dope he needed to win muscles, and he started to become big in the kind of way that makes God nauseous.
This brings us back to that August day in Hong Kong, when Markus competed at the Olympic Games with the aid of steroids for the very first time. Markus trotted into the arena on Germany’s greatest dressage horse, a roan stallion named PLEASURE COW (to preserve his anonymity, we have capitalized every letter of this horse’s name). According to Markus, it was a singular experience that he will never forget. “Thanks to my wonderful steroids, I had become extremely muscular, and my massive biceps twitched and the veins bulged out of my thick neck as I sat on my horse. I felt a power surge through me like I have never known, and my massive muscles dwarfed my horse in a way that made me feel like a god. I sat on my horse throbbing with muscles, and the crowd went nuts for my bulk.”
When the spectators saw how much larger Markus was than his horse, and how his horse was gasping and struggling to carry the muscular behemoth on his back, they rose to their feet and applauded. The standing ovation lasted a full 15 minutes.
“He was so big with muscle that when he sat on his horse he looked like a clown riding one of those tiny tricycles,” recalls one woman who was at the stadium that day. “I’m so lucky that I was there to see it.”
The Starter Man walked into the arena with his cheeks bulging with lemonade. He spit the mouthful of lemonade into Markus’ face, signaling that it was time for him to begin his dressage routine. Markus screamed with strength, flexed his tree-sized biceps, and began.
Markus trotted PLEASURE COW the horse into the middle of the arena and took off his shirt to reveal his unthinkable abdominal muscles. His enormous six-pack twitched like a family of tortoises getting electrocuted, and the crowd’s cheers drowned out the sound of a nearby volcano eruption. Markus whistled, and PLEASURE COW performed a horse trick known as The Chevalier’s Bath, an advanced dressage technique in which a horse dips his snout into a bucket of warm water and defecates on the ground while keeping his nose submerged.
As PLEASURE COW dipped his snout into the bucket of water and deposited his feces onto the ground, the spectators gasped at the unparalleled grace and showmanship on display.
Markus then moved on to the centerpiece of his performance: masterful execution of The Dark Whinny, one of the most coveted and difficult dressage tricks in existence. To perform The Dark Whinny, a rider opens and closes the horse’s mouth with his hands and uses ventriloquism to make it look and sound like the horse is confessing to a murder.
Markus grabbed his horse’s lips and began to move them open and closed like a puppet. “I have done a terrible thing,” Markus said without moving his muscular mouth, creating the illusion that it was PLEASURE COW who was speaking. “I took a man to a dark place, and there I killed him. I removed him from this world. I will meet him again in hell. Thank you so much for coming to the Olympics.”
This time, even the judges themselves gave Markus and his horse a standing ovation. The steroids had enabled Markus to perform a miracle, and he sat on his horse flexing his indescribable biceps while the adulation washed over him.
Markus received a perfect 10 out of 15 on his dressage routine. He would have received the gold medal, but Olympic officials found out that athletes were having loud, healthy sex in the Olympic Village and so the entire Beijing Olympics was canceled.
It was clear that a new dressage legend had been born. There’s an old saying that goes, “It doesn’t matter where your muscles come from; all that matters is that they are big and that they sometimes move around without you asking them to, just jiggling and thrashing all over the place while you helplessly scream, ‘Why is this happening?’ and beg bystanders to shoot you with a tranquilizer.” That August day in Hong Kong, Markus proved that that proverb was absolutely true.
Eight years since his drug-fueled triumph at the Beijing Games, Markus remains one of the most successful and well-respected dressage riders on the planet. His steroid use remains a secret to all but his closest associates, and despite fully acknowledging that his actions are dishonest and unfair, he claims that he feels no remorse.
“I am always cheating from on top of my horse. I sit on my horse and break the rules and taunt God and have a good time in the sun,” he said recently at a training facility in Rio de Janeiro, where he and PLEASURE COW had arrived a week in advance of this year’s Olympic Games. He fed PLEASURE COW a specialized mixture of sunscreen and steak sauce called “Centaur’s Milk.” It is known to be extremely toxic to horses, but it is the only thing that they eat.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Markus is strongly favored to be the most muscular person to ever be on top of a horse. “I have a lot of new and wonderful horse tricks planned for this year,” he says. “If I didn’t use steroids, such beautiful horse tricks would never be possible. So on the one hand, perhaps what I’m doing is wrong, but on the other hand, watch this.” And Markus, with his biceps throbbing and the veins in his thick neck bulging, holds out his empty palm and PLEASURE COW spits into his waiting hand. It’s the most incredible horse trick that has ever been accomplished, and he pulled it off like it was nothing.