When they hydrated with champagne

H ave you ever heard people say-perhaps on the news or the radio-that something to drink or eat is very bad for your health and then, a few years later, hear the same news or radio station say that more recent research has established that that thing is actually good for you, in fact very good?

It is enough just to talk about eggs, I would say the epitome of the food that is great for you one year and bad for you the next (truth: like anything, poison aside, they are only bad for you when consumed in excess).

Regarding what is okay and good to drink during training or running races, on the other hand, there is little doubt: water and mineral-rich supplements.

Again, however, this was not always the case: once upon a time, long ago, the main drink of replenishment during the race was champagne. And not simple champagne.

1908, London Olympic Marathon

The 1908 edition will remain one of the most memorable for a thousand reasons: first, because it was the first official race in which it was established that the marathon distance was 42,195 meters (no, I am not going to repeat again that the real distance between Marathon and Athens is not 42,195 meters).

It was also a memorable edition because of the heat and the state in which the competitors, including the Italian Dorando Pietri, were reduced. The temperature was so decisive and exhausting that throughout the race the competitors were alternately overtaking each other and yielding and retaking the leading positions, not to mention that half of them could not even finish.

But was it just the heat involved? No: it also involved the cooling, invigorating liquid that, at least then, was thought to help athletes improve their performance: champagne. It was in fact served at aid stations to hydrate and refresh them, as it was evidently not known at the time that alcohol is diuretic, and thus promotes dehydration.

To make matters worse, it was often not even just champagne: the drink was in fact served in cocktail form, mixed with strychnine or heroin and cocaine. At the time, in fact, the former-a rat poison-was thought to have energetic power.

And if you want to be even more surprised, you should know that we had to wait until 1920 for the administration of these drugs-heroin and cocaine-to be regulated by medical prescriptions and even the 1970s and 1980s for alcohol to be banned.

At least we go safe on water today: it doesn’t hurt and never will.


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