James Magnussen has drawn criticism for his pledge to “juice” for six months in a bid to break the 50m freestyle swimming world record as part of the Enhanced Games.
The mooted Enhanced Games steroid-taking competition, first announced in June 2023, were founded by Australian Aron D’Souza and backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and will actively encourage athletes to take performance enhancing drugs.
Magnussen, a two-time world champion in the 100m freestyle, made global headlines this week after declaring he would compete for a A$1.5 million prize if he is able to break the 50m world record on steroids.
The current mark, 20.91 seconds set back in 2009, would still stand of course as any Enhanced Games attempt won’t be recognised by governing bodies or the International Olympic Committee.
The Enhances Games confirmed Magnussen’s participation on X, posting: “We’re pleased to announce that Olympian James Magnussen has accepted the challenge to compete in the first Enhanced Games,” thethe post stated.
“$1m prize for breaking the 50 freestyle swimming world record. More details to come.”
Magnussen, 32, retired in 2019 and set a personal best time of 21.52sec in the 50m freestyle back in 2013.
He said he was prepared to “juice to the gills” in an attempt to break the 50m world record, for the right price.
“They’ve said they’ve got a billion-dollar person backing them. If they put up a million dollars for the 50 freestyle world record, I will come on board as their first athlete,” Magnussen told the Hello Sport podcast.
“I’ll juice to the gills and I’ll break it within six months.
“I’m going to need one of those super suits to float me, because if I get unbelievably jacked, then I’ll sink.”
“When I was swimming I was about 21.5 so I need half a second,” Magnussen added.
“So juice and a suit, happy days.”
But not everyone is a fan of the idea. Former AFL player Adam Cooney described the Enhances Games concept and Magnussen’s pledge as “tacky”.
“Well, my view is it’s irresponsible for the very fact there are millions of people who have looked up to him during his career,” the 2008 Brownlow Medallist told SEN.
“I also think there are ramifications there with your health… it could all work out well but you are putting yourself at risk.
“I would say that 90-95 per cent of the population would put their hand up and do that (for the money), they’re not going to get anywhere near a world record obviously, but it is pretty enticing.
“My immediate response was it’s a little bit tacky and a bit irresponsible because there are things that can go wrong… he’ll probably be fine.
“But again, it does open it up to the local footy player who see James Magnussen getting on the gear and breaking a world record and thinking, ‘WADA aren’t coming to test me on a Saturday afternoon at Doncaster, I’m going to get the best out of myself here and by something online’.
“That’s when it’s dangerous. I don’t like it.”
Journalist Suzanna Mostyn was scathing of Magnussen and the Enhanced Games.
“He is going for gold in terms of the money, he wants that big brass ring, and I think a lot of people probably want to find their glory this way,” Mostyn said on Weekend Sunrise.
“The founder of this, he is an entrepreneur, he says he wants to test the limits of human endeavour, but I just think that is glossing over what it really is.
“This is the ‘grotesque games’. You have condoms full of walnuts walking around saying, ‘I am the best’. (These are) the Roid Rage Games.”
“It is really questionable … We are going back to Roman times, aren’t we? Where the elite and the rich said, ‘hey, mere mortals, entertain me.’ I think it is pretty sick.”
Broadcaster Justin Smith described the so-called steroid games as a “stupid concept”.
“When you’re an athlete, particularly when you have represented this country and you’ve got gold, it is not just about you and it’s certainly not just about what you can stick in your pockets,” Smith said.
“It’s about what you are saying to kids who want to be an athlete and who are up-and-coming, and not even be an athlete, but just be a good person.
“And if your message to them is say, ‘Hey, listen, if you feel depressed, take a few drugs,’ you know, ‘get whatever you can … If you want to run faster, stick some needles in yourself’.
“The selfishness of this behaviour and these grubby billionaires that have come along … it is just a smart-alecy, really sad approach (to sport).
“I would hate to think that media companies are gonna get behind it and cover it as a legitimate sporting event. I really hope we all just ignore it when the games start.”
Swimming legend weighs in on world record bid
Four-time Olympian Leisel Jones told her Triple M show she was in “two camps” about Magnussen’s bid.
“I don’t mind it,” she said.
“I don’t want to participate in it myself, I’m not in a position to do that. The risks are too big for me I think for the side effects and what not.
“But I am so happy to see other people do this. I would watch it for sure. I just want to know how fast they can go.
“If people are willing to put their bodies on the line to do this, I’m not willing to, but I’m happy to see what people can do if they’re willing to do that. But it’s not for me.”
Jones, who retired back in 2012, also said they could help make genuine sport, which often carries stigmas or assumptions of drug-taking, cleaner.
“If this clears out people who genuinely want to (take performance enhancing drugs) and are doing illegal things in sport, if that clears them out of clean sport, that would be wonderful,” she said.
“Go knock yourself out, I think that’s great.
“If you want to challenge yourself, I say go for it. But this will hopefully keep clean sport, clean.”
“He is already very shredded, he’s already extremely muscular and lean,” she said.
“He doesn’t really need to put on too much size so I don’t know that the steroids are going to be that helpful, because you want to float as much as possible, muscle is very heavy and doesn’t float very well.
“They’re beneficial for women because they can build their testosterone and be bigger and leaner.”