Danish Gym Tests for illicit Substances to keep “cheaters” out

This afternoon, 30, maybe 40 visitors are at the machines in the brand-new fitness studio centre in Varde – a 13,000-inhabitant town in Jutland, around two hours’ drive from Flensburg. Most of the athletes here are young and male.

Like Henrik Juul Sørensen. His body, but also his self-esteem, have improved in the last three years through training, says the 18-year-old. Has he ever thought about helping you with doping? Yes, says Henrik Juul Sørensen. But he never did. “Because of my body. That would destroy my kidneys and I am very afraid of taking steroids,” says Sørensen.

The studio is run by Fitness World, the largest chain of centres in Denmark. There are currently around half a million members nationwide, says centre manager Lene Heiberg Bondesen: “Every tenth Dane is a member of our club. So we’re pretty big.”

You can destroy your body forever.

Similar to Germany, the fitness community in Denmark has grown enormously in recent years. But the challenges also increase with it. For example, the fight against doping. The lever is the house right of the fitness studios. Because self-damage without fraud in competition is not prohibited.

Here in the new studio in Varde, too, there are cases of doping, says the boss:

“We don’t like it. First of all, it’s forbidden to take drugs like steroids that pump you up. And secondly, it’s not healthy. You can destroy your body forever. We try to keep such people away. But my impression is: In today’s world, people are almost addicted to what you look like. Young men in particular want big muscles and a certain look.”

Two to three percent of all fitness center guests resort to illegal substances, according to estimates by the DFHO umbrella organization. According to the DFHO, it represents about half of all studios in the country.

Above all young men between 15 and 30

For more than ten years, the Danish Anti-Doping Agency has been trying to combat the problem. About half of all centres participate in the prevention programme. The Anti-Doping Danmark staff visit the gyms to advise operators and users. But they can also ask the studio guests for a doping test at any time. One of these consultants is Søren Voss, who came to Varde this afternoon.

Voss says: “Normally I go around and see if there’s anybody there who might be eligible for a doping test. Because once I do something else, they’re long gone. Because they know we’re there.”

It’s mainly the young men between 15 and 30 who are interested in Voss. Just three years ago it was easier to discover doped studio visitors, Voss says: “It was in to be really muscular, really heavy – almost like a tank. But today people want to look healthy. Although they’re not. They want a washboard stomach and a low fat content. They don’t want to look like a house, they just want to look fit and that makes it harder to recognize them.”

“This keeps the doper out.”

For a few minutes he looks around the center in Varde, talks to the manager. Everything seems to be fine. Then he notices a young man. Thomas Morsing is muscular and tattooed. When the 25-year-old declares that he was a soldier for five years, Voss waves off and makes it clear: “It’s okay!

Thomas Morsing thinks it’s good that he can simply be approached here by an employee of the Danish Anti-Doping Agency. He had already known when he registered that the fitness centre was taking part in the prevention programme.

Morsing says: “It’s totally normal for him to look at the strong guys because they normally dope. I think it’s good that they control here. This keeps the dopers out and then they have to switch to the centers that don’t participate in the anti-doping program.”

Manager Lene Heiberg Bondesen knows that she can pick up the phone at any time to report a suspicious person to the Anti-Doping Agency. She is relieved that the agency’s staff are conducting the interviews and, if necessary, initiating a test. But you are not a police force, says Malene Radmer Johannisson. At Anti Doping Danmark, she takes care of the prevention programme.

“Sifting unhealthy role models out”

Johannisson explains: “We do not do the controls because we believe that doping prevents. We want to use the tests to screen out the unhealthy role models with their bad and unrealistic body ideals. Because in the worst case scenario, the young people will not take any action and we don’t want that. We know that when teenagers dream of big chest muscles and big arms, they ask the strongest guys in the gym for advice. But not the trained coaches.”

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