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James Magnussen cops backlash over 'questionable' decision regarding Enhanced Games

The two-time Olympian has stated he will take part in the proposed steroid-encouraged Enhanced Games.

James Magnussen has been heavily criticism for announcing he will
James Magnussen has been heavily criticised for announcing he will "juice" for six months in a bid to break the 50m freestyle swimming world record at the Enhanced Games. Image: Getty

James Magnussen has been heavily criticised for announcing he will "juice" for six months in a bid to break the 50m freestyle swimming world record at the Enhanced Games. The two-time Olympian was confirmed as the first athlete who will compete in the proposed steroid-driven Games last week in a bid to earn a US$1 million ($1.54 million) prize.

Magnussen retired from professional swimming in 2019 but will return to the pool to attempt to break the 50m freestyle world record with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. The concept was first announced in June 2023 and is a self-described "doping free-for-all" - where steroids are not only permitted but strongly encouraged. Melbourne-born, London-based businessman Aron D'Souza is behind the idea and believes the Enhanced Games are the solution to sports doping.

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Magnussen - who represented Australia at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games - has accepted the million-dollar challenge to break the world record at the Games. The Aussie swimmer says he is confident that he can beat Brazillian swimmer Cesar Cielo's drug-free 50m freestyle record of 20.91s set at the 2009 Brazilian Championships.

"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.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09:  James Magnussen of Australia (L) and Bradley Tandy of South Africa embrace following the the Men's 50m Freestyle Semifinal 1 on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Optus Aquatic Centre on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
James Magnussen believes he can beat Brazillian swimmer Cesar Cielo's drug-free 50m freestyle record of 20.91s set at the 2009 Brazilian Championships in six months. Image: Getty (Quinn Rooney via Getty Images)

"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. So juice and a suit, happy days."

The competition is expected to include aquatics, track and field, gymnastics and even combat sports, all with lucrative prize pools. It is not known when or where the Enhanced Games will be held but the competition has been tentatively touted for next year.

James Magnussen says the Enhanced Games won't tarnish his legacy

The 32-year-old believes competing in the Games will not tarnish his sporting legacy, it will instead showcase what is possible. "I think it actually does the opposite," he told the Sydney Morning Herald last week. "I'll be able to show a before-and-after which should essentially show this is a natural athlete and this is an enhanced athlete and hopefully the differences will be there to see.

"There is no question over my career as an Olympic athlete. This would be a new point in time and say, 'Hey, let's test this thing out and see where human performance can go'."

But not everyone agrees, with 2008 AFL Brownlow Medallist Adam Cooney describing the Games concept and Magnussen's participation as "tacky" and "irresponsible". "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," Cooney 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 sees 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."

While journalist Suzanne Mostyn joined a chorus of social media users in condemning Magnussen's move. "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."

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