Coming clean: Bernice Wilson on being manipulated into doping
Imagine being a promising young athlete, a sprinter with enough talent at the age of 15 to be representing your country.
Imagine then falling in love with a coach who convinces you that in order to succeed and have a successful career you have to take performance enhancing drugs.
You dope, get caught, receive a four-year-ban, and vow to come back clean.
But you fail another drugs test. This time it's because the coach has been doping you without your knowledge. The worst nightmare for any athlete.
That's what happened to Bernice Wilson, and she told the full story to the Olympic Channel podcast.
Podcast: Bernice Wilson on being manipulated into doping
Podcast: Bernice Wilson on being manipulated into dopingGreat Britain’s Bernice Wilson was a promising young sprinter, but her career took a turn for the worse when she enlisted the services of ex-UK Athletics coach, Dr. George Skafidas. They began dating and he persuaded Wilson to start doping. She was caught, banned for four years, and vowed to come back clean. With her ban nearing completion, she tested positive again. But this time Skafidas had been doping the Briton without her knowledge. Wilson alerted the authorities. Skafidas received a life-time ban from the sport. Three years on she is now a clean competitor and anti-doping campaigner. She told the Olympic Channel podcast how she made mistakes, was manipulated, and how she's trying to make amends.
At the age of 15, Bernice Wilson was competing for England as an athlete, following her dream.
A promising sprinting career beckoned.
But after graduating university, her dream came crashing down when she failed a drugs test.
Wilson had been doping, and lying about it.
"They banned me for four years which I think is the longest ban for an athlete," she told the Olympic Channel podcast.
"Everything I’d worked for had just messed up totally and I was in a really dark place in my life. I felt like I had let people down including myself, my family, my friends, people who had looked up to me as a role model." - Bernice Wilson to Olympic Channel podcast.
Dating and doping
Instrumental in Wilson's downfall was Dr. George Skafidas.
The former UK Athletics coach agreed to mentor her as a professional athlete.
A romantic relationship quickly ensued, followed by Skafidas convincing Wilson to start using steroids.
"I moved in with him and he would tell me 'you need to start using performance-enhancing drugs, everybody does, you're not going to get anywhere without them'.
"I then started taking performance-enhancing drugs and it was at a time when I thought that George was right.
"If I wouldn't (take the drugs) it would sometimes make George even angrier."
Improved training, performance, and guilt
As Wilson's steroids started to kick in, her results started to improve.
But rather than feel good about winning, she started to question Skafidas and whether the other athletes were really also doping.
"Eventually I did start to feel that I could train for longer and I could lift weights in my gym sessions that were heavier, and it made it easier.
"With the fact I was winning more, but illegally, it made me feel at first ‘well everyone’s doing it, so it doesn’t matter’.
"I felt I wasn’t being honest to myself and I was being disrespectful to other people as well."
Being banned.... twice!
Wilson eventually tested positive for the steroids and was banned for four years.
"It was a very dark time and I was very upset. I didn’t have anyone to support me, only George, and he didn’t say anything regarding his side of the story.
"They banned me for four years which I think is the longest ban for an athlete."
But that was only the beginning of Wilson's dark days. She continued to train, planning to come back clean.
But without her knowledge, Skafidas secretly swapped her multi-vitamins for the banned substance clomiphene, an oestrogen suppresor, and she tested positive again.
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When Wilson realised what had happened, she decided to take action and confronted Skafidas.
"He admitted to swapping the tablets. Because I thought nobody was going to believe me, whilst I was on Skype on my laptop to him, I actually recorded the conversation on my phone and he wasn’t able to see it, and he admitted to everything.
"I still received a ban of 10 months but it was backdated. I didn’t compete straight away because I wasn’t fit enough anyway, but George received a lifetime ban. I was told as well with what he was giving me, it could have killed me."
A brighter future helping others
Wilson is now competing as a clean athlete and is even on the UK Anti-Doping commission.
UKAD's chairman approached her, believing she could help prevent other athletes from taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).
"I feel like I can contribute by saying different things I went through and help other athletes. I also completed my UKAD advisory course to become a UKAD advisor, which is a course online that is very informative and helps you to, if you come in contact in anyone considering taking PEDs, you can give them help as to medication or give them advice on why not to take PEDs." Wilson told the Olympic Channel Podcast.
"The message I’d give to somebody who wants to enhance their performance and is considering taking something is basically not to. It’s definitely not worth all the negative impacts that they would receive and it’s not worth doing it to your body.
"It’s a case of being true to yourself because if you work hard enough and do keep going and not giving up at what you want to achieve, you will get there anyway."
Bernice Wilson was this week’s guest on the Olympic Channel Podcast.
We speak to athletes, and others involved in sport, about the biggest Olympic talking points.
- This article was updated to clarify that Wilson's second ban was for an oestrogen suppressor called clomiphene.