SWIMNEWS ONLINE: October 1997 Magazine Articles

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Germany Finally Deals With The Past

Jeden Tag Ein Neuer Skandal
Every Day A New Scandal


Karin Helmstaedt

BERLIN - Coming to terms with the past can be a long and painful process. In Germany, the word itself, "Vergangenheitsbewaltigung," reflects the heaviness of the task. Seven years after German reunification, the angst, avoidance, and denial are being overcome. Thanks to testimonies and years of detailed investigations, Germany is moving into a new phase of reckoning.

While many would have been content to sweep it under the rug, the severe consequences that followed the systematic doping of young athletes in East Germany have challenged the collective German consciousness. And while all sport federations can expect to have to face up to a sordid past, it is the German Swimming Federation (DSV) that has been forced, under a barrage of criticism, into taking some long-overdue action.

The nature of the East German sport system

In a documentary report called "State Secret: Kinderdoping," ARD television shed some much-needed light on the state-organized nature of the East German sport system, and on those truly responsible for the mistreatment of children in the name of political prowess.

Broadcast nationwide in Germany on September 25, the film showed testimonies from former swimmers - from Olympic champions to complete unknowns - all of whom received so-called "vitamin pills" from their coaches. They described in detail the way the pills were distributed, the physical changes and health problems they experienced, and how they were pressured into silence.

Coaches mentioned directly included Dieter Lindemann, former coach of 1994 world champion Franziska van Almsick, Rolf Glaser, former coach of 1976 Olympian Carola Nitschke, and Uwe Neumann, former coach of triple Olympic gold medallist Rica Reinisch. All of them staunchly deny having administered drugs to their athletes.

Dagmar Schoeler, a former swimmer of Lindemann's, said, "I was in Dieter Lindemann's training group from the 5th until the 7th grade. He gave us various kinds of pills and special tea. We had to take them in front of him and were not allowed to speak about it to anyone."

Neumann, suspended by the DSV on September 8 for having been an "unofficial collaborator" with the Stasi, is also under investigation for doping. Pages in his Stasi file show his detailed knowledge of the distribution protocol of the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol. Reinisch, who still suffers from recurring ovarian cysts, started receiving the "little blue pills" at the age of 12. She first filed a claim for damages against her former coach in 1993.

Proof of the power of images, the film seemed to awaken the national press. But the damning evidence against coaches is only the first part of the process. Secret GDR film footage and excerpts from Stasi documents drove home the fact that "State Plan 14.25" was a centrally organized program of great political weight, mercilessly directed by Manfred Ewald, the former president of the German Sport and Gymnastics Union (DTSB). Government officials as high up as General Secretary Eric Honecker were well informed of the efforts to further the sporting successes of the nation, and of the occasional security measures taken to protect it, such as the manipulation of a positive urine sample from field athlete Ilona Slupianek.

Professor Werner Franke, a cellular biologist based in Heidelberg and a militant anti-doping campaigner, maintained that coaches are "the last link in the chain" of a system that produced athletic wonders like six-time Olympic gold medallist Kristin Otto. Developed with the help of highly specialized doctors and scientists, many of whom still practise today, that system also led to cases of irreversible liver damage, sterility, and even death.

Coaches subject to immediate dismissal

The day of the broadcast, Frischke and Lindemann were removed from the staff of two national team training camps. Klaus Nottrodt, the DSV Sport Director, maintained, "We had prepared this decision before the ARD report," while DSV President Rudiger Tretow repeated that all coaches indicted would be subject to immediate dismissal.

He didn't have to wait long to make good his promise. By October 3, the anniversary of reunification, he himself had had the opportunity to read parts of the indictment letters addressed to Lindemann, Frischke, Glaser, and another former SC Dynamo colleague, Dieter Krause. At a round table discussion on the influences of Doping and Stasi in GDR Sport at the German Olympic Institute in Berlin, he admitted to being "shocked" at their contents.

Tretow's dismay revealed an astonishing na•vete; the DSV's simple acceptance of "declarations" signed by coaches that they were never involved in doping was incredible given the ever-increasing volume of proof to the contrary. He conceded his federation's "failure" to properly check up on its employees at the outset, saying, "They (Lindemann and Frischke) have led us around by the nose for seven years." He immediately announced that both men would be suspended.

The sharp criticism heaped on Tretow and his federation by the likes of German Sports Union President Manfred von Richthofen is well-founded; doctors such as Hans-Joachim Wendler and Jochen Neubauer, under investigation by the Berlin prosecution for their involvement with both doping and the Stasi, are still active with the federation at Olympic Centres in Berlin and Potsdam. The information necessary to clean house has been available for years, and now the DSV is faced with a "falling like flies" phenomenon. In other words, there will be a lot of shoes to fill.

The following week the indictments were made official: 46 year-old Lindemann is up for four counts of bodily harm and Frischke (53) for eight. Glaser (57), now the Austrian national coach, must answer for nine, and Krause (50), who is no longer involved in sport, for three. The DSV announced that no further cooperation would be possible with the accused; the indictment letters cited the names of 17 victims, all of whom have suffered various kinds of physical and psychological damage due the ingestion of anabolic steroids.

In addition to the four already indicted, 57 others, including other coaches, doctors, and functionaries, are expected to be accused. The Berlin prosecution will take one link at a time, and a statute of limitations on the investigations has already been extended.

Sievers story exposed at home

The death of Magdeburg swimmer Jorg Sievers, first published in 1994 by SWIMNEWS, was further researched and exposed for the first time in Germany in ARD's documentary.

After being expelled from Magdeburg's state-sponsored sport school in 1973 because of declining performances, the 16-year-old was left to "detrain" on his own. On the evening of January 17, 1974, he managed a short swim in the crowded ElbeHalle pool before sitting on a starting block to wait for the pool to clear. Sometime around 6 p.m. he toppled into the pool and was found, three hours later, dead on the bottom of the pool.

Doctors, who had advised the boy's mother that he had an abnormally enlarged heart barely a month earlier, called his death an "accident" due to a flu virus. Not only had Sievers been vaccinated against flu six weeks before, but his parents knew their son was healthy when he left the house that fateful morning. While his death was suspect at the time, the sinister East German system prevented his parents from learning the true cause of their son's death. They were given no written report, no access to autopsy results. The affair was considered closed.

In the increasing climate of openness after German reunification, Annemarie and Fred Sievers see their son as the victim of a merciless system that used countless young athletes for political purposes, unbeknownst to the athletes themselves or to their parents, and unmindful of the possible health risks.

In interviews, they describe their son's intensive training, how he had also received his ration of "vitamin pills," and their frustrations at their powerlessness to find the answers. The doctor and coach who visited them at the time, Dr. Eberhard Kohler and the then-head coach Jurgen Tanneberger, are both still active; Kohler is a sports physician in Leipzig while Tanneberger coaches young swimmers in Dusseldorf. The latter declined any interview whatsover while the doctor, confronted with an ARD camera in his office in Leipzig, categorically denied knowing anything about a death during his time in Magdeburg.

The German press seized on this information, prompting Kohler to react by saying that he knows nothing of doping and was not in Magdeburg at the time of Sievers' death. Further investigations after the broadcast not only revealed this to be untrue, but also that Kohler himself was an informer for the Stasi. In his later station as regional sports physician in Leipzig, it is clearly unthinkable that he was not involved in doping. And on it goes.

Heat for Kristin Otto

The press went to town with many of ARD's revelations, including a criticism of Kristin Otto by her former teammate Karen Konig. Konig, who has spoken openly about the pills she received since 1984, said she found Otto's situation as a sport reporter for ZDF television "particularly absurd." "It's well known that she was doped and yet she's been denying it for years. It's unbelievable."

Otto, the most successful of the "wundermadchen," continues to dispute the authenticity of published documents that prove her having been positive for drugs in 1989, and refuses to believe that she took drugs during her swimming career. In an interview in Sevilla, Otto repeated her denials, prompting Ulrike Lebek (nee Tauber), an East German Olympic gold medallist in 1976 and now a doctor with women's water polo, to comment, "She's losing all of her credibility." Lebek appeared in the ARD film and spoke openly about her own experience with performance-enhancing drugs.

Otto continues in denial despite mounting evidence
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

In the meantime, Otto's nomination to the board of the German Olympic Association was called into question. Critics felt she was in no position to set an example in sport, and that she was ruining her reputation by continuing to deny having taken drugs. Others wished to protect her and accept her version: that whatever she may have taken, she knew nothing about it. Otto, feeling herself a victim of jealousy and "psychoterror," appeared on her own television station (ZDF) on October 18 as an interviewee to deny any knowledge of drugs once again. Given that more and more athletes of her generation are coming forward to tell the truth about their past, many of whom claim they were well aware that they were being given "U.M.," it is perhaps just as difficult for Otto to admit to such a degree of stupidity as to go back on her claims of seven years.

As Raik Hannemann, a former SC Dymano member and European bronze medallist, observed, "I think that Kristin missed the point where she should have been able to finish with the past, which is the problem of many former East Germans. It is not serious for Kristin Otto to say that she came into contact with drugs. She had no other chance in the GDR. It's that simple for me."

At the time of writing, Otto had announced her decision to withdraw her candidature for a seat on the GOA board.

Jorg Hoffmann comes clean

In a television interview with Sender Freies Berlin, the local ARD station responsible for the documentary film, former world champion Jorg Hoffmann of Potsdam admitted for the first time that he also was subjected to drugs, albeit for a very short period of three weeks.

"I was first confronted with the little blue pills in 1988," said the 27-year-old Hoffmann, adding that there was little alternative for GDR athletes but to take what was given to them. "There was always some kind of political official nearby," he said. "Had I been the only one on the team to say, "I'm not taking it," they would easily have done without me."

He maintained that the indictments against coaches were in his opinion "exaggerated," as the coaches held the least responsibility. "Who can it help when the basis of the sport is ripped away?"

Hoffmann got tired of years of lying
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Once out in the open, Hoffmann was solicited for numerous interviews, in which he was asked why he had waited so long before saying anything. He told the Berliner Zeitung that "it stresses me to always be lying," and admitted that it was his own mistake to have avoided the issue for so long. "Naturally I'd rather be left in peace about it, but the situation has become a bit unbearable: nothing but prejudice in the West, and too many lies in the East. It takes the fun out of the sport. I'd like to see the training expertise collected in the GDR survive, but have the people who forced the coaches into a doping regime accused."

Following his admissions Hoffmann received angry calls from Australia, saying that his world titles in Perth 1991 were due to drugs. He feels these accusations to be unfair.

Kielgass supports Frischke

Kerstin Kielgass of Berlin stated she wants to prepare for the world championships in Perth with her coach Volker Frischke. Despite his having been suspended permanently from his coaching duties with the DSV and officially indicted by the Berlin prosecutor for his involvement with doping of underaged athletes, Kielgass said firmly on October 16, "I will not leave my coach. I'm standing behind him."

The 1997 European champion, who wears the colours of the Spandau club in Berlin, made her feelings known to the DSV by telephone. "That is up to them," commented DSV President Tretow, "But it is clear that neither Frischke nor Lindemann will no longer be involved with the DSV." As for Frischke's anticipated presence in Regensburg in November for the world championship trials, he said, "We can't shut anyone out of the pool. That would be completely out of place."

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