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Report on German Trial of Ewald and Hoeppner

May 8, 2000  - Karin Helmstaedt

BERLIN-The giants of East German sport are two small men. And when Manfred Ewald and Dr. Manfred Hoeppner arrived at room 501 in Berlin's Moabit courthouse on May 2, they had great difficulty making it to the door.

Despite the fact that a mere 33 journalists were granted accreditation for the grand finale of Germany's less than spectacular series of doping trials, the narrow hallway was jammed with press. Photographers wrestled to get a shot. Print journalists were squashed aside by broad-shouldered camera teams, including one from ABC TV, proof that international interest in the story had reached an unprecedented high.

All because the two men responsible for East Germany's state-ordered doping system were finally being brought to task. Or were they?

Quick Trial Rumoured

The trial that was years in the making was originally scheduled for just one day. Rumour had it that a deal had been cut with the judge, and that in exchange for a quick confession Ewald and Hoeppner would get off with a suspended prison sentence and a fine. That ignited a small scandal in expert circles, and motivated 17 victims to show up in court as part of an accessory prosecution.

The 73 year-old Ewald, often referred to as the "Honecker of sport" in East Germany, grinned smugly as he pushed his way through the crowd. Feigning amused disbelief, an ironic "What's going on here?" was all he had to offer reporters.

One of East Germany's most powerful functionaries, Ewald directed the country's sporting domination for nearly three decades. Despotic, ruthless and politically cunning, he was President of the East German Sport and Gymnastics Union (DTSB), leader of the National Olympic Committee and, he sat next to Erich Honecker himself on the Communist Party's Central Committee.

As director of the so-called High Performance Sport Commission, it was Ewald who in 1974 drafted the secret State Plan 14.25, by which it became state policy to administer muscle-building anabolic steroids to young athletes. In this way he hoped to gain international recognition for East Germany in the sporting arena.

Neither the athletes nor their parents were advised of the practice; instead young swimmers and athletes received the East German-manufactured steroid Oral-Turinabol in the guise of vitamin pills. Many of them were young girls and under the age of 18. Older athletes were forced to sign an oath of secrecy, but were no further advised of the potential damaging effects of the drugs.

Athletes Paid Price for Success

With the help of Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, the plan worked. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich East Germany outdid the "capitalist enemy" West Germany's medal total for the first time. By 1976 in Montreal East Germany's "Wundermaedchen" ruled in the pool and led the entire Olympic team to an astonishing medal victory over the United States. By this time it was clear that the drug program was particularly effective with women: they willingly brought home the hardware, never guessing the price they would pay later in life.

Hoeppner, 66, was the doctor second in charge of East Germany's Sports Medicine Services. From 1975 he directed of the Working Group for research into "UM" or "unterstuetzende Mittel" ("supporting means"), the codified euphemism for Oral-Turinabol. It was Hoeppner who oversaw the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs to sports federation and club doctors. He determined how much each individual athlete received, and meticulously noted the drug's effects.

In addition to a marked improvement in athletic performance Hoeppner noted deepened voices and increased musculature in the women. The girls themselves complained of excessive body hair and acne. As time went on, the side-effects multiplied: liver damage, hormonal disturbances, tumours and gyneacological complaints.

Problems such as these are still a reality for many of the victims. Birgit Matz, a former swimmer for Berlin's Dynamo club, has a permanently deepened voice and excess facial hair. Rica Reinisch, a triple Olympic champion in 1980, has had five miscarriages and suffers from recurring ovarian cysts. Catherine Menschner, who received male hormones from the age of 10, suffers from permanent damage to her spine and reproductive organs. Jutta Gottschalk, a former swimmer from Magdeburg, gave birth to a daughter who is blind in one eye. Andreas Krieger, once the 1996 European champion shotputter Heidi Krieger, was so physically changed by the drugs she received that she underwent a sex change.

Ewald and Hoeppner stand accused of 142 counts of assisting grievous bodily harm for their masterminding role in the steroid system. 208 athlete testimonies and volumes of Stasi files-many of them delivered by Hoeppner himself in his dual role as Stasi Informant "Technik"-attest to the massive manipulation of an estimated 10,000 elite athletes.

Ewald's one-time partner in crime described in detail his superior's zealous medals "ueber alles" mentality. On more than one occasion Hoeppner went to Ewald with the recommendation that the drugs be stopped for a particular athlete due to ill effects. On more than one occasion, Ewald refused. When the female swimmers' baritone voices could no longer be denied, the duo agreed jointly to forbid the women to give interviews to the foreign press.

To this day Ewald denies that any of this is true. But if he thought a quick quasi-confession would have him out by lunchtime on Tuesday, he was mistaken. Upon the insistence of the victim's lawyers, Judge Dirk Dickhaus announced the trial would be continued indefinitely. Most importantly he announced his intention to allow victims to testify, which could draw proceedings out for several weeks.

Ewald, who has been declared fit for only three and a half hours of proceedings a day, will now inadvertently slow proceedings down. But time is of the essence and the lawyers have a keen eye on the calendar: with a statute of limitations for all doping crimes coming up on October 3rd of this year, the devise is now "quick, but not too quick."

Michael Lehner, legal counsel for 15 of the victims, said he was satisfied that the trial would not just be a one-day write-off "worthy of a petty thief."

"Nothing has really happened yet, but at least it's going to continue, and we're pleased the victims will be allowed to testify," he said.

"What we're looking for is a reasonable trial and and a clarification of what happened, so that the thousands of other victims who have no idea of their situation can seek help when they need to," he went on.

Menschner, like fellow victims Reinisch and Karen Koenig, is less optimistic, saying that every doping trial until now has been a farce. But asked whether she would take the opportunity to testify, she answered in no uncertain terms: "You bet."

For most of the victims, there is little hope the trial will bring any satisfaction. Hoeppner, who already sold his story to Stern Magazine in 1991, delivered a highly questionable testimony on his own behalf on the second day of proceedings.

Victims shook their heads in disbelief as he recounted that Oral-Turinabol had been the only way to help the young athletes survive the duress of their training regimes. He shirked any responsibility and claimed that his goal as a doctor had always been to support the athletes and keep them healthy. And most outrageous of all, he said the athletes had been free to choose to take the drugs, and that to his knowledge none had been minors.

This led the disconcerted judge to refer to Hoeppner's 1996 statement to investigating police, for a more "complete" version of his role in the drug chain. After reading the document aloud, the trial was adjourned until the following Tuesday.

Ewald on the other hand, still insists that for now, he will keep quiet.

The one-time sport Fuehrer is caught between a rock and a hard place. Hoeppner's inadvertent tesimony is a hard indictment and the reason Ewald will be forced to confess. But if he does that, he'll be forced to tell the world he's been lying for decades and discredit the system he lived to build. If he doesn't, chances are the judge will send him to prison for at least 2 years. Neither option will allow him to get off easy.

That may just wipe the grin off his face.