Stripped!, reads the banner of a campaign to have all GDR results cancelled, red background, tabloid typeface, exclamation mark and all. It might also have read ‘Abused Twice!’ if that is seriously the tone that Swimming World finds appropriate when dealing with a crime against women who as girls of 13 and 14 became the victims of the sporting crime of the 20th century and choices protagonists in a chapter so dark in swimming history that it transcends the sport and all sport.
Let’s be clear: there are few apologists for State Plan 14:25 and all that followed and we all know that not a single GDR women’s result (and very few men’s results) was achieved between 1973 and 1989 without the fuel and fire of doping. Fact. We’ve suspected it since 1973, known it since 1991 and seen it written in law since 1998-99.
We all know and feel very moved by the stories of those deprived of their rightful place in the truly sorry saga of the GDR, from Shirley Babashoff to the many others from many countries affected, folk who, like Nancy Garapick of Canada at home in Montreal in 1976, may well have travelled a different path as national heroes beyond their real experience of having to hear ‘o yeah, didn’t she win bronze at the Olympics some time… ‘.
We all know that bodies such as the IOC, FINA, the DSV in Germany, USA Swimming and many others who could have made a stand of one sort or another, have lacked the will and the way to best right a complex wrong – and have opts to look the other way and do nothing.
Swimming World, much good work in the archive to its credit down the years, has also sat on its thumbs, the GDR winners voted in as swimmers of the year not only there for the past two months, two seasons, two years but for two whole decades and more before the American publication decided to remove the names from its historic roll of honour. There’s nothing like meeting a deadline – but deadline would that be in late 2013?
Hard to say what has changed and why now but whatever the reasons, the only plaster available to SW for this particular open wound may only serve to do more harm as it seeks to have ”Stripped!” extended to the where it would be truly felt: in the focus of a wider world and in the world of those, understandably, providing supportive statements for the case for justice.
Here is what Swimming World reports as a statement from USA Swimming:
“The issues surrounding the alleged drug use of the East German swimmers have been extremely complex. This is a sensitive topic that has affected our swimming community, especially the athletes competing during that time period. USA Swimming is always in support of keeping the sport of swimming clean from illegal drug use. If there was doping involved in the achievement of past Olympic medals or records, we believe that the medals should be stripped and the records should be invalidated.”
Not quite as far as agreeing with SW stance. ”Alleged” and “If there was doping”? We assume its an over-cautious lawyer talking there. There is no “if” of “alleged” about it. And if you go for “Stripped!” in the case of the GDR, you must do it, too, for all cases that would have to be backdated beyond the scope of the WADA Code.
Many sports institutions have chosen to look the other way to avoid complication and even the obvious risk of being accused as compliant as guardians who at the very best could be said to have reacted to the strength of argument at a pace not even worthy of the heats at the age-group swim meet at a pool near you.
The definitions of cheating in sport are complex, if only because national laws that vary from country to country in a world of sport that signs up to a single WADA Code has made that the case. For Americans – among others – they might well ask what sets apart an athlete suspended because of taking a supplement that had more in it than it said it had in it on the tin [no deliberate act by the athlete] and a GDR swimmer who at 13 and 14 was regularly taken into a side room at a pool, had injections stuck in her butt, blue pills placed in her mouth (the coach or doctor standing there to make sure she swallowed) and told that such things were to help her to recuperate from hard training but she needn’t worry her family about it – or in other words – you better shut up, or else – [no deliberate act by the athlete].
Still. Stripped! is what we want, isn’t it?
Let’s go back
The story “broke” long before any niche swimming publication got to it. It broke the moment the 1991 book Doping: From Research to Deceit was published. It confirmed – in part through Stasi and other documents saved from the shredders by people, since deceased, working with the authors Prof. Werner Franke and his wife Brigitte Berendonk – the existence and nauseating detail of a stat plan, complete with the dosages of Oral Turinabol administered to specific athletes, swimmers included.
On 26 August 1993, after the former GDR had disbanded itself to accede to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, records were opened and State Plan 14:25 confirmed: the Stasi, the GDR state secret police, supervised systematic doping of East German athletes from 1971 until reunification in 1990. Doping existed in other countries but the GDR was officially unique in so far as having a state plan designed to win in international sport as a way of saying ‘look how great our democratic republic and socialist/communist state is’.
The body and bulk of what was discovered is now held in places public and private in several countries, safe from the long arm of any single authority that may ver wish to suppress the truth. Some of that evidence was used in legal cases against coaches, doctors and others in the German doping trials of the late 1990s and subsequent compensation claims by athletes who suffered a spectrum of woes, from personal health, physical and psychological problems to the horrors of inheritance in the form of children born with club feet and a variety of other disabilities.
Oral Turinabol was just part of the poisonous cocktail of substances administered not only to medal-winning ‘ambassadors in tracksuits’ but to many who were never destined to make it beyond the Berlin Wall. Like the bulk of good but not world-class swimmers in the world, they were club swimmers – but with a dark difference; they served as human guinea pigs to test the effectiveness of substances that had never been clinically trailed in labs before bing administered to the athletes.
If The Times in London carried the first post-reunification interview with Kornelia Ender in December 1991, penned by me and revealing her recollection of regular injections and pills that she now knew, a long with the rest of us, to be performance-enhancing substances, then news agencies, broadcasters and news publications galore from around the world revealed similar cases after cases, many confirming the shocking depth, width, malice aforethought and criminality of State Plan 14:25.
In the late 1990s, German and international media ran regular reports from the doping trials, while Nick Thierry’s SwimNews, courtesy of the work of Karin Helmstaedt, ran almost daily reports in the infancy of online, that revealed the crimes committed.
A special page on the internet was created by doping victims trying to gain justice and compensation, listing people involved in State Plan 14:25. Those people included Dr Lothar Kipke, who remains on the FINA list of “Pins”, the awards given to those who have graced swimming with good service and upheld all the best of values. I stand to be corrected but I am not aware of any official proposal from the USA to have Kipke and our convicted criminals removed from the FINA honours list and for that to be officially recorded and publicised.
Now that would be worth a “Stripped!”
That word and tone is not appropriate for the swimmers, however, no matter how much we agree with the need to address and face up to The Big Lie that was. As SW presses on with what would be a surface solution to a much wide problem, let’s take another plunge into a depth of dark players, those who truly deserved being “Stripped!”, some punished some not (and the names below are the tip of an iceberg that goes well beyond the GDR right up to this day) and an alternative way of dealing with the past.
State Plan 14:25
State Plan 14:25 held that children (for many of those doped, particularly in sports such as swimming, were under age) would be doped with substances such as anabolic steroids, some never clinically tested on animals before human guinea pigs were plied with them, and without the knowledge or consent of their parents. The 1966 blueprint refers to the drugs as “Unterstutzenden Mitteln“, or “supporting means”. The blueprint would not be signed as official policy until 1974 but experimentation on athletes started much earlier – certainly from 1971 with research for the plan dating back to the mid 1960s. It was the biggest pharmacological experiment in sports history.
The drugs, administered by doctors and coaches, included Oral-Turinabol, a synthetic anabolic agent developed for cancer patients; testosterone derivatives; and “STS 646“, a drug considered too dangerous to licence inside the GDR but given to teenagers before being tested on lab rats. “The pills came in a box of chocolates,” Catherine Menschner would say in court in 1999. You are unlikely to know here name. By the time she spoke she had suffered seven miscarriages in the years after quitting the sport in which she was fed a diet of drugs but not for international glory. “I was a guinea-pig. I was used to test drugs for better athletes so they could win for the GDR.”
The masterminds behind the plan were Manfred Ewald and Dr Manfred Hoeppner. Hoeppner made his base at 21 Czarnikauer Strasse, Berlin, doping HQ, the hub of State Plan 14:25 if you like. The room is just 3 metres square. In it he penned his reports for his Stasi (secret police) overlords on a fold-down table he had installed because there was no room for a proper table. The room was all taken up by boxes of steroids ready for shipping to sports programmes around the country. Hoeppner filed some 1,000 reports to his Stasi contact. Ewald was always in the loop as chief political player at the scene of the crime. In 2000, Ewald, then 74, was found guilty on 20 counts of contributing to bodily harm, the tip of an iceberg of his involvement in a terrible crime.
Ewald, who started off his court case a confident and robust man but ended it with a ruling that his health would only allow him to appear for two hours a day, received a 22-month suspended sentence and Hoeppner an 18-month suspended sentence, the fact that they had criminal convictions against their names more pertinent than the lenient nature of their penalties. Together they had faced 142 counts of assisting grievous bodily harm. On grounds of time, the judge heard just 22 cases before coming to his conclusion that the men before him were as guilty as sin.
Ewald was not handed a financial penalty, as so many others were, for his part in State Plan 14:25, on the grounds that much time had past since he had been up to his eyeballs in guilt. It took German authorities the best part of 10 years to get cases to court, even though the same evidence as produced in 1998-2000 had been available in 1992-93.
At Hoeppner’s right-hand was Dr Lothar Kipke, member of the medical commission of FINA. In that capacity he bangs the anti-doping drum but back home he is one of the worst offenders in the sporting crime of the century. A former member of the Nazi party, Kipke was described in a German court in Berlin in 2000 as “the Joseph Mengele of GDR sport“. He will also be damned by Hoeppner’s hand.
“In preparation for team travel to the US, Dr Kipke forced … athletes to be given testosterone injections. Dr Kipke is brutal in giving the injections. He doesn’t consider any pain it causes to the athlete and almost rams the shringe into the body.” – Hoeppner’s notes to his Stasi liaison officer.
Hoeppner and Kipke sat at the helm of a covert network that coerced and corrupted doctors, coaches, scientists, chemists and swimmers, among others athletes. He keeps a tight ship: beyond issuing “supporting means guidelines” with specific instructions on dosages, he orders abortions:
“Should a pregnancy occur while anabolic steroids are being taken then it is recommended in all cases that an abortion is carried out.” Children born to athletes who had taken steroids are to be delivered in a Stasi clinic so that “a decision could be taken as to what to do” in the event of “complications”.
Hoeppner later got cold feet as the monster he created got out of control and coaches started to choose their own doses for their girls (and boys). Most victims were teenage girls. Carola Nitschke and Antje Stille were 13 when they were put on a steroid regime, court cases would reveal in 1999 and 2000. In his trial, Kipke adopted the role of Nazi concentration camp guard: “I was only following orders…”. There to hear him was former swimmer Martina Gottshalt, who urged her abuser to “look my 15-year-old son in the eyes and tell him you were just following orders”. Her son, Daniel, sat beside her, his clubfoot swinging under the bench.
The network headed by Hoeppner and Kipke extended to beyond Berlin HQ. In Leipzig, Prof Dr Helga Pfeifer is among those rolling out State Plan 14:25. As she confessed me in 2005 during a reflection of her GDR days and in the days after it was revealed that she had been selling flume equipment for Chinese swim programmes in Shanghai:
“Yes, I was involved. I knew about the doping … The doctors decided. I was informed. I knew. I didn’t want to risk 35 years of sports science work and I don’t feel I have to apologise for that. I know which system I had to live and grow up in. No-one at the time knew how long that system would be in place.”
Pfeifer handles the sports science data at the heart some of the biggest Olympic sports, swimming included. It is unfair, she told me, to taint “brilliant” work with the doping that was a part of something bigger. Many beg to differ, if only because neither she nor we can say how good GDR swimmers might have been had fair play been the watchword of a rotten regime. Two months after the Berlin Wall fell, Pfeifer, with official government permission Down Under, was invited to the Australian Institute of Sport. Her scientific papers were still to be found in the library of the AIS in recent years.
Pfeifer, along with many others steeped in the task of rolling out State Plan 14:25 were never called to account in a court of law. Among coaches, national team coaches Juergen Tanneberger and Wolfgang Richter and the East German swimming federation general secretary Egon Muller were among those who received one-year suspended jail sentences after being found guilty grievous bodily harm for having distributed steroids to under-age athletes without their knowledge. Several other national team coaches who had continued to coach Olympic, world and European champions throughout the 1990s, also had their careers brought to a halt after being convicted in trials in 1999 and 2000.
If their guilt was weighty it paled by comparison to that of Kipke, of whom one lawyer for victims said:
“He gave injections, he initiated experiments, and didn’t care about the individuals. He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Kipke, 76 and retired in Leipzig the last we heard, provided a packed courtroom in Berlin in 2000 with this explanation: “At 14 the girls were biologically adult. That’s why we could give them the stuff. They weren’t considered minors anymore.” Or even human, some might say.
Kipke was found guilty on 58 counts of grievous bodily harm to underage female athletes, was served a 15-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. That was January 2000. By October 3 that year, time would run out on the GDR doping court cases under a statute of limitations and all those not already called would walk free. Kipke was among seven GDR officials to receive honours from FINA. He received his in 1985, the year in which Stasi documents show that those who were spying on a spy reported back to Stasi bosses that Kipke appeared to relish administering doping in a “brutal” way. The rotten regime itself saw in Kipke a man who ought to be reined in. Dark irony indeed.
Among doctors called to court to account for their role in a massive deception was Dr Dorit Rosler. She would set up a surgery in Czarnikauer Strasse in post GDR days with the very purpose of helping victims of the GDR doping system. In court, Rosler broke down in tears when she faced some of those victims and said:
“I should have shown more courage. In Nazi Germany we did what we were told to do. The GDR doping machine was no different; we were just carrying out medical orders … have we not learned anything?”
No such level of remorse from Dr Dieter Binus, Dr Ulrich Sunder (sounds like Sünde, ‘sin’ in German) and Dr Horst Tausch. They all broke the Hippocratic oath and indeed the law when they administered drugs to swimmers. They were convicted of bodily harm. They continued to practice as doctors years after the doping factory their talents were put to use in had ceased to produce dark results. Among others working in the system was Dr Eberhard Koehler, who sought an injunction to try to prevent publication of a book on GDR doping in which he was named.
He was not alone among those wishing to keep the past a secret and denying that events took place in the way that Stasi documents clearly suggested that they did. Before travel to racing outside the GDR, all swimmers were tested and their urine samples sent to the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa, a place charged by the Olympic movement with the task of catch cheats. In fact, what Kreischa did was to make sure the world would never catch the GDR cheating. Sportsmen and women found positive for drugs simply stayed at home, many after serious attempts had been made to wash their bodies of damning evidence. Little wonder that not a single GDR swimmer was ever caught, even though Stasi documents would later reveal the names, with specific doses of drugs administered, of generations of Olympic and world and European swimming champions.
In my archive is a copy of a Stasi document that shows tests taken on four women – three already Olympic champions by then – at Kreischa. The tests were conducted two weeks before racing at the 1989 European championships in Bonn. All four were massively over the allowable testosterone:epitestosterone limit. Between them they claimed six solo medals, four gold, a silver and a bronze, while all four women contributed to a clean sweep of all three relay events for the GDR. Between 1970 and 1989, no other nation claimed a gold medal in women’s relays at the European championships.
Many a success was built on a little blue pill made in Jena at the eponymous drugs company Jenapharm. Its representative sat at the table when State Plan 14:25 was discussed and honed, according to Stasi papers. None was ever called to account for their role in the mass abuse of large numbers of young athletes.
“If the treatment with anabolics is long-term, or at high dosages, real possibility for androgenic side effects exists. Skin conditions such as acne will develop, virilisation effects such as deeping of the voice, growth of facial hair, masculine habits, increased sexual appetite, and clitoral hypertrophy will all occur.” – Jenapharm (drug company) paper, 1965.
In 2003, Jenapharm, beyond its GDR days, won Germany’s Golden Pill Award for services to womanhood. Two years on the company was named in a law suit by 162 athletes, many of them swimmers. Jenapharm’s parent companies denied any wrongdoing. In a statement, Jenapharm acknowledged that the company was obliged to “collaborate in the GDR ‘Staatsplan 14.25’, but that it was not a driving force behind the national GDR doping programme”. The blame rested with politicians, sports doctors and coaches. The athletes’ claims were unfounded, the company said.
Ultimately, an out-of-court settlement was reached and victims compensated by the pharmaceutical industry in Germany and by the German Olympic Committee, which assumed the responsibilities of the GDR Olympic body after reunification.
Among the victims were swimmers who in their 30s and 40s suffered defects to heart, liver, gallbladder, chronic back pain, damaged spines and reproductive organs, tumours, had endured multiple miscarriages and given birth to disabled children.
Some of those stories may only be told alongside revelations found in Stasi documents confirming the sporting crime of the century because of Prof Werner Franke, a cell biologist and cancer expert in Heidelberg, his wife Brigitte Berendonk and their lawyer Dr Michael Lehner.
One of the few victims to have spoken eloquently in public about her plight is Rica Reinisch, who at the age of 15 won three gold medals at the Olympic Games of Moscow in 1980, each win producing a world record. “The worst thing was that I didn’t know I was being doped,” she told The Guardian years later.
“I was lied to and deceived. Whenever I asked my coach what the tablets were I was told they were vitamins and preparations.”
Years on and Prof Franke would say: “There was no medical reason to give steroids. It was against the law of the German Democratic Republic. It was against medical ethics. Everybody knew these drugs were not allowed. The people who participated in this clandestine operation knew that they would lose privileges if they refused to take part.
“But they also knew they wouldn’t be executed. Some of the arguments now resemble those brought forward in the Third Reich. Those involved disapproved of what they were doing. They knew it was wrong. But they also knew it was a matter of national prestige, and was good for their careers. The Jesuits have a saying: ‘For the greater glory of God.’ This is what happened here.”
God and goodness, of course, had nothing to do with the abomination of the GDR’s State Plan 14:25.
It was from 1990 that the many who spoke out against the massive deception on which GDR sport was built felt truly free to do so. Two decades on from reunification, there are those who prefer to stay silent rather than tell the truth that unfolded at the expense of others who were robbed of their rightful claim to history. And there are former athletes who cannot lead normal lives, who live in pain, who take daily medication to help them to cope with the fallout of the poison pumped into their bodies.
In 2009, on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Deutsche Welle reported the case of Berlin resident Birgit Boese, for whom just getting to and from work is a triumph. Noted the report: The 48-year-old former athlete depends on crutches to get around, and she and her husband have to forego visits together to the theater, movies or local swimming pool. “Because of the pain, we can’t really take part in public life,” she told DW.
Once groomed to show the world that the GDR was best at shot put, Boese now suffers from an irregular heartbeat, high-blood pressure, diabetes, nerve damage, kidney problems, “and a list of other ailments that have made her all but an invalid”. Her journey through a nightmare started when she was just 11, when she started at sports school and was told to take the little blue pills that fed the East German medals machine.
Boese and 183 other victims of State Plan 14:25 were awarded compensation in 2006 from the German Olympic Sports Organisation (DOSB) and the drug company Jenapharm. Each received 9,250 euros from the pharmaceutical company in an out-of-court settlement and 170 of the plaintiffs were paid another 9,250 euros from the DOSB. Said Boese:
“It helped, sure. But for those with chronic illnesses and who have to pay out of pocket for medications, the money didn’t go that far.”
Just how the above, all in world media reports and official court documents in Germany, could be framed in terms of “alleged” is a matter for USA Swimming to reflect on.
What should have come to pass long ago and can still happen is for USA Swimming, through weighty representation in FINA, on the Bureau as well as the Technical Swimming Committee, to call for the pins of Kipke and his cronies to be removed. There is no “alleged” in the way: Kipke is a convicted criminal, his crime specifically related to swimming and doping as a former FINA official. Case closed. So far, the international federation has taken the ‘let-sleeping-dogs-lie’ approach. That will always be the case unless a case is made and brought by serious players with influence.
Different Perspective Required
Meanwhile, it is time to stop portraying 14-year-old victims as thieves, cheats and deceivers. They were no such thing. They grew up in a time and a place and in circumstances that put a torch to suggestions that they had a choice, could have objected, could have told someone, could have gone home told their parents and expected their parents to step in. This was a country, at the political level and beyond sport, in which, some objectors who later developed cancer believe that they were deliberately exposed to radiation while waiting to be called for interrogation; a country in which many were shot dead while trying to escape to a place of choice through barbed-wire barricades.
Down the years, I have met many of the GDR’s swim champions and medallists. In two cases, I detected a troubling tone of self-justification and defence of an indefensible system. In the vast bulk of cases, the swimmers, polite, pleasant, well-educated and getting on with what might be described as “ordinary lives” – beyond the pills and potions and sports-related problems that they endure – manage to speak with dignity and patience about painful episodes in their lives.
Some of them may well have gold medals but they are all victims to one degree of another.
Should the bitter gust now, yet again, blow in the face of victims? No. The truth of their story should surely be acknowledged but not rammed in their faces with the same vigour as it took Kipke and his cronies to ram needles in their butts.
History Cannot Be Rewritten But Retold With The Truth
We cannot and should not wipe out history, clear the books of the names of those who touched the wall first. It happened. And we know how. Swimming World voted for those people and that, too, should always be on the record and remembered.
What you can do is adjust the books, place an asterisk where an explanation is required. What the IOC, FINA and others can do is honour those who followed the asterisk. Every federation in the world could and should honour those affected by events, lift them up with special honours within the realms of their country’s system of rewarding achievement in recognition of the status denied to them not by the human in the next lane but by the vehicle and victim of organised crime in the next lane.
Give Garapick and Co honorary honours and medals that say “this is what I was really worth” (and recognise, too, that the new lists will surely leave some very troubling results in place from a time when the GDR was highly unlikely to have been the only ‘beneficiary’ of illicit means).
But let the record stand – alongside every footnote necessary to make sport an honest place for future generations while treating victims on all sides with the dignity and recognition that they deserve.