THE SUMMER GAMES

A HAUNTED PAST

ANDREW PHILLIPS July 27 1992
THE SUMMER GAMES

A HAUNTED PAST

ANDREW PHILLIPS July 27 1992

A HAUNTED PAST

Olympic athletes are driven by many things: a lust for fame, the hunger for money or just the elemental desire to be the best at what they do. For Jens Fiedler, a 22-year-old sprint cyclist competing for Germany in Barcelona, there is an added motive—the need to prove that he can win without drugs. When Fiedler was part of the legendary sports machine of the old German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.), his coach regularly gave him an array of multicolored pills. Some were just vitamins. Others, he says, almost certainly contained illegal steroids to boost his strength—Fiedler says that he never found out for sure: “You didn’t ask questions. It was just the normal way of life.” In Barcelona,

Fiedler will be one of the united German team’s top goldmedal hopes, and he vows to win without any artificial help.

“Now, I say no to all pills, even vitamins,” he says. “I’m going to take the gold—cleanly and on my own.”

On paper, the merger of the old East German sports empire with the money and sophistication of western Germany should create an Olympic dream machine. But unification exposed the secrets of the G.D.R. system and confirmed what the outside world had long suspected: that its astonishing success depended heavily on the systematic use of illegal drugs.

And now that many former East German athletes, including Fiedler, are competing for a united Germany, the country’s sports officials are determined that their victories in Barcelona not be tainted by scandal. “It would be devastating for any of our athletes to be caught using drugs,” says Armin Baumert, director of a training centre for 520 top athletes in Berlin. “It would be worse than Ben Johnson was for Canada.”

To avoid that, German officials set up a special program to crack down on drug use. It involved spot checks on a massive scale during training—about 4,000 a year. Athletes whose names were chosen at random by a computer in Frankfurt were required to take urine tests, sometimes a dozen times during just a few months. Those found guilty of doping can be banned from competition for as long as four years. The new system, which German officials say is the strictest in the world, has already caught several would-be cheaters from both east and west. In March, swimmer Sven Hackmann, a 21-year-old backstroke specialist from

Hamburg, tested positive for steroids and was banned for six months, ending his Olympic hopes. And in May, eastern German swimming star Astrid Strauss was also suspended for six months.

But the case that rocked German sports was that of Katrin Krabbe, the world-champion sprinter. Blond, beautiful and seemingly innocent of the sins of the old eastern system, Krabbe was the one ex-G.D.R. star whom all of Germany had enthusiastically embraced. In February, however, she and two former East German teammates, Grit Breuer and Silke Moeller, were suspended for allegedly trying to manipulate a urine test. The International Amateur Athletic Federation ruled in June that

Krabbe and the others could compete in Barcelona after all. In the end, though, all three, explaining that the drug ordeal had left them unprepared for the Games, decided not to participate.

The revelations about the old G.D.R. system have not only put a damper on the German republic’s Olympic enthusiasm, but tainted relations among athletes and coaches from western and eastern Germany. Eastern athletes, once the spoiled children of the socialist system, lost the web of privileges they used to enjoy, and few are well enough known to win rich endorsement deals from western companies. Easterners also complain that negative publicity about the East German system means that all ex-G.D.R. athletes are unfairly labelled as dopers. So-called wessies have their own gripes: eastern dominance of sports like track and field has made it much more difficult for them to win spots on the combined team. “It’s tough for them,” says Katrin Ullrich, the topranked 10,000-m runner who I came up through the East H German system. “You could a be number 1 in western Ger§ many, but you’re just fourth § or fifth now.”

5 The suspicions have taken a toll. German sports offi— rials, far from boasting about the wealth of athletic talent at their disposal, say they are prepared to accept fewer medals to ensure that their system is clean. “We don’t want medals at any price,” says Baumert. “We are combining the two systems, but more at the level of the west than of the east.” As a result, they say, Germany’s performance in Barcelona cannot be predicted by looking at the results four years ago in Seoul, where the two German teams won a combined total of 142 medals (10 more than the first-place

Soviets), while the G.D.R. alone placed second with 102. This time, they admit, Germany will be happy to settle for third place behind the Unified Team (of former Soviets) and the United States.

Just how far the East Germans went to build up their military-style sports machine became clear soon after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. For the G.D.R., its rich harvest of Olympic medals (second only to that of the Soviets since the 1950s) proved the superiority of socialism. Illegal drugs were just one aspect of a system that began by identifying children as young as 6 as potential superstars. Raik Hannemann, a former East German swimming champion, recalls how sports officials came to his grade school and measured him to ensure that he had the physique needed to reach the top.

Then, they measured his parents. At age 11, Hannemann was sent to the elite Children’s and Youth Sports School in East Berlin. Schoolwork took second place to intense training, and the system’s benefits were soon apparent: as a teenage star,

Hannemann earned as much as his father, a factory manager.

But the dark side of the system was apparent, as well. In 1985, when Hannemann was 17, his trainer first gave him tiny blue pills containing a daily dose of five milligrams of oral turinabol, a steroid. “I knew it was illegal, but everybody was taking them,” says Hannemann, now 24 and a sports reporter for the Berliner Kurier newspaper. “I was terrifically motivated—I was 17 and I wanted to be a world star. The trainers said you needed the pills for that five-per-cent edge that makes a champion. And they said athletes all around the world used these drugs. So I did it.”

At first, the steroids made Hannemann feel terrific. “You feel very tough, very strong,” he recalls. “I was swimming 15 or 20 km a day in training. A normal human being can’t do that.” And, he adds with a broad

smile, his sex life improved: “My girlfriend loved it.” But as the daily dose was gradually increased to 15 mg, Hannemann’s arms became stiff and his muscles became overdeveloped. In 1988, he stopped taking drugs, and the next year placed second in the 200-m event in two international competitions. Then, in November, 1990, just as the two Germanies were united, Hannemann quit sports and wrote about his experiences. “My swimming friends at first saw it as a betrayal,” he says. “But now, most of them understand that the system was corrupt and we had to end it.”

Part of the East Germans’ secret lay in developing ways of avoiding international bans on doping. At laboratories run by the Sports Medical Service in Berlin, Leipzig and Jena, researchers tested drugs and became expert at advising athletes when to stop taking them—usually a month before an event—so they would pass doping tests. They were so successful that not a single East x German tested positive at an inter2 national competition between 1979 I and the collapse of the state in 1990. The East German system fell apart at the same time. Sports centres closed and most of the G.D.R.’s full-time coaches lost their jobs. But the western German officials who now run sports programs throughout the country acknowledge that some eastern athletes have not been able to break their reliance on drugs—and that some westerners continue to use dope, as well. “For sure there are people who still do it, despite all our efforts,” says Baumert. “Our message now to them is: you can’t beat the system.” In Barcelona, Germany’s entire sports establishment will be holding its breath for fear that some athletes have not believed that message.

ANDREW PHILLIPS in Berlin

ANDREW PHILLIPS