Athletics: Australia sign coach linked to drug abuse

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Ekkart Arbeit, the former East German coach, has been appointed as Australia's coaching director for a four-year term that covers the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Arbeit, 56, was the head coach for throwing events for the East German athletics team from 1982 to 1988 and the chief track and field coach in 1989 and 1990.

Athletics Australia's executive director, Martin Soust, said, in light of documented evidence of systematic doping in the former East Germany, Arbeit's record had been thoroughly investigated. "He is not known as a person who was involved in drug-taking in athletics," Soust insisted.

However, Dr Werner Franke, the German parliamentary investigator into East German secret police files detailing drug abuse in sport, said Arbeit was "a major person responsible for the use of anabolic steroids."

"At the time he was coach there were plans of who should take how much drugs and how this should be co-ordinated. All that was his responsibility," Franke said this week.

Arbeit yesterday admitted knowledge of drug use in East Germany during his eight years in senior posts, saying it went on "all over the world, and I was working also with athletes in the United States, at the same time - everybody was taking drugs. Everybody took the same or more drugs than East Germany."

He said he would consider refusing the four-year contract if Australian reporters continued to press him on the drug issue. "What was in the past I don't know, what will be in the future is that we have a position, the Australian federation and me, that we will get results without drugs," he said.

Berlin prosecutors are considering charges against East German coaches accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs to unsuspecting athletes, many of whom now suffer from liver and kidney problems or other illnesses as adults. The focus is currently on swimming, but it will soon switch to athletics.

Franke thinks Arbeit will probably be mentioned in court proceedings because he was in such a high ranking position in the old regime. Arbeit said he did not know if he would be named in the hearings.

Franke said Arbeit was in charge of Jurgen Schult, Ulf Timmermann and Martina Hellmann - three throwers who won gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and whose drug dosages were later published in Germany.

Australia has been a strong critic of drug use in sport, particularly in swimming, but also recently in athletics.