East Germans face drug charges

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Sports officials who helped to make the former East Germany a dominant force in certain Olympic disciplines are facing the prospect of being charged with causing bodily harm for supplying competitors with banned performance-enhancing drugs.

A spokesman for the Berlin justice ministry said prosecutors were preparing charges against about 50 East German sports administrators, doctors and trainers, and that the first charges could be brought next year.

"The investigations are continuing," Rudiger Reiff, the justice ministry spokesman, said. "It is a very large and complicated issue. The charges being prepared are bodily harm through doping of East German sportsmen and women."

The investigations, which were opened about 18 months ago, involve huge amounts of documentation so, to make their cases more manageable, prosecutors have focused on swimming, cycling, athletics and weightlifting.

Despite its relatively small population of 17 million, East Germany consistently produced a string of champions, winning almost as many Olympic medals as the United States or the former Soviet Union, whose had populations at least 15 times as big to call upon. The country found particular success in women's swimming and men's cycling in Europe and beyond in the 1980s.

About 20 athletes have already filed suit against their former mentors, among them the weightlifter Roland Schmidt, who had to have removed from his chest some breast-like tissue, which apparently had developed because of steroid abuse.

The complexities of the issue mean that charges will be laid only in cases where the athletes were given drugs without their knowledge, which means prosecutors are concentrating principally on the doping of children and youths.