Ex-East German sports boss convicted in doping trial

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The Independent Online

The "driving force" behind East Germany's secret doping program for turning promising young athletes into Olympic medal winners was convicted today on criminal charges and sentenced to 22 months on probation.

The "driving force" behind East Germany's secret doping program for turning promising young athletes into Olympic medal winners was convicted today on criminal charges and sentenced to 22 months on probation.

A Berlin court found that former East German sports chief Manfred Ewald, 74, and his longtime medical director, Manfred Hoeppner, 65, shared responsibility for the "systematic and overall doping in (East German) competitive sports" from 1974 until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

Both were convicted of being accessories to causing bodily harm, referring to the hormonal changes experienced by the unwitting athletes, many of them minors, who were fed the little blue steroid pills and told they were only taking vitamins.

Hoeppner was sentenced to 18 months probation. Both men also were ordered to pay the court costs of 20 women who joined as co-plaintiffs, all former East German athletes who say they still suffer the side-effects of the drugs. The women's attorney, Michael Lehner, expressed satisfaction with the verdict.

"Those responsible have been called to account," he said.

Prosecutors had sought two-year suspended sentences for both defendants, but said they would not appeal. Defense lawyers said they were considering an appeal.

Former track star Brigitte Michel, who was in court for the verdict, said she "can live with" it, even though Ewald and Hoeppner most likely won't have to serve any time behind bars. They faced a maximum two years.

"There's no verdict anyway that can make up for the damage suffered," she said. The women had been seeking a tougher conviction on a charge of causing serious bodily harm related to side effects they claim were caused by the drugs, ranging from excessive body hair and deep voices to gynecological problems and even, in at least one case, birth deformities in one former athlete's baby.

Presiding Judge Dirk Dickhaus, in reading the court's verdict, said simply administering anabolic steroids was enough to support a charge of causing bodily harm. But the court rejected the more serious charge, saying a direct connection could not be established between the steroids and each individual illness, such as breast cancer.

In its verdict, the court said both men were aware the steroids could cause potentially dangerous side effects, but accepted them in their efforts to improve athletic performance.

The court said Ewald was the "driving force" behind the doping program and kept it going with "merciless hardness."

A member of the communist party's central committee since 1963, Ewald was president of East Germany's sports federation from 1961-88 and of its National Olympic Committee from 1973 until the country ceased to exist in 1990. Hoeppner, as the country's top sports doctor, worked out the details of the doping program - including the secrecy rules - and distributed the steroids to the sports doctors and coaches, the court found.

The results were dramatic: East Germany, with less than 17 million people, went from 20 gold medals in 1972 to an astounding 40 in 1976. East Germans won 11 of 13 events in women's swimming in 1976 and again in 1980.

The court said it handed down a lesser sentence to Hoeppner because he had apologized to the former athletes and cooperated with prosecutors in other doping cases. Ewald never made a direct apology.

About 20 former East German coaches, doctors and other have been convicted and given fines, suspended sentences or both.

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