Fury as East German officials escape prison

Athletes maimed by East Germany's doping regime expressed outrage yesterday at the light sentences handed out to their former tormentors. Although a Berlin court convicted Manfred Ewald, the former head of the East German Sports Federation, and Manfred Höppner, the doctor who devised the doping programme, both men walked free.

Athletes maimed by East Germany's doping regime expressed outrage yesterday at the light sentences handed out to their former tormentors. Although a Berlin court convicted Manfred Ewald, the former head of the East German Sports Federation, and Manfred Höppner, the doctor who devised the doping programme, both men walked free.

Ewald, 74, received a two years' suspended sentence, while Höppner was given 18 months suspended. "This is a verdict that cannot satisfy the victims," said Brigitte Michel, a former discus thrower.

Prosecutors had requested suspended two-year terms for both men who were the driving force behind East Germany's secret doping programme for turning promising young athletes into Olympic medal winners, However, many witnesses said they felt they should be sent to jail if convicted. Ewald, who had pleaded innocence, left the court without a word. Höppner made a brief statement, saying: "You have to know how to lose. I can live with this verdict."

The trial was the longest and most important involving sports officials of communist East Germany. Ewald and Höppner, 65, had been accused of causing grievous bodily harm to 142 women athletes by forcing them to take performance-enhancing drugs, but the court examined only 22 cases as the number of witnesses would have meant the trial lasting too long.

The plaintiffs 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 gynaecological problems and even, in at least one case, birth deformities in one former athlete's baby. The presiding judge, Dirk Dickhaus, reading the court's verdict, said simply administering anabolic steroids was enough to support a charge of causing grievous 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.

Unlike in previous trials, the court invited some of the victims to recount their tragic stories. Among those testifying was Andreas Krieger, a former female shot-putter who was transformed into a man by the steroids pumped into her body. Krieger suffered a series of crippling ailments and mental breakdown, and felt compelled to have a sex-change operation.

The court heard from 30 former athletes, from women who spoke of sprouting beards, of giving birth to deformed children, and of crippled lives. Ewald, who reigned over the sports establishment of his country in the golden years between 1961 and 1988, had given the order to turn the country into a sporting superpower. Höppner developed the "Special Measures" - a euphemism for a programme of systematic doping.

The sentences handed out yesterday were the toughest in the history of trials of East German officials on doping charges. Other doctors and coaches have already been tried but none had received more than a 15-month suspended term. No officials as senior as Ewald and Höppner have stood trial.

* The Brazilian sprinter Sanderlei Parrela, the silver medallist behind Michael Johnson in the 400 metres at last year's world championships, has tested positive for the banned steroid norandrosterone, after the Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix meeting on 14 May.

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