The drug victims: Medals tainted by revelations of East German abuse

As the East Germans produced a stream of sporting triumphs in the Seventies and Eighties, it was difficult not to wonder how many of their awesome performances were drug-assisted. Now we know that many were.

Recently, a number of British competitors denied Olympic, world, European, or Commonwealth glory by drug abusers have called for a reallocation of medals. However, as Mike Rowbottom reports, it is not as simple as that.

The news of suspected Chinese drug abuse now emanating from swimming's World Championships has struck a particularly chilling chord with Kathy Cook, Britain's leading sprinter of the 1980's. It is not hard to understand why.

Voices have been raised in recent weeks to rewrite the record books in the light of the latest evidence that, until its demise in 1990, East Germany ran a state-governed doping policy involving all its significant performers.

It was Cook's misfortune that her prime coincided with the prime years of the regime which turned a small country of 17 million people into the third-strongest sporting nation on earth behind the Soviet Union and the United States.

If one subtracts the performances of retrospectively implicated East Germans in Cook's races, you could argue she would have won at least another three major medals in her career. She would have been the European 200m champion in 1982 - when she took silver - and would have had two individual medals from the 1980 Olympics to add to the bronze she did win in the 400 metres at the Los Angeles Games of 1984.

No other British competitor, save perhaps the swimmer Sharron Davies, who lost out on the 1980 Olympic 400 metres medley title to a 17-year- old East German, appears to have been as harshly affected by the activities of the discredited GDR.

So the suspicion that more cheating might be underway on a huge and orchestrated scale lowered the spirits of the Olympian, who is now a 37-year-old mother of three and part-time teacher.

"When I heard about the latest Chinese incident, I thought to myself `Surely it isn't all happening again, with just a different set of people? It is just so depressing.'"

Perhaps the most depressing element of the unearthing of the old GDR methods is the horrifying realisation that drug-taking was systematic and state-controlled.

As a number of sportsmen and women from the former Communist state take out legal suits against their old coaches and doctors, claiming that drug- taking has damaged their health, fuller details of what was baldly known as State Plan 14.25 have been uncovered.

Professor Werner Franke, a molecular biologist appointed to investigate GDR methods by the German parliament, says he has found Stasi secret police files showing that "hundreds" of East German competitors who won titles were on drugs.

That claim has been given credence by testimonies from former competitors such as the shot putter Heidi Krieger, who says she was forced to undergo a sex-change after being fed huge doses of male hormones in anabolic steroids, and the swimmer Roland Schmidt, who claims he is one of many male athletes who have had to have breasts surgically removed.

These plaintiffs are the prime victims of the GDR doping regime, notwithstanding the understandable outrage or frustration of those whom they deprived of medals. What recompense they will gain from the legal suits they have taken out against their former coaches and doctors remains to be seen.

Any convictions would certainly increase the pressure on the International Olympic Committee to re-allocate medals. The precedent for doing this is already well established. Four years before Ben Johnson's Olympic 100 metres title passed to Carl Lewis following a positive drug test, Britain's Mike McLeod was promoted from bronze to silver medallist in the 10,000m at Los Angeles after Finland's Martti Vainio was found to have taken steroids.

But these decisions occurred after positive tests from the races themselves. As many East German competitors have testified, GDR athletes due to compete internationally were told when to stop taking their pills beforehand and tested to make sure no illegal traces remained in their bodies. If they showed up positive, they were told to withdraw because of injury.

The International Amateur Athletic Federation has already baulked at annulling GDR performances at past championships, not least because they have a six-year time limit on any such alteration.

Cook, who is married to the former British 400m runner Garry, sympathises with Davies' demand that she be awarded her rightful medal nearly 20 years after the event.

"I can fully understand how Sharon feels," she said. "Just like her, I have been thinking about the question a lot recently. You do wonder if things in your life might have been different if all this had come to light nearer the time.

"Garry and I talk about it when evidence comes out, and we say, jokingly, I was robbed. But I had my fair share of standing on the rostrum, and I think there is too much water under the bridge to change things now."

Cook's magnanimity is partly informed by simple logic. As she points out, if GDR performances are to be annulled, how does one legislate for all those wrongfully knocked out in the heats and semi-finals, and how can one say how they might have reacted to the challenge of continuing competition?

The other major factor which would militate against such draconian action is that it is too simplistic to believe that only GDR athletes were cheating. Sufficient doubts have been raised about the performances of Western athletes in the Olympics involving the GDR - in 1972, 76, 80 and 88 - for that position to be rendered ludicrous.

Anecdotal details of the East German drug regime have been around for several years. In 1989 Hans-Georg Aschenbach, an East German ski-jumping gold medallist at the 1976 Winter Olympics, claimed that he and other children enrolled in special sports schools had regularly been given pills without being told they contained steroids.

"Children were doped up without they or their parents knowing about it," he said.

Aschenbach, who defected to West Germany in 1988, said he subsequently learned from his older team-mates that the pills contained drugs. "We were forbidden to talk to anybody about them," he said. "Anyone who talked was dropped from the team."

Such a policy obviously did not prevent rumours from spreading fast. Cook knew a number of the East German sprinters throughout her 10-year career, which ended in 1987.

"Sometimes I would have to look at runners twice because their whole shape had completely changed," she said. "The most disturbing thing was the way some of the girls' voices had lowered."

For all her suspicions, though, the realisation of the scale of implied wrongdoing has come as a surprise. "The idea that the whole team was involved, lock, stock and barrel, is horrifying," she said. "Especially when you think that some of them were so young."

She was particularly disappointed to see evidence that Marita Koch was implicated in the drugs regime. Koch's 400m world record of 47.60sec - nearly two seconds faster than Cook's British record or 49.42 - has stood since 1985.

"Marita was a role model to me," Cook said. "She was a really nice person, and she had this charisma. The crowd would go silent because she was so fast. She just destroyed fields. I remember watching on television when she set her world record and it left me speechless."

Now Cook finds there is almost nothing to be said. "I don't know how I would feel if I ever saw her again," she said. "I've no particular wish to. I feel a mixture of sadness and anger about the whole thing."

But the rival with whom Cook feels most aggrieved is Canada's Angela Taylor, later Issajenko, who beat her to the 1986 Commonwealth Games 200m title and admitted three years later to having taken drugs since the 1980 Olympics.

"I feel angrier about what Angela did because she chose to go down that track herself," Cook said. "It seems a lot of the East German athletes were taken as youngsters and told what to do without always being given the facts. It is a horrific situation, but you can have more sympathy for people involved in it.

"One of the saddest things is that those East German athletes were never able to show how good they really were without the help of drugs. Their whole careers were flawed.

"I don't know how you could win a race knowing that you had cheated and gain any satisfaction from it. Once the initial excitement was over, the lap of honour and the medal ceremony, I don't think I could live with knowing that I had cheated. It's the way you are made, I suppose."

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
News
science
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Plans to decriminalise non-payment of television licence fees would cost the BBC £500m according to estimates drawn up within the Corporation
people
News
people
Life & Style
The new low cost smartphone of Motorola, 'Motorola Moto G', is displayed in Sao Paulo, Brazil on November 13, 2013. The smartphone, with dimensions 65.9mm W x 129.9mm H x 6.0 - 11.6mm D is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with quad-core 1,2 GHz CPU, a 4.5-inch display and Android Operating System 4.3 and a suggested price of $ 179 USD.
techData assessing smartphones has revealed tens of millions of phones are at risk of being harvested
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Pare as Megan Draper and Jon Hamm as the troubled, melancholy Don Draper
tvAnd six other questions we hope Mad Men series seven will answer
Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?