Former East German athletes angry over doping confessions

Former East German track-and-field stars insist there is a "cover-up" conspiracy after five athletics coaches admitted being part of a doping program behind the former Iron Curtain.

Former East German athletes angry over doping confessions
A file photo of Heidi Krieger. Photo: DPA

With the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall set to be commemorated in November, the confession is an uncomfortable reminder for many in Germany of life in the GDR under the former communist regime.

It is estimated up to 9,000 East German athletes were doped under a program that ran from 1972 to 1989.

Many of the athletes were given the pills as minors and insist they had no idea the effect they would have in later life.

During that period, the GDR won 384 Olympic medals and finished second in the medal table at three of the four Summer Games in which its athletes took part.

But a number of athletes who were in the program later developed health problems, including cancer, ovarian cysts and liver dysfunction, while some gave birth to babies who were blind or had club feet.

Last week, the five former GDR coaches, who all currently coach Germany’s top track-and-field stars, confessed their part in the scheme which administered “pharmaceutical substances” to enhance athletes’ performances.

“We worked until 1990 as senior coaches in the GDR sports system and our prime task was to achieve international success, notably by winning medals,” said a statement issued by the five, all currently employed by the German Athletics Federation. “We felt legitimised by state policy, and any refusal of these practices would have resulted in our exclusion from competitive sports and loss of employment.”

The group – long-jump coach Rainer Pottel, discus coach Gerhard Boettcher, javelin coach Maria Ritschel, shot-put coach Klaus Schneider and heptathlon coach Klaus Baarck – have been told they will not lose their jobs.

Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble and Thomas Bach, the president of the German Olympic Sports Federation, both welcomed the coaches’ decision to come clean as a way for German sport to reconcile its past.

Bach has said their jobs are safe and they’ll be given another chance.

But several victims of the doping program have expressed their anger at the decision not to punish them.

Former athlete Andreas Krieger accused Schäuble, amongst other politicians, of a “transparent attempt to cover up two decades of lasting ignorance.”

Krieger knows the effects of the program first-hand.

Having been born Heidi Krieger in Berlin in 1966, he was first given steroids at the age of 13 and later competed as a woman shot-putter for East Germany going on to win gold at the 1986 European Championships.

He retired in 1990, but seven years later realised the steroids had left him with all the traits of a man, save for the genitals, and he underwent sex reassignment surgery before changing his name to Andreas.

“Seeing that these people can simply buy themselves out of their past with this statement, I can only speak of a grave violation of moral principles,” Kreiger told German broadcaster ARD.

In 2000, both Krieger and Ines Geipel, a former top GDR sprinter, gave evidence against Manfred Ewald and Manfred Hoeppner, who led the East German doping program, which led to both men being convicted.

Now Geipel, a former world record holder in the 4×100-metre relay, says the quintet’s confession amounts to nothing more than a “union for nodders.”

“It is not only a fatal act, but an act of political perversion,” she said.

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Nurse weeps as tells German court of her blood doping role

A nurse, one of the co-defendants in the trial of a German sports doctor accused of masterminding an international blood-doping network, described on Friday how she helped athletes dope with illicit blood transfusions.

Nurse weeps as tells German court of her blood doping role
Mark Schmidt talks to his lawyer in court. Photo: Peter Kneffel/AFP
Sports physician Mark Schmidt, 42, and four co-defendants who allegedly aided him, stand trial in Munich accused of helping at least two dozen athletes undergo blood transfusions to boost performance.
So far, 23 athletes — mainly skiers and cyclists — from eight countries are known to be involved.
If found guilty, Schmidt and his co-defendants face jail for up to 10 years under anti-doping legislation introduced in Germany in 2015.
One of the accused, named only as Diana S., told the court how she first helped Schmidt in December 2017 when she travelled to Dobbiaco, Italy, to administer a blood transfusion before a skiing competition.
Blood doping is aimed at boosting the number of red blood cells, which allows the body to transport more oxygen to muscles, thereby increasing stamina and performance.
“It was about transportation, blood and athletes, but at first I didn't know what was behind it,” she is quoted as saying by the German media.   
“The treatments were always such that before the race the blood was taken in and after the races, the blood came out.”
She claimed to have been given precise instructions “via WhatsApp or by phone calls” where to go, which car to take, who to treat and how much blood to take or inject.
The trained nurse, who often sobbed while speaking, was told to dispose the bags of used blood on her way home after the “treatments”.
The single mother of three said she was motivated to earn extra money, having been told she would earn 200 euros ($237) per day.
At one point, she claims she told Schmidt that she wanted to stop.
“I told him that I was too agitated and too scared” to keep doing the clandestine work, because a sense of “panic travelled with me”, but Schmidt convinced her to stay involved. “It is also true that I simply had a shortage of money.”
Schmidt is alleged to have helped skiers who competed at both the 2014 and 2018 Winter Olympics and cyclists who raced at the 2016 Rio summer Olympics, as well as the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
He was arrested in Germany as part of Operation “Aderlass” — or “blood letting” in German — which involved raids at the Nordic world skiing championships in Seefeld, Austria in February 2019.
A verdict in the trial is expected by late December.