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.