Doping in East Germany

The German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly known as East Germany (German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) conducted a decades-long program of coercive administration and distribution of performance-enhancing drugs, such as testosterone and other anabolic steroids to its elite athletes for the purpose of bolstering the communist state's image and prestige by winning medals in international championships (such as the Olympics), known officially as State Plan 14.25. The drug regimens, given either with or without the knowledge of the athletes, resulted in victories in international competitions, including the Olympic Games. East Germany had been a pioneering state in doping, so much that it was considered to be the inventor of doping.

Systematic doping of athletes ended with the fall of communism in East Germany in 1989, before German reunification a year later. Many former athletes suffer from health problems related to steroid consumption.


East Germany closed itself to the sporting world in May 1965. East Germany was a Marxist–Leninist state in a time where the right and left wing political powers of the world constantly vied for supremacy (such as the Space Race) politically, economically and militarily. This desire to promote left wing ideologies mixed with advancements in medicine led the GDR to use their athletes as propaganda tool. The politicization of sport became a central theme for world powers following the end of the Second World War. International competitions like the Olympics, World Cup and such began to lose its athletic reputation. Incredible media attention, financial support and national reputations are all at stake. These commercial aspects coupled with the egos of nations having recently gone to war with each other meant that the sporting competitions amongst them would offer a chance to demonstrate which country was superior.

Not only was sport used as propaganda to achieve international prominence, it was also used on the home front “the political use of sport has ranged from attempting to reduce crime levels, stimulate ‘social capital’ and promote cohesion among disadvantaged groups. Benefits claimed for sport range from fighting obesity – and hence reducing the burden on the National Health Service”.[1] Socialist East Germany’s use of sport is similar to use of the Italian National Football team in Fascist Italy during the reign of Benito Mussolini[2] or Nationalist Germany’s use of the 1936 Olympics during the reign of Hitler. These men understood sports are more than athletics to the public it is a “cultural institution in society and it plays an important role in many citizen’s lives”.[1]

The difference between East Germany and the two aforementioned countries is the incredible uses of science to aid their push for dominance. The origin for sports culture in the GDR can be found following the war when its people were poor, malnourished, unhealthy and in need of guidance. With most fitness centers destroyed in the air bombing campaigns and most equipment taken by the Soviets during their invasion of Germany, the government decided to create the DSA (Deutscher Sportausschuss), which translates to the German sports committee.[3] The Left wing policies of East Germany meant that every citizen was equal and expected to give back to the state. The results of the GDR were an immense success “Not until 1964, In Tokyo, did East German participants win more medals than their Western team colleagues.

Four years later, in Mexico City, the GDR, entering for the first time as a separate team, surpassed the FRG medal count. This was repeated on ‘enemy territory at the 1972 Munich Games; subsequently, the GDR never fell below third in the unofficial rankings. The total medal count of GDR participants at the Winter and Summer Olympics from 1956 to 1988 amounted to 203 gold, 192 silver and 177 bronze”.[4] Most children would compete in youth sport centers and be scouted by the government, which resulted in the best prospects being taken for the purpose of intense Olympic training. These children were expected to deliver great victories and the state was willing to use anything at its disposal to ensure that. The advances in medicine and science meant that use of steroids, amphetamines, human growth hormones and blood boosting were common practice behind the scenes in training centers for professional athletes.

The results were great for East Germany but absolutely devastating for the athletes involved: “While figures cannot be precise, the state inspired doping program affected perhaps as many as 10,000 athletes. Not only was cheating at the center of the program but the abuse of the athletes’ health was too. Female athletes, including adolescents, experienced virilisation symptoms and possibly as many as 1,000 sportsmen and women suffered serious and lasting physical and psychological damage”.[5]

While the doping worked in achieving victories for the state and advancing a small nation to prominence on the world stage many concerns remain. All victories by East German athletes are tainted due to the widespread use of drugs and many former doctors and former athletes struggling with the side effects are bringing sports directors to court. The legacy of East German sport outlasted the country.[6] In 1977 the shot-putter Ilona Slupianek, who weighed 93 kg (205 lb), tested positive for anabolic steroids at the European Cup meeting in Helsinki. At the same time, the Kreischa testing laboratory near Dresden passed into government control, which was reputed to make around 12,000 tests a year on East German athletes but without any being penalised.[6]

The International Amateur Athletics Federation suspended Slupianek for 12 months, a penalty that ended two days before the European championships in Prague. In the reverse of what the IAAF hoped, sending her home to East Germany meant she was free to train unchecked with anabolic steroids, if she wanted to, and then compete for another gold medal, which indeed she won.

After the Slupianek affair, East German athletes were secretly tested before they left the country. Those who tested positive were removed from international competition. Usually, such withdrawals were temporary as they were intended to serve less as punishment as to protect both the athlete and the East German team from international sanction. Ostensibly, the media would usually be informed that the withdrawal was due to an injury sustained in training. If the athlete was being doped in secret (as was often the case), their doctor would usually be ordered to fabricate a medical condition so as to justify the withdrawal to the athlete. The results of East Germany's internal drug tests were never made public - almost nothing emerged from the East German sports schools and laboratories. A rare exception was the visit by the sports writer and former athlete, Doug Gilbert of the Edmonton Sun, who said:

Dr (Heinz) Wuschech knows more about anabolic steroids than any doctor I have ever met, and yet he cannot discuss them openly any more than Geoff Capes or Mac Wilkins can openly discuss them in the current climate of amateur sports regulation. What I did learn in East Germany was that they feel there is little danger from anabolica, as they call it, when the athletes are kept on strictly monitored programmes. Although the extremely dangerous side-effects are admitted, they are statistically no more likely to occur than side-effects from the birth control pill. If, that is, programmes are constantly medically monitored as to dosage.[7]

Other reports came from the occasional athlete who fled to the West. There were 15 between 1976 and 1979. One, the ski-jumper Hans Georg Aschenbach, said: "Long-distance skiers start having injections to their knees from the age 14 because of their intensive training."[6] He said: "For every Olympic champion, there at least 350 invalids. There are gymnasts among the girls who have to wear corsets from the age of 18 because their spine and their ligaments have become so worn... There are young people so worn out by the intensive training that they come out of it mentally blank [lessivés - washed out], which is even more painful than a deformed spine."[8]

Then on 26 August 1993, after the former GDR had disbanded itself to accede to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1990, the records were opened and the evidence was there that the Stasi, the GDR state secret police, supervised systematic doping of East German athletes from 1971 until reunification in 1990. Doping existed in other countries, both communist and capitalist, says expert Jean-Pierre de Mondenard, but the difference with East Germany was that it was a state policy.[9]

The Sportvereinigung Dynamo (English: Sport Club Dynamo)[10] was especially singled out as a center for doping in the former East Germany.[11] Many former club officials and some athletes found themselves charged after the dissolution of the country. A special page on the internet was created by doping victims trying to gain justice and compensation, listing people involved in doping in the GDR.[12]

State-endorsed doping began with the Cold War when every eastern bloc gold was an ideological victory. From 1974, Manfred Ewald, the head of the GDR's sports federation, imposed blanket doping. At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the country of 17 million collected nine gold medals. Four years later the total was 20 and in 1976 it doubled again to 40.[13] Ewald was quoted as having told coaches, "They're still so young and don't have to know everything." He was given a 22-month suspended sentence, to the outrage of his victims.[14]

Often, doping was carried out without the knowledge of the athletes, some of them as young as ten years of age. It is estimated that around 10,000 former athletes bear the physical and mental scars of years of drug abuse,[15] one of them is Rica Reinisch, a triple Olympic champion and world record-setter at the Moscow Games in 1980, has since suffered numerous miscarriages and recurring ovarian cysts.

Two former Dynamo Berlin club doctors, Dieter Binus, chief of the national women's team from 1976 to 80, and Bernd Pansold, in charge of the sports medicine centre in East-Berlin, were committed for trial for allegedly supplying 19 teenagers with illegal substances.[16] Binus was sentenced in August,[17] Pansold in December 1998 after both being found guilty of administering hormones to underage female athletes from 1975 to 1984.[18]

Virtually no East German athlete ever failed an official drugs test, though Stasi files show that many did, indeed, produce positive tests at Kreischa, the Saxon laboratory (German:Zentrales Dopingkontroll-Labor des Sportmedizinischen Dienstes) that was at the time approved by the International Olympic Committee,[19] now called the Institute of Doping Analysis and Sports Biochemistry (IDAS).[20]

In 2005, fifteen years after the end of the GDR, the manufacturer of the drugs in former East Germany, Jenapharm, still finds itself involved in numerous lawsuits from doping victims, being sued by almost 200 former athletes.[21]

Former Sport Club Dynamo athletes who publicly admitted to doping, accusing their coaches:[22]

Former Sport Club Dynamo athletes disqualified for doping:

Based on the admission by Pollack, the United States Olympic Committee asked for the redistribution of gold medals won in the 1976 Summer Olympics.[24] Despite court rulings in Germany that substantiate claims of systematic doping by some East German swimmers, the IOC executive board announced that it has no intention of revising the Olympic record books. In rejecting the American petition on behalf of its women's medley relay team in Montreal and a similar petition from the British Olympic Association on behalf of Sharron Davies, the IOC made it clear that it wanted to discourage any such appeals in the future.[25]


In 1991 Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke, two opponents of the doping, published several theses which had been drafted former researchers in the GDR doping products which were at the Military Medical Academy Bad Saarow. Based on this work, in their book (translated from German as 'Doping Documents") they were able to reconstruct the practice of doping as it was organized by the State on many great athletes from the GDR, including Marita Koch and Heike Drechsler, who have denied the allegations. Brigitte Berendonk survived a 1993 lawsuit where Drechsler accused her of lying. The lawsuit essentially validates the book.[26][27]

Significant cases

Renate Neufeld

In 1977, one of East Germany's best sprinters, Renate Neufeld, fled to the West with the Bulgarian she later married. A year later she said that she had been told to take drugs supplied by coaches while training to represent East Germany in the 1980 Olympic Games.

At 17, I joined the East Berlin Sports Institute. My speciality was the 80m hurdles. We swore that we would never speak to anyone about our training methods, including our parents. The training was very hard. We were all watched. We signed a register each time we left for dormitory and we had to say where we were going and what time we would return. One day, my trainer, Günter Clam, advised me to take pills to improve my performance: I was running 200m in 24 seconds. My trainer told me the pills were vitamins, but I soon had cramps in my legs, my voice became gruff and sometimes I couldn't talk any more. Then I started to grow a moustache and my periods stopped. I then refused to take these pills. One morning in October 1977, the secret police took me at 7am and questioned me about my refusal to take pills prescribed by the trainer. I then decided to flee, with my fiancé.[28][29]

She brought with her to the West grey tablets and green powder she said had been given to her, to members of her club, and to other athletes. The West German doping analyst Manfred Donike reportedly identified them as anabolic steroids. She said she stayed quiet for a year for the sake of her family. But when her father then lost his job and her sister was expelled from her handball club, she decided to tell her story.[28]

Andreas Krieger

Andreas Krieger, then known as Heidi Krieger, competed as a woman in the East German athletics team, winning the gold medal for shot put in the 1986 European Championships in Athletics.

From the age of 16 onward, Krieger was systematically doped with anabolic steroids, which have significant androgenic effects on the body. She had already had doubts about her gender identity, and the chemical changes resulting from the steroids only exacerbated them.[30] In 1997, some years after retirement, Krieger underwent sex reassignment surgery and changed his name to Andreas.

At the trial of Manfred Ewald, leader of the East German sports program and president of his East Germany's Olympic committee and Manfred Hoeppner, East German medical director in Berlin in 2000, Krieger testified that the drugs she had been given had contributed to her trans-sexuality.

See also


  1. 1 2 Sport Under Communism: Behind the East German ‘Miracle’, p.16
  2. nverting the Pyramid, Chapter 10
  3. Sport Under Communism: Behind the East German ‘Miracle’, p.28
  4. Sport Under Communism: Behind the East German ‘Miracle’, p.29
  5. Sport Under Communism: Behind the East German ‘Miracle’, p.84
  6. 1 2 3 Dr Jean-Pierre de Mondenard (2000). Dopage : L'imposture des performances. Wilmette, Ill: Chiron. ISBN 2-7027-0639-8.
  7. Cited Woodland, Les: Dope, the use of drugs in sport, David and Charles, UK, 1980
  8. Le Figaro, France, 19 January 1989
  9. "Sports Doping Statistics Reach Plateau in Germany". Deutsche Welle. 26 February 2003. Retrieved 2007-08-04.
  10. Pain And Injury in Sport: Social And Ethical Analysis, Section III, Chapter 7, Page 111, by Sigmund Loland, Berit Skirstad, Ivan Waddington, Published by Routledge in 2006, ASIN: B000OI0HZG
  11. "Dynamo Liste (in German)". September 2002. Archived from the original on 20 April 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
  12. "Dynamo Liste: Die Täter (in German)". September 2002. Archived from the original on 24 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  13. "Jenapharm says drugs were legal". ESPN. 28 April 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  14. "Obituary: Manfred Ewald". The Independent. 25 October 2002. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  15. "GDR athletes sue over steroid damage". BBC News Europe. 13 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  16. "New doping charges against East German doctors". BBC News. 25 November 1997. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  17. "East German coaches fined over doping". BBC News. 31 August 1998. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  18. "Doping of underage athletes in the former GDR (in German)". Schwimmverein Limmat Zürich. 23 March 2000. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
  19. "Drug claim could be a bitter pill". Times Online. 2 March 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
  20. "Accredited Laboratories". World Anti-Doping Agency. January 2004. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
  21. Harding, Luke (1 November 2005). "Forgotten victims of East German doping take their battle to court". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  22. "Drugs update". Sports Publications. July 1998. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  23. "1977: Here comes Mr. Doping". European Cup - Milan 2007. 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  24. Longman, Jere (25 October 1998). "OLYMPICS; U.S. Seeks Redress for 1976 Doping In Olympics". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  25. "Despite Doping, Olympic Medals Stand". International Herald Tribune. 16 December 1998. Archived from the original on 26 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
  26. ↑ Brigitte Berendonk: Doping documents - From Research to commit fraud. Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-540-53742-2
  27. ↑ Cf Uwe Mueller / Grit Hartman: Forward and forget it! Kader, spies and accomplices - The dangerous legacy of the SED dictatorship, Berlin 2009, p. 215
  28. 1 2 Sport Information Dienst, W Germany, December 1978
  29. Costelle D, Berlioux M, Histoires des Jeux Olympiques, Larousse, France, 1980
  30. Longman, Jere (26 January 2004). "DRUG TESTING; East German Steroids' Toll: 'They Killed Heidi'". The New York Times.

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