By Paul Geitner
May 2, BERLIN. After convicting East German coaches, doctors and other sports functionaries of systematically doping athletes for the glory of communism, prosecutors aimed their sights today at the men allegedly responsible for the top-secret program.
The longtime chief of East Germany's powerhouse Olympics program, Manfred Ewald, went on trial on charges stemming from years of state-sponsored doping of female athletes, some as young as 11, without their consent or even knowledge.
In opening statements, prosecutors said Ewald dismissed objections raised by scientists about possible health risks, accusing them of "cowardice." According to the indictment, Ewald told his underlings that "everything is allowed" to reach the desired performance levels.
Ewald and his former medical director, Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, are charged with 142 counts of being an accessory to causing bodily harm – the side effects of performance-enhancing drugs, ranging from excessive body hair and deep voices to liver and kidney problems.
The trial was initially scheduled to last only one day, but presiding Judge Dirk Dickhaus said more sessions would be held to hear testimony from Hoeppner and several former athletes, 20 of whom have joined the case as co-plaintiffs. Ewald has not indicated he would take the stand.
The trial was adjourned after two hours until Friday.
Ewald and Hoeppner are the highest-ranking officials to face trial since Berlin prosecutors filed the first charges in 1997, using documents and other evidence found in once-secret East German government files after German unification.
Despite widespread suspicions about East German athletes over the years, few were ever caught in drug tests; files showed East German scientists also worked on avoiding detection.
But the results of the doping program that began in the 1970s were dramatic: tiny East Germany, with less than 17 million people, went from 20 gold medals in 1972 to an astounding 40 at the Montreal games in 1976. East Germans won 11 of 13 events in women's swimming in 1976 and again in 1980.
Ewald, now 73, allegedly carried the main responsibility for the state-sponsored drug program. A member of the communist party's central committee since 1963, he was president of East Germany's sports federation from 1961-88 and of its National Olympics Committee from 1973 until the country ceased to exist in 1990.
According to the indictment, he and Hoeppner believed anabolic steroids were needed to improve the performance of their female athletes. They developed the system of administering anabolic steroids either through injections or giving little blue pills to the athletes – many of them still minors. They and their parents were told they were vitamins.
"They're still so young and don't have to know everything," Ewald allegedly told his staff, according to prosecutor Klaus-Heinrich Debes.
Hoeppner, now 66, allegedly ordered the drugs himself and distributed them to the sports doctors and coaches.
The two men also collected information about the results of the hormone preparations, including the resulting side effects, according to the indictment. According to one media report, Hoeppner suggested to Ewald in 1977 not to let female athletes who'd developed especially deep voices do television interviews anymore.
Prosecutors say many of the athletes still suffer from side effects, including menstrual and gynecological problems and the development of male characteristics, such as excessive body hair or muscles. Thirty-two former athletes have filed their own complaints with the court.
Among the former swimmers in court today were Olympic gold medalists Christiane Knacke and Carola Nitschke, world champion Birgit Meinecke and European champions Ricka Reinisch and Karen Koenig. European track champion Christine Wachtel also attended.
Outside the court, Koenig said she expected an apology from Ewald, but would like more.
"I really hope for a prison term for Ewald, but there certainly won't be one," she said, noting that none of the almost 20 former East German sports officials convicted have served time behind bars.
In the harshest sentence so far, the former chief doctor of East Germany's swim team, Lothar Kipke, was convicted in January on 58 counts of causing bodily harm. He was fined $3,400 and received a 15-month suspended jail sentence to be served only if he violates probation.