Legal Deadline Passes, But It's Not Too Late To Undo East German Legacy -- October 26, 2000
By Craig Lord
JUST 24 hours after Sydney bid farewell to the 2000 Olympic Games in a celebratory flood of fireworks, color and noise, a far darker chapter in Olympic history came to a much quieter close, one that will left 384 medals forever tainted.
At midnight on Monday, October 2, all pending cases against coaches, doctors and officials accused of bodily harm for their role in East Germany’s state-run doping program were closed for good. Many have now escaped a legal process that had much more to do with losing face and a few thousand marks than being punished seriously, but hundreds of others have faced their victims across courtrooms crowded with media and memories of a bygone "golden" era.
The legacy of the 144 gold, 120 silver and 120 bronze
Olympic medals "won" by East Germans at the Games of
1972, 1976, 1980 and 1988 (the Games of 1984 were
boycotted) is one of disabled children, sex changes,
severe ill-health and a generation of athletes, swimmers,rowers and others cheated out of their true place in sports history. The sensations experienced by the winner on his or her day have been denied to those who finished behind East Germans.
Nor are the "losers" ever likely to get any official
recognition of what should have been their greatest
moments. FINA, swimming’s global authority, is a case in point. In the pool, East German women won 32 out of
a possible 43 gold medals at the 1976, 1980 and 1988
Games. It was a record rewarded with three FINA Prizes (of Eminence), the top honor that swimming gives for
services to the sport.
FINA said that it would wait until the legal cases in
Germany had concluded before making a decision on the
prizes given to Kornelia Ender in 1975, the GDR’s
swimming federation in 1986 and Kristin Otto in
1988. The wait is over.
But when asked by swiminfo what he intended to do
about those prizes, Mustapha Larfaoui, the president of
FINA, said that swimming had to take its cue from the
International Olympic Committee, which had decided
to leave the results and medals standing.
The FINA prizes, however, were merits over and above
that, awards that could surely now be taken away,
particularly in the case of the 1986 honor going to the
GDR system. Was a gesture to the victims not now
possible? Larfaoui stared into the distance for what
seemed an eternity, then murmured: "We will have to
think more about this - but history is history."
That does not stop it being rewritten, of course: in its wisdom and hunger for success, the German Olympic
Committee listed every East German result as its own in the national team handbook for the Sydney Games,
even, pathetically, those gained in Moscow 1980 when
West Germany did not attend because of the boycott.
A spokesman for the Germans in Sydney said: "Well, none
of them ever tested positive and we were different but
now we are all the same." Perhaps he hadn’t read the
testimony from the courts in which confirmation that the Kreischa, the IOC-approved laboratory, had tested
every East German before he or she ventured beyond the Berlin Wall to ensure they tested "clean."
Perhaps he hadn’t read the stories of the women who
paraded their disabled offspring into court and
told of the terrible internal scars that they will carry through what, for some, will be shortened lives.
Perhaps he had not noticed Rica Reinisch, a triple
champion in 1980, revealing that she had suffered
five miscarriages and suffers from recurring ovarian
cycsts, or the testimony of swimmer Catherine Menschner, who received male hormones from the age of 10 and has suffered permanent damage to her spine and
reproductive organs. Then there was shot and discus throwers Brigitte Michel and Birgit Boese, who were told that their reproductive organs were like those of a ten-year-old child.
On October 2, the German Olympic Committee, FINA and the IOC might just have thought it was time to show a
little more respect for the likes of Andreas Krieger, who was known as Heidi Krieger when she threw the shot in the days before the drugs forced her to undergo a sex change operation that left her, or him, suicidal.
And somebody might even have had the courage to speak
to the parents of Joerge Sievers, who was found dead at the bottom of a pool after suffering massive heart
failure during training. East German authorities informed the parents that their son had had a severe case of the "flu" and had drowned.They failed to mention the autopsy report that would be unveiled in court more than 20 years later. Among the list of horrors was a "severe thickening of the heart
chamber walls", an "acute infection of the spleen" and
"toxic-infectious damage of the liver."
The game of Cluedo was finally over; by the coaches
and doctors, at the pool, with banned and dangerous
substances. The Olympic spirit it was not.
Recently, John Leonard, Executive Director of the American Swimming Coaches Association, announced a campaign to remove all the East Germans who are honored in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. It is an idea whose time has come. FINA should reconsider its policy of inaction.