The Day Kornelia Ender Set The First Of 29 World Records As GDR’s First Wundermädchen

Kornelia Ender - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord/NTCAL Archive

Today is the 47th anniversary of the first of Kornelia Ender‘s 29 World Records in just four years. She was 14 years old and goes down in history as the first Wundermädchen of the German Democratic Republic‘s medals machine in swimming.

Ender set a staggering 23 solo world records in the pool between 1973 and 1976. In 2:23.01 over 200m medley in East Berlin, the 14-year-old took down the 2:23.07 world record in which Shane Gould (AUS) had claimed one of three gold and five medals in all at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. Gould’s tally remains the record for solo scores in Olympic waters at a single Games among women.

Ender’s world mark was the start of a new era and a dark chapter of swimming history.

The next day, on April 14, 1973, Ender would take down the 100m butterfly world record, her 1:03.05 effort inside the 1:03.34 in which Japan’s Mayumi Aoki had claimed Olympic gold in Munich the year before.

Ender was 1973 sportswoman of the year in the GDR, her husband-to-be Roland Matthes the sportsman of the year. Archive documents show two charts collated by GDR sports authorities that year. One is the popular vote for the sportspeople of the year. Matthes won the votes with 342,558 votes over the 78,582 amassed for nearest rival Hans-Georg Achenbach who in 1976 would become Olympic ski jumping champion. After he escaped from the GDR in 1988, Achenbach exposed the state’s systematic doping of athletes on the cusp of the discovery of secret-police files that confirmed the details of the Sporting Crime of the 20th Century.


Kornelia Ender and Roland Matthes, GDR sportspeople of the year in 1973 – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord/NTCAL Archive

In the women’s votes, Ender amassed 236,181 votes to keep at bay the 171,800 votes of Renate Strecher (nee Meissner), the 1972 100m and 200m Olympic sprint track champion of 1972.

The other chart shows the 1973 points league for a domestic swimming competition with a twist. The league measured the combined times of the swimmers in 100m on all strokes and the 200m medley in club derbies. Kornelia Ender topped the women’s table, her times 59.02 on freestyle, 1:25.28 on breaststroke, 1:04.97 on butterfly, 1:07.73 on backstroke and a 2:24.91 in the 200m medley (in training).

By the time her career ended in 1976, she had taken the 100m freestyle world record down, in 10 leaps, from 58.25 in July 1973 to 55.65 for Olympic gold in Montreal; her 100m back World record in 1976 stood at 1:01.62; her breaststroke was down to a 1:15; her 100m butterfly World record stood at 1:00.13; and her 200 IM world record was a 2:17.14, which would almost certainly have resulted in a fifth gold and sixth medal at the 1976 Olympics had the 200 IM not been removed form the program that year.

Tallies That Lasted The Test Of Time … Under A Cloud

Like Gould, Ender would notch up tallies to last the test of time, too. In Munich, Ender was just 13 when she claimed silver in the 200m medley 0.52sec behind Gould. Lynn Vidali, of the United States, had led by more than a second at the last turn but Gould, a freestyle ace who claimed world records in all freestyle distance from 100m to 1500m in her career, caught the American with 20m to go and never looked back.

The Australian raced in lane 2, Vidali in 5, Ender in lane 4. The East German also ploughed past Vidali with a fast last lap. The silver would be the first of eight Olympic medals, two more silvers won in relays at Munich four years out from four golds and a silver won in a controversy soaked women’s meet at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

Ender was hand-picked as a potential superstar of sport when she was six years old, her ankles and wrists among measures taken to assess how tall and long in limb she might become and what sports were best suited to those measures.

Book cover Brigitte Berendonk - Von Der Forschung Zum Betrug dopingberendonkbookGDR

Brigitte Berendonk – Von Der Forschung Zum Betrug, the book that blew the lid on the GDR’s State Plan 14:25 systematic doping and the controlling politics behind it is all too relevant 30 years on

Her silver medals at Munich 1972 at 13 set up a narrative of an extraordinary talent on the way to supremacy – and coincided with the use of systematic doping under State Plan 14:25. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989, an estimated 10,000 athletes across all sports had been doped by their guardians.

Records show that systematic use of performance-enhancing drugs, the use of Oral-Turinabol and other substances designed to boost testosterone and cause androgenisation of women athletes, underpinned the GDR’s results between 1973 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Some substances trialled on domestic ‘guinea-pig’ swimmers who never made it to international waters had not been put through full clinical trials nor tested on laboratory animals before being fed to athletes.

When Ender became suspicious of what she was being given (see archive entry below), she refused to take chlorodehydromethyltestosterone and in 1977 she was barred from further participation in the GDR swim program. In that era, FINA gave honours to several GDR swimming officials, including Dr Lothar Kipke, a member of the international federation’s medical commission who behind the Wall was reported by his Stasi (secret police) watchers for the brutality with which he rammed syringes into the backsides of under-aged girls. To this day, Kipke, who in 1999 was criminally convicted of abuse of underaged athletes, retains his FINA Pin for services to swimming. 

Kornelia Ender’s Bull Run


Kornelia Ender – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord/NTCLAL Archive

Of the 29 world records that she established between 1973 and 1976, 6 fell in relays, 14 on freestyle, 1 on backstroke, 6 on butterfly and 2 on medley. Only breaststroke escaped. It is a scope of World records unparalleled in swimming history.

At the helm of it all was Kornelia Ender’s stunning progress over 100m freestyle: from the 58.25 clocked on July 13, 1975, Ender set 10 world records, becoming the first woman to break 58, 57 and 56 seconds, the 55.65 at which she left the mark in Montreal on July 19, 1976 marking a 2.85sec gain on the clock since Gould’s 58.5 in 1972.

There has never been a leap in standards like it.  It took 14 years for Dawn Fraser and Gould to achieve that progress before Ender.

On July 22 at the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976, Ender won the 100m butterfly and 200m freestyle titles (her triumph also marked the biggest winning margin in history) within 27 minutes of each other, both in world-record time. Born in Halle, Ender won four world titles and a silver at each of the 1973 and 1975 world championships.

Belgrade 1973 World Titles

Kornelia Ender topped the women’s competition at the inaugural World Championships in Belgrade with four golds and a silver. In the 100m freestyle, she took down her own world record in the heats (57.61) and final (57.54); in the 4x100m freestyle with Andrea Eife, Helge Hubner and Sylvia Eichner, Ender claimed another world record and gold, in 3:52.45, wiping almost three seconds off the global standard set the year by the USA for Munich 1972 gold; in the 4x100m medley, Ender was joined by Ulrike Richter, Renate Vogel and Rosemarie Kother for a World record of 4:16.84, four seconds inside the global mark set by the USA for Olympic gold the year before.

Ender, Richter, Vogel and Kother were all world record holders in their solo events, while in the 200m medley, Ender was beat by teammate Andrea Hubner, who claimed gold in a World record of 2:20.51, 2.5sec inside the world records of Gould in 1972 and then Ender in 1973.

Ender took silver in 2:21.21. Those swims were part of a wave of dominance, in terms of advances in the world records, margins of victory over the rest of the world and winningness across almost all events. At Belgrade 1973, Ender’s five medals contributed to a GDR tally of 10 golds, five silvers and three bronzes. Together with the 100 and 200m backstroke titles claimed by Roland Matthes, the GDR stunned the swimming world by topping the medals table with one gold more than the USA.

The Fastest Marriage In Swim History

When Ender wed Roland Matthes, quadruple Olympic backstroke champion of 1968 and 1972, in 1978, the event was described as “the world’s fastest marriage”. It lasted four years. Ender would later marry Steffen Grummt, who competed for the GDR in bobsleigh.

Their daughter Francesca is the offspring of parents who boast eight gold, six silver and two bronze medals at the Olympic Games; 11 gold, three silver and 1 bronze medal at world championships; and 49 world records. In the early 1990s confirmation of a secret state-run doping programme tainted GDR results from 1973 to the collapse of the republic from November 1989.

Ender is now 61. On the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, she revealed that in 1989, she had almost escaped to the west through Hungary but the authorities found out and she and her family were turned back. Later it would emerge that it was her own father who had informed the authorities of his daughter’s attempts to find a new life in the West.

After the fall of the Wall, Ender became a physiotherapist and ran a successful practice for 25 years.

Matthes, Olympic champion over 100 and 200m at the 1968 and 1972 Games, passed away after a short, acute illness late last year, our obituary to the most decorated backstroke swimmer in history complimented by a moving tribute from John Naber, the double Olympic backstroke champion on Montreal 1976 who ended the era of Matthes dominance.

In 1991, I was the first journalist to interview Ender after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ender was delightful, the Grummt family fine hosts during several hours at their home on a day I will never forget. Here is an edited extract from the feature published in The Times, London, on December 7, 1991:


What suited the GDR – and how Brigitte Berendonk told the story of systematic doping and State Research Plan 14:25 – Main Photo Courtesy: NT Archive/Craig Lord

Ignorance is bliss

Kornelia Ender speaks for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall and revelations that her coaches gave her performance-enhancing drugs.

The bliss of ignorance, it seems, can survive even the most thought-provoking revelations. For Kornelia Grummt, who gained her reputation as Kornelia Ender, a statement this week by 20 former East German coaches that swimmers took performance-enhancing drugs, means looking back more in sadness than in anger.

In the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Ender, then aged 18, won four gold medals to add to her eight world titles, four other Olympic medals and four European titles. Today, from her comfortable home in Schornsheim, a village in southwest Germany, she says she never knew that she was being given drugs to help her, but acknowledges that she was injected with substances.

The coaches’ statement came at the start of a week in which Germany, at Gelsenkirchen, hosts the first European sprint championships, and brings the success of the first wundermadchen of the East German sports machine sharply back into focus.

Ender was the experiment that went right, a role model for subsequent German generations. She was chosen by a state talent scout at the age of ten as the girl who would become the fastest woman sprint swimmer in the world; between 1973 and 1976, she set the world record at 100 metres freestyle ten times (a record in itself, one more than Dawn Fraser), lowering the time from 58.25sec to 55.65sec, and retired unbeaten.

Before her arrival, it took ten years for the world record to improve just under a second and in the 15 years since 1976 the record has been reduced by only 0.92sec each of the four times by an East German, the holder being Kristin Otto, who won six Olympic gold medals the year before the Berlin Wall crumbled.

This year, Ender’s time would have won the European title and placed her third in the world. The town of Halle housed the Child and Youth Sports School where Ender, at ten, was taken to board. From day one, the target was Olympic success. Ender spent two hours in the water twice a day and did one hour of land work each day, and was rewarded by an above-average lifestyle.

Caught up in the success of team and self, and believing that the “GDR system was right and good”, she says, in reference to drugs, she had “no knowledge, nor any way of knowing, that such a problem existed”. She adds:

“There was no mention of it and nobody spoke about it. It was possible that we were given things in our food and drink. We were fed by a special kitchen at the school but we didn’t know of anything. When I was very young, we were never given pills or injections.”

However, in 1975, as the pressure for success grew and training workloads increased to more than 18km (about 11 miles) a day in water, she said she was “astonished that I had grown so much. I put on eight kilos (about 18lb), but in muscle, not height”. Ender added:

“Now, after all this time, I still ask myself whether it could be possible they gave me things, because I remember being given injections during training and competition, but this was explained to me as being substances to help me regenerate and recuperate. It was natural to think this way because the distance swimmers had more injections than we did as sprinters.”


Kornelia Ender in 1973 – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord/NTCAL Archive

Of the coaches now speaking up and the doctors who may still be hiding, she says: “It’s very sad. The only losers in that are the athletes. It is easy for them to state these things now the finger of blame is pointed at us, not them, and we knew nothing of these things, they did. They deserve punishment. The medical men are the real guilty people. They know what they have done. When they gave us things to help us ‘regenerate’ we were never asked if we wanted it, it was just given.”

That sadness, she insists, does not detract from the joy that is still fresh in her memory of a swimming life in a system in which she strongly believed. The pressure to win translated into pressure to do as she was told after her retirement, failure to do so costing her the chance to revisit Montreal, at the invitation of the city, in 1986.

It also costs her her career. When Ender became suspicious of what she was being given, she refused to take chlorodehydromethyltestosterone and in 1977 she was barred from further participation in the GDR swim program.

But she denied her first marriage at 19 to Roland Matthes, the Olympic backstroke champion in 1968 and 1972, was arranged to create a “superswimmer”. The relationship, she says, was genuine and Francesca was born to the couple in 1978.

The adage that parents live their dreams through their children may be applied to the Grummt family, though the norm would be reversed for her husband Steffen Grummt, a bobsleighs for the GDR, and Kornelia, who says:

“I don’t pressure her to achieve what I did. I encourage her only to do the things she likes, the things she has talent for.”

Francesca and her sister, Tiffany, aged six, will have freedom of choice but not the kind of “advantages” bestowed on their mother.  Ender, who left the east soon after unification, is unperturbed. A good family life is all that counts, she says. (Craig Lord – 1991)

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2 years ago

A terrible era for drug cheating. They even documented their crimes which should be used to give retrospective disqualifications and reassignment of medals from 1976 and Moscow 1980.

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins 1988 too…

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Robbins

Paul Robbins I favour reconciliation in which those deprived are awarded medals without taking away the record of what happened and the recognition to underaged athletes who were victims of abuse not ‚cheats‘ … a 14-15 year old etc in that system would have had no knowledge nor choice and those who questioned were told ‚you don’t think rest of the world is cheating?‘ etc … the rogues are the likes of Kipke et al still honoured by FINA … where are the voices of ‚good folk‘ within Fina who have had decades to deal with this and get it done?

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Robbins

Craig Lord good point you make. A much better way to deal with it. I hope the ISL will set the standard and continue to refuse entry to athletes who have failed. I take your points Craig and hope this break can help the transvaluation of values in our sport. The one worrying me at the moment is the inappropriate use of TUEs and legal supplements that fall outside the spirit of the sporting ethos.

2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Robbins

Totally agree on the use of TUE’s they are out of control. Legal cheating ?

George Villarreal
2 years ago

The DDR women’s team certainly were given PED, and they cheated. However, let’s remember that top times for each event, both women and men, dropped dramatically in the years between ‘72 and ‘76. It’s just that the DDR women took those records to unnatural levels.

2 years ago

„Wundermädchen“ is not the adequate word. There was no “wonder” in her “achievement “, but drug abuse (the famous oralturinabol commonly known as “blue pills”).

2 years ago
Reply to  Rolf Linse

Rolf Linse that was, of course, what they were known as, irony always following such things just as it did with China‘s Gilden Flowers of 1994, all victims of abuse, too… ambassadors in tracksuits etc were others terms … the oral turinabol and much more detail is mentioned in copy and by following the links

2 years ago
Reply to  Rolf Linse

Craig Lord Sorry, I didn’t get the irony. English is not my mother language…

2 years ago

She and her teammates were, at best, unknowing participants in a scheme that cheated American athletes off the podium and out of the record books! FINA and the IOC need to step up and rewrite the books on those questionable performances and redistribute the medals to the athletes who would have won them if the GDR hadn’t schemed to claim athletic dominance….

2 years ago

Johnny Karnofsky not just American athletes of course … this topic needs universal thought, always

2 years ago

Johnny Karnofsky not just Americans. My friend, Sharron Davies won a silver in 1980, cheated out of Gold by an East German swimmer.

2 years ago

A scar on international sport forever.
All medals from these cheaters from 1976 to 1988 should be reassigned to the deserving athletes who didn’t cheat.
*Dopers Still Suck

2 years ago

Women that swam for the GDR were quite masculine.

2 years ago

She was my hero while I was young!!!!??????

2 years ago

Very disappointing that you would glorify these “records”. Whether she knew or not (debatable), she WAS on steroids. Nothing about her “performances” or “records” was real. These “records” should all be wiped from the books and the medals given to those who truly earned them.
The fact that all of this has been documented with no rewriting of history by FINA is an embarrassment.

Jennifer Hooker Brinegar
2 years ago
Reply to  Craig Lord

CRAIG, I believe you misunderstood the comment, which I think is correct. By writing about Ender’s “accomplishments,” you “glorify” them and further victimize the American women who were denied an even playing field and who were vilified by the media for being sore losers. I don’t believe SW noted at the time how many American records were set by this group of women. Instead, the majority of these women believed for decades that they were losers and had performed badly except for the one gold medal in the last event on the last day of competition.

Sure, the GDR women were victims of a state-supported doping scheme, but most citizens of that country were victims of their government in one way or another, unless they were part of the government. Although your article does mention the state-supported doping, by talking about Ender’s times and gold medals, you validate them as if they weren’t achieved through the benefit of PEDs.

Your article on when Ender knew she was being given PEDs was confusing. On one hand she says she knew in 1977. On the other hand, she says she never knew and in fact she has stated in articles and In a documentary that she did not take PEDs. I find it interesting that the fact Barbara Krause was left home in East Germany (she did not compete in Montreal) due to “strep throat” is never mentioned. Strep throat is taken care of in a matter of days by antibiotics. The GDR either did not want Krause potentially beating Ender or Krause was not going to pass a drug test. By 1978, Krause had the world records in the 100 and 200 Free.

Regardless, Ender would never have swum the times or won as many (or any) gold medals if she had not been given PEDs. As you state, the evidence is clearly documented in the scientific methodology (doses, drugs, dates, time drops, etc.) that was uncovered when the wall fell.

Your article, in my opinion, continues to down play the victimization of Shirley Babashoff, as well as her teammates and other swimmers on the Canadian, Dutch, and British teams. You have no idea how competing in the biggest event in our sport under such negative circumstances affected the US Women’s team. It was a completely opposite experience from the Men’s team. In spite of this, the American women broke 14 American records, something the majority of them didn’t realize until 40 years later because all they remembered was getting beat in the pool and getting beat up by the media.

By reading this article that does “glorify” Ender’s performances, you once again reopen deep wounds that were starting to heal after the books and movie that were released in 2016 told more of the story. I’m just not sure why you felt this article needed to be written … if it was about Ender and her teammates being victimized, which they were, then don’t focus on her times and medals unless you mention who would have won them had the GDR performed like they did before the state-supported doping effort began in the early ‘70s. The focus by the media, in my opinion, should be on getting Babashoff and the others the medals they should have won!

I was on the 1976 US Olympic Swim Team. I placed 6th in the 200 Free, beating the one other GDR swimmer in the lane next to me, so I did not medal (although the USOC now says I’m a gold medalist as a result of swimming on the 400 Free relay in the prelims so Shirley could rest as she had the 800 Free finals before the relay that evening). I did see firsthand how devastating the experience was for Shirley and others who were denied an even-playing field and the right to stand on top of the podium to receive an Olympic gold medal and see their country’s flag flying at the top while their national anthem played. I am still amazed to this day how well the vast majority of my teammates performed under such negative circumstances. At 15, I knew what I was seeing but I was not able to communicate it with anyone … mostly out of fear that I, too, would be labeled a loser and a whiner.

I was then and am still today very proud to be a part of such a strong group of women who did extremely well but were not given the credit they deserved for their performances under such trying circumstances until decades later. I often wonder how we would have done if our experience had been more like the Men’s team instead of completely opposite.

Dan Hart
2 years ago

I am SORRY for what the DDR’s doping program did to deny deserving swimmers from other countries their chances at Olympic glory and for what the doping has done to the former East German competitors. I DO think that FINA and the IOC should do the RIGHT thing in giving duplicate medals to those who should’ve rightfully won the medals if the sport were clean. Unfortunately, I don’t think FINA is capable of that under its current VERY suspect leadership of Marculescu.