Pubdate: Sun, 05 Oct 1997
Source: Houston Chronicle, page 31A and Associated Press

Statebacked steroid use documented

Indictments near for former E. Germany coaches, doctors who gave drugs to

By PAUL GEITNER Associated Press

HAMBURG, Germany  She was 5 years old when she learned to swim, and won
her first competition a year later. Then came the special sport school, and
later the candy boxes filled with brightly colored pills instead of

"Every athlete had his box, with his name on it, and these tablets were
inside, a small handful," recalled former East German swimmer Catherine

"As a rule, they had to be taken in front of the coach's eyes. They told
our parents they were vitamins, which was strange because we weren't even
allowed to take them into the locker room."

Soon, she and the other 11yearold girls were knocking off 100 pushups
and lifting 65 pounds and more on a weight training machine called

Only later, after her career was cut short by a spinal injury, did the
willowy blonde with unnaturally broad shoulders realize the "vitamins" were
actually steroids  and learn how badly they had damaged her health.

Now 33 and a documentary filmmaker, Menschner said she still suffers from
back pain, chronic infections in her oversized lungs and sudden shortness
of breath. She also blames at least one miscarriage on the drugs.

She can't even pick up her 8yearold son, Max. After her last
hospitalization in 1995, "the doctors told me I shouldn't lift anything
heavier than 250 grams (a half pound). That's a block of butter."

With German unification and the opening of secret East German government
files, prosecutors are going after the coaches and doctors who administered
drug cocktails to unsuspecting minors in the hopes of producing
medalwinning athletes. The first indictments, for causing grievous bodily
harm, are expected this week in Berlin.

Charges are expected later against higherups.

"The doping in East Germany was different from other places in the world in
that it was directed by the state," said Michael Havemann, who is in charge
of investigating the former East Germany's use of banned drugs.

"And so we want to go there, too, to the crimes of the functionaries and
politicians," he said. "It goes to the political top."

Despite widespread suspicions about East German athletes over the years,
few were ever caught in drug tests, and it was only after German
unification that evidence of steroid use began coming to light.

East German leaders began experimenting with drugs to improve athletic
performance in the 1960s, according to East German secret police documents
uncovered in recent years.

By the 1972 Olympics, the country of 17 million people was suddenly in the
top ranks of medalwinners with the United States and the Soviet Union.

"The primary motivation was apparently the state's international prestige
and the demonstration of the superiority of socialism ... during the Cold
War," said Dr. Werner Franke of the University of Heidelberg, who was
appointed by Parliament to study East German files on drug abuse.

The use of anabolic steroids, referred to euphemistically in the files as
"supporting means," was stepped up dramatically in the 1970s, especially in
women's sports where strength was a big factor.

At the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal, where East German swimmers won 11 of
13 events, journalists started asking questions about the broad shoulders
and deep voices of the East German women.

By the 1980s, more than 2,000 athletes preparing for international events
were treated with performanceenhancing drugs each year, Franke said.

Drugs were given to promising female swimmers generally as young as 14.
Fourteen and 15yearold boys and girls were "hormonedoped" in canoeing,
kayaking, rowing and various winter sports. In weightlifting, steroid
treatments usually began at 16 or 17.

Not many of the athletes are willing to admit drug use today, for fear of
losing their medals, Havemann said. Out of "several thousand"
questionnaires his investigators sent to former East German athletes, 500
to 600 were filled out and returned.

The most frequent complaints are liver and kidney ailments, as well as
reproductive problems among women and development of femalelike breasts by
male athletes.

Prosecutors decided to go after coaches and doctors first to build a
foundation for future cases against those "who gave the orders," Havemann

Rica Reinisch, a 1980 Olympic medalist, came forward in 1995 with charges
against her former coach, Uwe Neumann. But he wasn't fired from his job
with the German swim team until last month, and then only after information
surfaced about his alleged role as an informer for the East German secret

Neumann declined to comment. He did say none of his athletes ever tested
positive for banned drugs.

Michael Oettel, a scientist who participated in an East German symposium in
1981 on how to dodge International Olympic Committee drug tests, recently
came forward to express his regret.

East German scientists were kept in the dark about the effects the drugs
were having on the athletes, Oettel said, but he conceded no one tried very
hard to find out.

"This ostrich policy of ignorance can hardly be reconciled with the
responsibility of a scientist," he said. "The administration of anabolics
to minors for athletic performance shows strikingly how far irresponsible
and uncontrolled sports medicine can be driven."

For Menschner, apologies are not enough. She has given a statement to
prosecutors and expects to be called to testify against her former coaches
and doctors.

"They were in the end the ones who distributed the drugs," she said.
"Nobody forced them to do it. It was their own prestige. They wanted to
shine, to show that they could bring an athlete to the winners platform.

"I think they belong behind bars. And that they should never again work
with children."