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August 17, 2016
Former East German athletes with doping history warn Russians 'it's not worth it'

Athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs in their glory years are warning Russian athletes, and others around the world, the price of doping is just too high.

Former East German sportspeople have spoken to Foreign Correspondent about their doping past. Almost three decades after the end of the East German regime, they say their physical and mental health has been severely damaged by years of taking performance-enhancing drugs, in particular the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol. Their health problems are severe, and there is evidence to suggest they have been passed on to the next generation. Athletes also claim there had been number of doping-related deaths.

The athletes who doped

Former East German relay runner Ines Geipel is seen racing in an old photo.
PHOTO: Ines Geipel says doping “poisoned” her organs.
Former East German relay runner Ines Geipel was doped with Oral-Turinabol by her trainer from the age of 17. “The instant you start, they start with the chemicals,” she says. “I know I was lying to myself at that moment, but I didn’t lie to myself deliberately.
“I was just so proud. My body was so strong.
“My breasts were getting smaller, I could see that, but I thought it was a result of the weight training.” She doped for seven years, from the age of 17 to 24 which was when she left the sport. In the years since, Geipel has paid a high price. “I had huge problems with my kidneys and my inner organs were poisoned,” she said. Geipel is one of an estimated 10,000 athletes from the former East Germany who doped. The state-sponsored doping program was highly organised, and by 1974 it was actually law. A secret government bill was passed stating that doping substances had to be an integral part of athlete training, and the doping was to be taught to coaches and doctors. Doping was also classified as an official state secret. In the doping years between the mid ’60s and late ’80s, the relatively small nation outperformed hugely. From the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, East Germany won more than 500 medals. It was almost always second in the international medal tally. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and the Communist regime ended.

‘There is a time bomb in every one of us’

Former East German cyclist Uwe Troemer looks at the camera.
Former East German cyclist Uwe Troemer says drugs were left for athletes alongside sweets. (Foreign Correspondent)
Today, Geipel heads the German Doping Victims’ Association. In recent years, she and other former athletes have led legal battles forcing the system to acknowledge what was done. As a result, the German Government has passed two laws awarding compensation to athletes who were doped — the most recent just last month in July 2016. Former East German cyclist, Uwe Tromer is one of those who has received compensation.
“There is a time bomb ticking away in every one of us because of doping, and whether that goes off at 30 or at 70, it doesn’t matter,” he says.
When his trainers first doped him, like Geipel, he was a minor.
Tromer doped from the age of 16 to 23. He says the drugs were administered to cyclists in various ways. “In certain training camps these pills were just lying there openly on plates together with various other pills,” he says. “And there were also amongst them sweets … pieces of chocolates that were given only to us. Sweets specifically for sports people. “And then there were the so-called ‘cocktails’ which were injected.” In the years since, Tromer has suffered high blood pressure, damaged joints, kidney failure, and a decade ago he had a stroke — all of which he says are the result of his earlier doping and tough training regimen. Geipel says the biggest loser in sports doping is always the individual.
“The price, the real price, is always paid by the athlete,” she says.
“But if you take a closer look at it, the game is dead, so basically everyone loses.”

The long-term health impact of sports doping

German microbiologist and Stasi files researcher Dr Werner Franke sits in front of rows of files.
German microbiologist and Stasi files researcher Dr Werner Franke recovered files detailing East German doping.
Today, the Doping Victims’ Association supports hundreds of former East German athletes whose health deteriorated significantly in middle age. “Under the influence of steroids you could endure much, much higher strain, which means that the body is completely spent. The entire skeleton is worn out,” Geipel says.
“We have athletes who are now in their mid-40s and who have two artificial hips, two artificial knees, they can’t move at all anymore.
“Very serious organ damage, mostly of the heart, i.e. calcified heart, coronaries; a large number of dialysis patients, i.e. kidneys or liver are damaged; and many, many psychological illnesses, some of them extreme.” The sheer size of the East German doping program has only come to light thanks to microbiologist Professor Werner Franke.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many secret documents were shredded, but Professor Franke realised there was a room in a small border town that was full of key documents which had escaped the shredders. He was able to rescue the files which proved to be an extensive history of sports doping, containing names, dates and drugs, right down to the dosages of what athletes were given. “How big [a dose] was dependent on the kind of sports,” Professor Franke says. “The highest dosages were given to, for example, weight lifters for the muscle increase.” Professor Franke says for some athletes, doping had ended in an early death. “In more recent years, after longer times, there were also death cases which were clearly related to the former high dosage doping with Oral-Turinabol,” he says. Geipel says after so many years, it is hard to prove definitively doping is the root cause of death. But she says there are strong indications doping was involved. “There is a dissertation on body builders and steroids which makes it very clear that due to the administration of extreme levels of steroids the heart ages five-fold,” Geipel says. “What we can say is that all those who contact us used to be in squads … they received those steroids and, based on this classic pattern of damage, we can say that the probability is very high.” Geipel has seen a number of former East German athletes die in middle age. She is now 56.
“I think I am now one of the oldest ones,” she said.

‘Animal experiments’ and turning women into men

A photo of Ines Geipel as a young woman in her East German sport uniform.
Ines Geipel says she noticed her breasts getting smaller.
“Doping was done like an animal experiment. Actually, it was done in a way you wouldn’t be allowed to do it with animals,” Professor Franke says. He reserves his harshest criticism for the androgenic anabolic steroid, Oral-Turinabol. “A better word would be ‘virilising drugs’,” he said. “This doping is nothing but virilisation — making female bodies, full male bodies. “That is a special perversion of the former German Democratic Republic. They gave virilising drugs like this Oral-Turinabol — androgenic hormones — in higher dosages to female persons than even to the male persons, because they noticed it gives so much more medals. “It gives a higher enhancement in the female body than the male.
“It’s absurd, brutal also, but it’s fact.”
Going through the unshredded files, Professor Franke realised many of the adverse impacts of sports doping had been documented by the doctors themselves who were giving the drugs to athletes. “Let me give you one example. Painful clitoris enlargement was a frequent one, 10 per cent,” he says. “Painful deepening of the voice that other people noticed was sometimes up to 30 per cent. “Others, like liver tumours for example, not necessarily metastasising malignant tumours but benign tumours, can of course also result in death and have in some cases. That was in the order of 5 per cent.”

The next generation

An open packet of Oral-Turinabol pills
PHOTO: Oral-Turinabol was East Germany’s drug of choice.
There is evidence to indicate that for both men and women, athletes’ fertility was affected by the performance-enhancing drugs. A 2008 qualitative study of 52 former East German athletes found those who were able to have children reported a higher rate of disability and chronic disease. “When they were pregnant and still got some of these drugs, [that] resulted in tremendous damages,” Professor Franke says. “Club feet were surprisingly frequent, but that is because the uterus is shrunk by these virilising drugs, so in this tight fitting uterus for example legs and feet could not develop.” The Doping Victims’ Association has just begun a two-year study to intensively research the health of doped athletes from the former East Germany. “We are having the data we gathered analysed, and put into relation to that of average citizens. And I think we will then be able to better define categories of damage,” Geipel says.

The doping road to Russia

The damning McLaren report, released the month before the Rio Olympics, found widespread, state-sanctioned doping by Russia at the Sochi Winter Games and other major events. East German athletes like Tromer are disturbed, but not surprised by its findings. He said when he doped in the ’70s and ’80s, the Russians were also doping. “It is exactly the game that has always been played in the East, in the Eastern Bloc,” he said. “I mean, the GDR was no different from the Russians. There were Oral-Turinabol boxes in Russian as well, they were sent to Russia.” The McLaren report even found some current Russian athletes had been taking the same old East German steroid Oral-Turinabol.
Professor Franke says in the world of doping, the old steroids are tried and tested. “[Oral-Turinabol] was successful, as one sees that many German European World Records are still intact,” he says. “They took high dosage of Oral-Turinabol, so it’s very persuasive to use the same thing that was successful in those cases.” Geipel said there were direct parallels between Russian doping and doping in the former East Germany. “It is obvious that the German Democratic Republic is the blueprint,” she says. Geipel says after the Berlin Wall came down, doping experts from the East German system moved into other countries. “Of the 5,000 coaches of the German Democratic Republic system, 400 were transferred into the new sports system [of unified German] after ’89, the others went out into the world,” she says. “Of course there was a level of know-how that was in high demand.”

East German athletes would tell Russians ‘say no’

A gold medal from the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games sits next to a silver medal from the 1988 Seoul Games.
A gold medal won by former East German athlete Marlies Gohr. The athletes say doping is not worth the rewards.
Geipel has no time for the trainers of the old system. “When you talk to the old ones, you will hear sentences like ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’,” she says. “It is that concept they hold of a human being, that it doesn’t matter if you lose one or another.” When asked by Foreign Correspondent if what is happening in Russia is state-sponsored sports doping, Geipel did not hesitate. “That is the manner in which Putin wages war,” she says. Tromer says dopers should face life bans.
“Whoever is caught doping, whoever distributes doping substances, whoever deals them, has no place in sport,” he said.
Foreign Correspondent asked Tromer what he would say to any Russian athletes, or other sportspeople who were doping. “I would say, ‘Are you crazy? Are you stupid? What are you doing to yourselves?’,” he replies. “Do not believe the doctors who tell you that they have it all under control.” He says any athlete forced to dope by their state system should leave. “These days it is possible to say no, even in Russia,” Tromer says.
“If you can’t do the sport you want to do in peace and quiet in Russia, then you will just have to leave Russia.
“The borders are open and they can go wherever they want. And there they will be able to say no.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-16/athletes-with-doping-past-tell-russia-not-worth-it/7722080