The Cold War: East German Sports Program (1973-89)

Figure 1.-East German Kornelia Ender (1958- ) was the first woman to win four gold medals in one Olympic Games. She reports that team doctors and coaches gave her numerous injections of drugs. Before the East German doctors went to work on her, she was a normal, beautiful little girl. Despite the details emerging on the East German doping program, the atheletes involved have been allowed to keep their medals. The German government has made the most damning admission with its settlement with 197 former East German athletes to share $2.2 million to address any health issues they might have suffered due to the rampant doping. ["Stripped"]

The abject economic failure of the Communist countries during the Cold War was a great disappointment to the Soviets and Wast European Communists. Markxist doctrine predicted that Socialism would be the wave of the future and create worker paradives. Economic failurewas thus very difficult to explain. Ironically East Germany was the most econmically successful of all the Soviet satellite sates. The problem for the East Germans was tht their sucesses pailedin comparison to the West German economic miracle. And despite theWall and attempts to keep out publications and bradcasts, the East Germands would could receive West German TV and radio broadcasts knew about the differences. The East Germans thus sought to score public relations victories. The most notable effort was in sports. A secret program (B14-25) was conducted by East Germany’s sports federation, headed by Manfred Ewald. The program was monitored and the security maintained by the Ministry of State Security (Stasi). It was not as one might expect from a Communist country, an effort to bring the joy of sports to all children. Rather it was an effort to identify gifted children and to prepare them in elite schools, including boarding schools where they would not have to deal with parental interference. And then the East German authorities took it on step further--the administration of drugs including steroids to young atheletics, many children just entering into puberty. Some were only 12-years old. This was done without the knowledge of the children (who thought they were receiving vitamins) or their parents. Ender thought that her growing bulk was the result of her training. Given the age of the girls, this does not sound unreasonable, but surely the parents must have known. Any one who objected or asked questions was disciplined or kicked out of the program. A state pharmecutical company developed the drugs and scientists and coaches developed the training protocols and drug dosages to achieve maximum results. The Stasi required the scientists, doctors, and coaches working in the program to sign confidentisality agreements. Most of the children affected were girls because they competed at a younger age and the drugs had a greater enhancement impact on girls than boys. Over 10,000 East German atheletes over the years were subjected to the drugs. East Germany was not the only Communist country to engage in dopeing, but they thad the largest and most sophisticated program. And individual aththeletes in the West took drugs. The East Germans not only administered drugs as a matter of state policy, but they also had a sophisticated research program enabling them to elude the drug tests administered in international competitions. The results were spectacular. Easter German athletes beginning at the Montreal Olympics (1976) amazed the world. Tiny East Germany ranked second in gold medals behind the Soviet Union,. Their success was especually notable with their young girl swimmers. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989), some details on the East German program have become public. And many former atheletes have reported serious health problems, especially the younger girls who received the drugs. This is an issue which the German Government today has little desire to pursue. The Governmentb has financially compensated a handful of the atheletes involved through Germany's Olympic Committee. After the Berlin Wall fell, some East German sports doctors moved to China whose athletes have since been involved in doping scandals.


Berendonk, Brigitte and Werner Franke. Doping-Dokumente (1991).

Ungerleider, Steven. Faust's Gold: Inside The East German Doping Machine.

"STRIPPED! Swimming World Vacates Awards of GDR Drug-Fueled Swimmers" Swimming World (December 1, 2013).

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Created: 2:49 AM 5/10/2008
Last updated: 12:29 PM 8/4/2016