Sunday, January 13, 2008
Yo IOC, When Y'all Gonna Take The East German Medals Back?
I watched during my teen and young adult years the meteoric rise of East Germany into an international sports powerhouse. It began after the then two Germanys split into separate Olympic teams starting in 1968.
On the surface it was an amazing story. Here was a nation of 17 million people that from 1972-1988 not only challenged the Soviet Union and the United States for Olympic medal supremacy, but dominated in the international competition arenas in summer and winter sports championships as well.
In the 1976, 1980 and 1988 Summer Games the East Germans were second in the gold medal count only to the Soviet Union (the US was third and boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). The 1976 Montreal Games were even more galling for the United States because the East Germans took 11 out of 13 gold medals in women's swimming events, led by Kornelia Ender's four gold medals.
In the 1976, 1980 and 1988 Winter Games they finished second to the Soviet Union and led all nations at the 1984 Sarajevo Games.
I'm reminiscing about this in the wake of the news that Marion Jones is headed to Club Fed for six months and has had her Sydney medals taken away from her.
Ben Johnson's gold medal and 100 meter world record was snatched in 1988 and handed to Carl Lewis after he failed a post race drug test in Seoul. Kelli White had 100 and 200 meter international track championship gold medals taken away in 2003 and lost a chance to compete in the 2004 Athens Games when she was banned for two years after testing positive.
I'm not saying this just because these peeps share my ethnic heritage. They failed tests, admitted to it and will now (or have in Ben Johnson's and Kelli White's cases) face the music. It's simply a question of fairness to me. I'm more pissed at both Marion and Kelli because they not only let us down as a people, they saw the drama that Florence Griffith-Joyner went through after she won her medals during the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
FloJo won her medals in times that STILL haven't been matched to this day, never failed a post race drug test, busted her glamorous behind to get to that point in her sport, but was dogged to her grave by allegations of cheating.
My bone of contention is that Marion Jones and Kelli White should have been more cognizant of the fact that they were heirs to a legacy. They were part of the legacy of sistah sprinters that stretched back to the 1960 Rome Olympics and Wilma Rudolph.
The torch had been passed to them to represent by the retirement and untimely death of FloJo in 1999. They should have done whatever it took to win and stay clean while doing it.
But what I find interesting is that the IOC is mum about taking away the East German medals.
Hey, if y'all are snatching back Marion Jones' medals, then y'all should be knocking on doors in eastern Germany as well asking for your medals and giving them to the peeps who rightfully earned them.
This was state sponsored cheating that played a decisive role in the success of East German athletes in international competitions, with the most notable performances occurring at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the 1980 Moscow games.
But it's also left a terrible legacy in its wake. The victims, mostly teens at the time received Oral-Turinabol, an anabolic steroid containing testosterone made by Jenapharm.
The "blue bean" had astonishing powers. It accelerated muscle buildup and boosted recovery times but had catastrophic side effects: infertility among women, embarrassing hair growth, breast cancer, heart problems and testicular cancer.
An estimated 800 athletes developed serious ailments and their long term health was ruined because the leaders wanted to show the world that the Deutsche Demokratische Republik's communist system was superior to its capitalist neighbors and cousins in West Germany.
The most public face of the doping scandal is Andreas Krieger - a European champion shot-putter who took so many male hormones as Heidi Krieger she decided to transition.
One of the few other victims to have spoken publicly about her plight is swimmer Rica Reinisch, who at age 15 won three gold medals in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. "The worst thing was that I didn't know I was being doped," she told the Guardian. I was lied to and deceived. Whenever I asked my coach what the tablets were I was told they were vitamins and preparations."
According to Dr. Werner Franke, a microbiologist who exposed the doping scandal after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Stasi, East Germany's secret police kept meticulous records of the impact the drugs had on performance.
A top-secret sporting medical committee including members of the Parteibüro, East Germany's communist leadership body, met to decide which members of the national squad were to be given the drugs.
Franke contends that scientists from Jenapharm attended these secret committee meetings. Documents also suggest that Jenapharm scientists collaborated with the secret police, the Stasi, in an informal capacity, he claims - protesting privately but not publicly - at the use of steroids in sport.
"There was no medical reason to give steroids. It was against the law of the German Democratic Republic. It was against medical ethics," Franke said. "Everybody knew these drugs were not allowed. The people who participated in this clandestine operation knew that they would lose privileges if they refused to take part.
One major beneficiary if the IOC held the former East Germany to the same standards they hold Black athletes to would be Shirley Babashoff. During her Olympic career that covered the 1972 and 1976 Games she won two golds and 8 silver medals and both of those were team events. In the seven individual races she swam in 1972 and 1976 she was beaten to the wall by an East German swimmer who later was found to have been taking anabolic steroids.
She loudly and honestly sounded the warning that something strange was going on during the Montreal Games with the East German women swimmers. She was ripped by the press and derisively called 'Surly Shirley' and 'sore loser' in the process. Now she's been vindicated by the subsequent trials and sentencing in Germany of the people responsible for the East German doping program.
But the question I still have to ask the IOC (and the IAAF as well) is when are y'all gonna take the medals away from the East Germans?