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Manfred Ewald, 76; Oversaw Doping of East Germany's Olympic Athletes

October 24, 2002|Alan Abrahamson | Times Staff Writer

Manfred Ewald, who as head of the state sports program in the former East Germany oversaw one of the most despicable, large-scale doping experiments ever conducted in the name of Olympic glory and national pride, has died. He was 76.

Ewald, a former Nazi who after World War II served the Communist regime in East Germany at its highest levels, died Monday of complications of pneumonia in his hometown, Damsdorf, southeast of Berlin.

From the early 1960s until the late 1980s, Ewald reigned as the undisputed "sportfuhrer" of the East German sports machine, overseeing athletes who won more than 500 Olympic medals. It wasn't until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that the truth, long suspected by skeptics, was confirmed: The medals were won after force-feeding performance-enhancing steroids to thousands of athletes, some as young as 11.

Many who took the "little blue pills," as they were called without knowing what they really were, are now permanently disfigured. Others suffered from health problems, including cancer, cysts and liver ailments. Some gave birth to children with severe defects. One champion shot-putter, Heidi Krieger, said the male characteristics that developed after steroid use prompted a sex-change operation; Heidi Krieger is now Andreas Krieger.

"When you silently dope children, surreptitiously do that, it's just hard to imagine in sport how it gets any worse than that," said Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor and expert on doping in sports, in particular Olympic Games. "Clearly, he's one of those people [who] qualifies in the category of the world being a better place because of his passing rather than because he was here in the first place."

A series of prosecutions in reunified Germany charged a number of East Germany's sports officials with crimes connected to the doping program. In 2000, Ewald -- along with Manfred Hoppner, the doctor who implemented the scheme -- was convicted in a Berlin court of "aiding and abetting bodily harm." Both received suspended sentences.

Hoppner offered an apology, as did virtually every official connected with the program known by the official euphemism "Working Group on Supporting Means" -- doublespeak for doping. Ewald never apologized. When subpoenaed for trial, he declared, "Communists do not murder people."

Ewald was born May 17, 1926. His father was a tailor. In 1938, he joined the Hitler Youth and, in 1944, he became a member of the Nazi Party.

After the war, he joined the German Communist Party and, at age 27, he became a member of East German's central committee, serving as sports minister until 1988. From 1973 until the country fell apart in 1990, Ewald also headed the East German Olympic Committee, developing a country of only 17 million people into a sports power that challenged the United States and the Soviet Union in the Olympic Games from 1972 through 1988.

Once, he remarked to Spain's Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, "It doesn't matter who has the power, as long as I have the glory." Samaranch famously responded, "The power is the glory."

At the 1972 Munich Games, the East German team won 20 medals; in Montreal in 1976, 40.

East Germans won 11 of 13 events in women's swimming in 1976. Author David Wallechinsky notes in "The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics" that in 1976 15-year-old Petra Thumer's time in the 400-meter freestyle, 4:09.89, would have won her a silver medal in the 1968 men's 400-meter race and a gold in 1964. In the 400-meter individual medley, 18-year-old Ulrike Tauber smashed the world record by 6.02 seconds.

At those Montreal Games, U.S. swimmer Shirley Babashoff, who finished second in three of the four freestyle races, was dismissed by many as a sore loser for suggesting that the East Germans were doping. Fourteen years later, she was proven right.

The IOC has consistently declined to rewrite history -- to award Babashoff, for instance, the gold medals she would have won if the East Germans had not been cheating. In the aftermath of the judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, which resulted in duplicate golds being awarded to the Canadian and Russian pairs skaters, some have called for a renewed look at the results from Games dominated by East Germany.

Steven Ungerleider, a sports psychologist whose 2001 book "Faust's Gold" recounts the German doping trials, suggested Wednesday that the IOC need not "rewrite history and give Shirley, for instance, her medals."

"But what [the IOC] does need to do is apologize -- apologize to all the American ladies and all the others who got beaten up here," he said.

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