Time wall came down on old GDR records

Legacy of mass doping still stands over 30 years down the road

Marira Koch: the GDR sprinter is still credited with breaking 30 world records.

Marira Koch: the GDR sprinter is still credited with breaking 30 world records.


There is only so much Warren Zevon one man should play in one week. As good as Excitable Boy still sounds, it’s important to ration listening, in order to retain its musical staying power.

So, for someone without a television, that means turning on the radio, opening the half door, and pointing the aerial towards the flashing red light that tops the old transmitting mask, just over the valley gap, on Kippure.

As long as there aren’t too many sheep in the way the range of reception is incredible, including BBC Radio 5 Live – and I tuned in on Wednesday evening just in time for their 90-minute special The Record Fakers .

No one needs reminding of the scary illegitimacy of the records set in the old East German era, but this was compulsive listening, a perfectly timed debate on how – or rather why – these and similarly ancient records are still in the books.

The Record Fakers was motivated by the 30 years that have passed since the first IAAF World Championships, in Helsinki in 1983, ahead of this summer’s World Championships, set for Moscow, and you know what they say about the more things change . . .

Back then, the good old GDR were essentially unbeatable, topping the medal table in Helsinki (winning 22, including 10 gold):

“We were a large experiment, a big chemical field test, a stolen childhood,” said Ines Geipel, a former world record holder in the women’s sprint relay.

Geipel is now desperate to emancipate herself from her past, to cleanse her records from the books, and wishes in vain more of her former team mates would do the same.

Heidi/Andreas Krieger
Then there was former GDR shot putter Andreas Krieger, easily confused with Heidi Krieger, given he/she are actually the same person.

In 1986, aged only 21 and beefed up on bottles of testosterone, Heidi Krieger won the women’s shot putt at the European Championships, in Stuttgart: she never failed a drugs test, yet her steroid abuse resulted in such brute masculinity that in 1997 she underwent sex reassignment surgery, and so became Andreas.

“They played God with us back then,” he/she recalled. “I still say today that they killed Heidi, that I was thrown out of my gender.”

It was impossible not to feel some sympathy, that these weren’t simply dopers in the modern Lance Armstrong sense, but victims of a systematic doping programme the scale of which may never be fully realised, even long after the release of the so-called Stasi files.

The Record Fakers actually suggested all this was a crime against humanity:

“That’s the least it was,” said Prof Werner Franke, a long-term campaigner for full recognition of the severity of the old GDR doping regime, and why it’s so important to erase all records associated with it.

No word, however, from former speed merchant Marita Koch, still credited with breaking 30 world records, indoors and out, nor former team-mate Heike Drechsler, who won 19 championship medals between the sprints and long jump for the GDR, and later the unified Germany.

Again, neither Koch nor Drechsler tested positive, and indeed Koch has always maintained her innocence, perhaps partly because she is still married to Wolfgang Meier, the coach who first discovered her, aged 15.

Conscious of sounding like a broken record, these old GDR achievements get more disturbing with every passing year, particularly the women’s ones: it’s not just that Koch ran her 400m world record of 47.60, set in Canberra in 1985, out of lane two, or that no other women has even broken 48 seconds in the 28 years since; or that former GDR team-mate Gabriele Reinsch has now held the discus world record of 76.80m for 25 years, and no other woman has come within two metres of it since, and it’s still further than the men’s world record (they do, in fairness, throw a heavier discus).

It’s that all women’s world records now have a combined age of over three centuries, and many of them will outlive the women who set them.

In the case of Florence Griffith-Joyner, her 10.49 for 100m and 21.34 for 200m, both set in 1988, already have, as she died in 1998, of a sudden epileptic seizure.

How long before other records of that era are finally erased, including former Czechoslovakian Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 800m world record of 1:53.28, set in 1983, or the Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova’s 100m hurdles world best 12.21, set in 1988?

“What creditable argument do we have for a new list of records on the basis of longevity?” the IAAF’s Chris Turner said on The Record Fakers , a not entirely irrelevant point, given some equally long-standing records (Sergey Bubka’s 20-year-old pole vault record of 6.15 metres, or Jonathon Edwards’ 18 year-old triple jump record of 18.29m) aren’t weighed down by any such suspicion of doping.

It’s just in the same week as another sport recognises a wrong and goes about righting it, and the British Horseracing Authority hand down an eight-year ban on trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni a matter of days after revealing the steroid abuse at his stable, it’s hard to believe the IAAF still can’t recognise the catastrophic error that was made perfectly evident on The Record Fakers , even on the good old-fashioned radio.

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