Duped into doping, East German sues
The former world champion says she was administered steroids without her knowledge and is seeking damages.
BERLIN — It's frustrating enough being addressed as "Mr. König" when she answers the phone.
But then there are bouts of depression and fears about future health problems that Karen König blames on steroids she unwittingly took as a champion East German swimmer.
"Who knows what the future will bring," says Ms. König, her deep voice suggesting an age far beyond her 36 years.
One thing König and her lawyer hope it will bring is a verdict that holds the German National Olympic Committee (NOK) financially responsible for the consequences of East Germany's systematic doping of athletes.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the communist regime gave an estimated 10,000 other athletes illegal and dangerous drugs to boost their performances - and, presumably, the German Democratic Republic's (GDR) standing in the world.
"It's a sort of trial balloon. If it's successful then it opens the way legally for others," says König's lawyer Jens Steinigen, who says that at least 140 additional athletes are waiting to see what happens with her suit.
König, a member of East Germany's 4x100 meter relay team that broke the world record in 1984, first filed a lawsuit against the NOK in 2001 but the trial was postponed numerous times. This week, it reopened to hear the testimony of witnesses in Berlin.
The former world and European champion says that the NOK, which received 5.4 million deutschmarks from the GDR's Olympic committee's coffers after reunification, bears some financial accountability for the medical problems suffered by the GDR's doping victims. The suit, which calls for 10,255 euros ($12,300) in damages, seeks to pin down the Olympic Committee's responsibility for the state-sponsored doping that helped the GDR win 384 Olympic medals from 1972 to 1988.
"It's not about the amount, it's about a certain amount of recognition for [what] happened to these people," says Mr. Steinigen.
Beginning in 1983, König's swimming coach would call the young teenager - and her other teammates - to the side of the pool after practice. He would press a blue pill - the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol - in her palm, telling her it was a vitamin, says König. Her 100-meter time dropped two seconds in a year. She chalked it up to her incredibly intense training regime.
König says she took Oral-Turinabol until she quit swimming in 1987, not realizing until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that she had been given performance-enhancing drugs.
Unlike some others, König has been spared some of the more serious ailments experts attribute to continued steroid use. For many athletes, the price paid for the glory brought to the communist state has been everything from aches and depression, to infertility and cancer.
One of the most publicized examples was Heidi Krieger, a shot-put champion who became Andreas Krieger after undergoing a sex change operation in 1997, a procedure he has said was necessary because of changes already brought about by steroid use.
By 2000, more than 300 sports coaches and GDR sports functionaries had been ordered to pay fines or were sentenced to short jail terms for their role in the doping machine. In July of that year, a Berlin court ordered the former East German sports minister Manfred Ewald and its former medical director Manfred Höppner to pay small fines and serve suspended sentences of 1-2 years. The German parliament later set aside 2 million euros to pay to the victims; König received some of that money.
As far as NOK lawyer Günter Paul is concerned, the steps taken have been enough. The NOK disputes that its East German sister had any role in the GDR's doping regime. Paul said it was the sports federations and the coaches, not the NOK, who were involved in providing performance-enhancing drugs.
"The NOK wasn't even asked," he says.
But König's lawyer, who won Olympic gold for the GDR as a biathlete in 1992, counters that. "The NOK was responsible as well for the maintenance of the GDR doping system, and keeping it secret," says Steinigen, who himself was offered illegal drugs by coaches. He says he declined them, but some teammates chose to use them.
Experts such as cell biologist Werner Franke contend that East German sports doctors not only administered the drugs, but knew the potentially damaging effects of those drugs. Mr. Franke coauthored "Doping Dokumente," a book based on files he found in an East German military hospital after reunification.
In Franke's eyes, the NOK must now take responsibility for the consequences of the GDR's doping system.
"If you declare yourself as a successor, then ... you also have to take the load, you have to take the burden of history of those people. You can't just take the money and for the bad things say, 'I'm not responsible,' " he says.
A Frankfurt state court judge will decide on whether the East German NOK had a role in the GDR's doping system, and how big it was. Lawyers say the case will take at least another year. König hopes the publicity it attracts will serve notice to sports federations and Olympic committees across the world.
"The case will certainly get more attention than trials against coaches," says König. "Hopefully it will ensure that they go after this even more aggressively in the future."