Science

Amateur sportsmen served as guinea pigs in East Germany

At the end of January 2021, the death of East German shot putter Margitta Gummel, holder of four world records and a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, brought the past to life. high-level competition disorder in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The athlete had indeed been nicknamed the “First Lady of East German doping” because she would have been the first woman to receive treatment with the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol, which became the most commonly used doping product in the country.

Secret experiments carried out on humans

A documentary produced by the editorial staff of the German television channel ARD and broadcast on February 26, 2021 brings a new stone to the state doping system, by providing proof of secret and illegal experiments carried out this time on amateur athletes. These experiments would have been carried out from the beginning of the 1970s until shortly before the fall of the Wall, in October 1989.

The documentary is mainly based on the testimony of Hans-Albrecht Kühne. Now 69 years old, he explains that in his youth he practiced running at a high level with a view to preparing for the marathon championships. Following an accident, however, he had to give up a sports career. Worried about his future, he turned to Professor Hermann Buhl, who served at the Research Institute for Physical Culture and Sport (FKS) in Leipzig. The latter suggested that he join his “Running Research Group” in order to follow training programs.
Between 1974 and 1977, Kühne thus participated, initially without his knowledge, in a test protocol that included infusions and injections of products that were presented to him as glucose, vitamins, proteins or penicillin. . He was also subjected to several samples of muscle and liver tissue, in which his diaphragm was allegedly punctured. Photographs taken in 1976 by the television channel of the GDR document these biopsies; it is a secret film, exclusively intended for the political bureau of the Socialist United Party of Germany (SED), the single party that was in power.

Unauthorized steroids

East German heavyweight Margitta Gummel, holder of four world records and a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, recalled the troubled past of high-level competition in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) . The athlete had indeed been nicknamed the “First Lady of East German doping” because she would have been the first woman to receive treatment with the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol, which became the most commonly used doping product in the country.

Secret experiments carried out on humans

A documentary produced by the editorial staff of the German television channel ARD and broadcast on February 26, 2021 brings a new stone to the state doping system, by providing proof of secret and illegal experiments carried out this time on amateur athletes. These experiments would have been carried out from the beginning of the 1970s until shortly before the fall of the Wall, in October 1989.

The documentary is mainly based on the testimony of Hans-Albrecht Kühne. Now 69 years old, he explains that in his youth he practiced running at a high level with a view to preparing for the marathon championships. Following an accident, however, he had to give up a sports career. Worried about his future, he turned to Professor Hermann Buhl, who served at the Research Institute for Physical Culture and Sport (FKS) in Leipzig. The latter suggested that he join his “Running Research Group” in order to follow training programs.
Between 1974 and 1977, Kühne thus participated, initially without his knowledge, in a test protocol that included infusions and injections of products that were presented to him as glucose, vitamins, proteins or penicillin. . He was also subjected to several samples of muscle and liver tissue, in which his diaphragm was reportedly punctured. Photographs taken in 1976 by the television channel of the GDR document these biopsies; it is a secret film, exclusively intended for the political bureau of the Socialist United Party of Germany (SED), the single party that was in power.

Unauthorized steroids

The side effects are terrible. Kühne states that he felt such pain that he was unable to walk, stand or lie down. It suggests kidney pain, swelling of the testicles, the presence of blood in the semen; he goes into depression and develops suicidal thoughts. The biopsies also destroyed the lymphatic system in his left leg.

He therefore wonders about the substances he receives, and notes in diaries, which today serve as proof for journalists, what he manages to grasp. In 1976, he wrote to have received in the space of six months at least 1200 milligrams of Depot-Turinabol, without knowing that it is an anabolic steroid, and that this amount corresponds to four times the maximum recommended dose. . Administered as an injection, it is stronger than Oral-Turinabol, but since it is detectable for a longer time, it was no longer used in high performance sport from the end of the 1970s. also on him the steroid STS 648, a product which has not been clinically approved. It is also not selected for competition, unlike STS 646, also called mestanolone or M2.

What were these experiments used for?

During his trial in 1997, Manfred Höppner, who was at the material time the Deputy Director of the Sports Medicine Service, justified doping in this way: as the coaches considered it too risky to use new substances directly on athletes , the FKS was tasked with researching subjects for testing. These experiences were therefore supposed to help the stars of East German sport to perform better. Hans-Albrecht Kühne thus enabled long-distance and marathon runners to surpass themselves. Kühne mentions in particular Waldemar Cierpinski, who was crowned Olympic marathon champion in Montreal in 1976 and in Moscow in 1980. Contacted by the ARD channel, the latter did not wish to speak.

What will be the effect of these revelations?

This documentary therefore lifts the veil on a practice still unknown to the general public and the extent of which we do not yet know. However, thanks to research carried out in the archives of the Stasi (the East German political police), articles in the press or academic work have already sporadically mentioned this type of experiment, carried out since the beginning of the 1970s on certain categories. amateur athletes: students, athletes in training but who were not intended to participate in competitions, or soldiers of the National People’s Army.

The Federal Commissioner for the reassessment of the SED dictatorship in the Land of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Anne Drescher, who has previously investigated doping victims in sport, was unaware of the existence of the tests carried out in Leipzig, but supposes , since they lasted at least twenty years, that several hundred people must be concerned. In his eyes, these experiences are part of a “human rights violation“.

But the revelations are too late for there to be any further sanctions. The state doping system in the GDR was tried in 2000; Manfred Höppner, considered to be its chief instigator, was then sentenced to 18 months suspended prison sentence. Experiments carried out with illicit substances and in the absence of informed consent are admittedly sanctioned by the jurisdiction of the GDR, but there is now a prescription for this type of offense since October 3, 2000, which marks the tenth anniversary of reunification. . In addition, Professor Buhl died in 2014.

Rereading his notes, Hans-Albrecht Kühne wonders today how he was able to accept to play this role of guinea pig for so long, which he discovered in 1976. The aura of Professor Hermann Buhl, himself four times champion European obstacle course, had convinced him that he was thus contributing to the tremendous success of top-level athletes in his country.

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