The latest drug scandal involving world-class sprinters is so loaded with suspicious motives, sleazy accusations and questionable handling of test samples that it makes Ben Johnson's run-in with a urine bottle in the 1988 Seoul Olympics seem almost elegant by comparison. The central figure in this sordid story is Germany's double world sprint champion, Katrin Krabbe, the first true superstar to emerge from the shadowy recesses of the powerful East German sports machine since the unification of the two Germanys in late 1990.
Strikingly tall (5'11�") and glamorous, with long legs, flaxen hair and Katherine Hepburn cheekbones, Krabbe, 22, was on her way to becoming one of the richest women in her sport before the scandal. Sponsors were groveling at her feet even before she won the 100-and 200-meter events in last summer's world championships in Tokyo, and those wins further enhanced her value as an endorser of Nike and a host of German products.
But all this was before the German track and field federation declared on Feb. 15 that Krabbe and two other athletes from the former East Germany—Grit Breuer, 20, the 400-meter silver medalist in Tokyo, and Silke M�ller, 27, a former world champion in the 100 and 200—were guilty of using an "illegal technique" in submitting urine samples for testing on Jan. 24 while training in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The federation said that the three women had supplied drug-free urine from the same person or from the same "pot" of urine mixture. Because of this "manipulation" of samples, the federation's executive committee voted to suspend the three athletes for four years and fire their coach, Thomas Springstein, another product of the East German system, who had been put on the payroll of the unified track body.
Though shocked by the severity of the penalties, track and field insiders were not surprised that Krabbe and her running mates had been nailed in a drug-testing violation. From her teenage years Krabbe had displayed an erratic performance pattern symptomatic of anabolic steroid use. M�ller had been more directly linked to steroid use when East German documents released after the fall of the Berlin Wall listed precise steroid dosages administered to her.
Now Krabbe, Breuer, M�ller and their coach are claiming that shortcomings in procedures used for the Jan. 24 tests not only render those tests meaningless but also indicate that pro-West officials of the newly unified federation are waging a witch-hunt to harass and bring down star athletes from the East. "We are still East Germans to them, and we are proud to be East Germans," said Springstein. "Some people don't like that."
Said M�ller, "I suspect that athletes from the East are tested more often than athletes from the West."
Last August, Krabbe said that she had been tested 22 times between January 1991 and the world championships in August. Recently she amended that to 15 tests. Lutz Nebenthal, press officer for the German federation, has said that Krabbe has been subjected to no more than eight tests in training while hammer thrower Hans Weiss, who is from the former West Germany, had 15 out-of-competition tests in the same period. "It is nonsense to say that East German athletes are tested more often than West German athletes," Nebenthal says. "We have a rule that our athletes are tested twice per month during the training phase and by a lottery system during the competition phase."
The Jan. 24 tests on Krabbe, M�ller and Breuer, however, came about under circumstances that fell outside that rule. Brigitte Berendonk, a respected Heidelberg lawyer who recently wrote a book titled Doping Documents: From Research to Fraud, appeared on a TV talk show in Dresden on Jan. 3, the same day the sprinters left for South Africa. Berendonk was asked if she thought German athletes were still using steroids. She replied drolly, "The cat doesn't stop catching mice.... When I hear that some athletes travel as far as South Africa to train, they might feel less disturbed down there."
The German media interpreted Berendonk's comments as an accusation that Krabbe and her running mates had gone to South Africa in order to use performance-enhancing drugs without risk of detection. In an interview last week with SI, Berendonk said that Helmut Meyer, president of the German federation, ordered that tests be made on the spot in South Africa. "I want to prove that Katrin Krabbe is clean," Berendonk quoted Meyer as saying.
The German federation requested that its counterpart in South Africa obtain the samples, but arrangements to do so were not completed until Jan. 24, the day before the Germans were to return home. "If the federation had done this correctly, they would have sent someone to South Africa to test us, or they could have sent someone to the Frankfurt airport to test us there," says M�ller.