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Babashoff and Ender
Kenny Moore
July 13, 1992
At the 1976 Summer Games two of the top female swimmers in the world—an American and an East German—met. The American won only one gold medal, while her rival won four golds. But had the East German used steroids?
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July 13, 1992

Babashoff And Ender

At the 1976 Summer Games two of the top female swimmers in the world—an American and an East German—met. The American won only one gold medal, while her rival won four golds. But had the East German used steroids?

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The year before Montreal, in separate accidents, Ender broke her wrists. "I put on a lot of weight that year, about six kilos [13 pounds]," she says. "The reason could have been that I didn't train as hard and I still ate well, but they could have given me something to keep up my strength."

On the other hand, says Ender, "I don't think I was the type who needed something. I didn't lift weights much. I was agile, naturally strong. I did drills. I had a naturally perfect freestyle stroke. I was used as an example to others." Her starts and turns were dramatically better than Babashoff's in Montreal.

Ender doesn't recall whether before big meets GDR doctors made sure her urine would pass the drug tests. Failing such prerace tests, it is now known, caused terrific athletes to sit home. "Barbara Krause didn't go to Montreal at the last second," says Ender. "We were told it was jaundice. So I had to swim two races in 28 minutes."

In the first she equaled her world record in the 100 butterfly. Subbing for Krause in the second, the 200 free, she let Babashoff lead and overhauled her to win in a world-record 1:59.26.

"All these suspicions," she says. "We didn't have them. And since it was hard for swimmers to meet again after we retired, we couldn't compare notes."

Surely she was aware of Babashoff's accusations. "Yes, but I don't remember hearing that until 1976," Ender says. "My mother—a nurse, after all—said maybe swimmers have deep voices because they are in water all the time. That reminds me: After that my father...."

She falls silent, struck by something she has remembered. "My father," she says slowly, "went to Dr. Kipke and said, 'If you give anything like that [steroids] to my daughter, I'm taking her out of the program.' The doctor said, 'Then you'd better take her out.' But he didn't. My father must have known."

This requires a call to her father, retired colonel Heinz Ender, whose memories are sharp. "It was like this," he says. "Konni was much too young to understand. She did as she was told. But I was close to the people in Chemie Club Halle. Coach Langbein told me one day that something like that [steroids] might be scheduled for her. During a recess in training, I demanded that the team doctor, Dr. Kipke, tell me whether there was any truth to what I'd heard. He told me that was none of my business. He said that since I had agreed to Konni's performance goals, I should leave it up to them to prepare her properly. I said, 'I object. Konni is underage, and if you are planning this, I want to be informed.' "

Coming from a colonel in the people's army, that might have had some effect. "Langbein had determined that she could meet her goals without such means," Heinz says. "I believe he would have told me if something like that had been done. I watched Konni. I would have noticed the changes in her, or I would have been told. So I believe that it did not happen."

"When your whole life is swimming 15,000 meters a day," Babashoff says as she hustles Adam into the van, "you look forward to the day you can...still swim, but not as intensely." So in the fall of 76 she enrolled at UCLA. "I wanted to swim for school, not to kill. But that year they started a program of weightlifting for all women's sports. I had to lift to exhaustion and then try to swim when I was tense and tight. They don't do that anymore. But they did then, so I retired." She left school after completing her freshman year.

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