Inside the East German Doping Machine
by Steven Ungerleider/ St. Martin's Press, $23.95
It is astonishing that the most horrific chapter in sports history has remained a minor story, mere fodder for jokes about brawny female swimmers with unnaturally deep voices. The pages of this slender volume are stained with the tears of women struggling to understand why they—once East Germany's healthiest, most athletic girls—became guinea pigs for a three-decade-long sports-science experiment that left them with cancer, damaged livers and deformed children.
Ungerleider, a psychologist from Eugene, Ore., is not a polished writer, nor will his book sell like a collection of Yogi's witticisms. Yet Faust's Gold is an important addition to the growing body of literature on sports doping. It documents drug use that stretches from the Third Reich (which fed anabolic steroids to its soldiers to build their stamina) to Mark McGwire (who might want to thank East German scientists for pioneering the athletic use of androstenedione). Ungerleider retraces the detective work done by two of the few heroes in the saga, West German-born biology professor Werner Franke and his wife, Brigitte Berendonk, a former discus thrower who was herself a victim of the GDR's sports system. The couple unearthed meticulously kept doping records and pressed for the prosecution of doctors, coaches and government officials, which eventually took place in the same Berlin courtroom in which some Nazi war-crimes trials had been held.
The images in Faust's Gold are haunting: teenage girls transmogrifying into hirsute, sex-crazed Amazons because of the little blue "vitamin" pills their trainers gave them; steroid-boosted male athletes growing breasts and watching their testes shrink; and Manfred Ewald, the bureaucrat who oversaw the doping program, proudly accepting a medal from International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1985 for upholding "the perfect ideal of sport and humanity." Justice is never done. At the Berlin doping trials, held from 1998 to 2000, victims vent their anger and describe the steroid-induced medical problems they have suffered, but Ewald and his underlings—most of them claiming they'd just been following orders—get off with small fines and suspended sentences. A reunited Germany is reluctant to pick at old wounds and acknowledge the truth: that the GDR's rise as an Olympic power was a fraud and a tragedy.