SOS 2023 Awards: The Carlisle Cup – Lifetime Achievement To Berendonk & Franke

2023-12-30 4 comments Reading Time: 13 minutes
Carlile Cup Lifetime Achievement award for champions of truth and justice Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke - images of the couple courtesy of dpa; and the cover of Berendonk's groundbreaking and revelatory 1991 book "Doping: From Research to Fraud"

The World Aquatics Championships were the highlight of the 2023 swimming season and will form the basis of the SOS Awards for 2023 but we start our review and recognition with Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke, the winners of our SOS Carlile Cup for Lifetime Achievement.

The Carlile Cup, which was named after and in honour of Forbes Carlile,  is granted to those whose contribution is not only deep in decades but delivered leadership, pioneering progress to and the betterment of swimming. From this year, the Cup will be awarded in honour of both Forbes and Ursula Carlile, now reunited in the heavenly pool after their own lifetimes of dedication to helping athletes bring out the best in themselves.

At SOS, one of our key focusses is to cover the issues swimming struggles to acknowledge and face up to, head on. In the depth of controversies is one that knocks the rest for six in terms of the impact on athletes and the scale of fraud.

To the shame of the International Olympic Committee and the relevant International Federations, the official record of Olympic, World and European swimming from the 1970s and 1980s remains a lie and a ceaseless reminder of the deep injustice generations of female athletes faced in their era and in all the years of inaction in Olympic sport ever since.

Thanks to Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke, we have been alerted to the truth since the late 1960s and we’ve have the truth confirmed since the year after German reunification in 1990.

State of Swimming’s SOS Awards – 2023

Carlisle Cup – Lifetime Achievement

Brigitte Berendonk & Werner Franke

The Carlile Cup goes jointly to Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke. Here’s why:

“Are we breeding monsters?” asked Brigitte Berendonk in a 1969 article for the high-quality German weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

The question and the name of the title (Time/The Times) could not have been more pertinent to what was about to unfold: two decades of deceit, followed by a further two decades of silence, inaction, excuses, wilful blindness and a refusal by Olympic authorities to deal with the wrongdoing committed on their watch, in the Olympic Movement’s jurisdiction, extending to the key role of the IOC-accredited laboratory at Kreischa in Saxony.

As a discus thrower for the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), Berendonk had seen her Olympic dreams shattered at the Games of Mexico City in 1968. Alongside her own results, she noticed that rivals from the Soviet bloc were throwing well ahead of their time and opposition.

Berendonk wrote in Die Zeit that “hormone preparations” were behind the otherworldly progress being witnessed. She opined:

“Almost all world-class decathletes take the pill, 90 percent of throwers, pushers and weightlifters, around half of jumpers and sprinters, and also rowers, swimmers and team players … [the hormone preparations] are becoming more and more popular.”

Doping, the bane of clean sport, the fuel of cheats and rogues

She’d noticed the physical transformation underway, especially among competitors from Eastern Europe. The muscle gain was accompanied by increasing masculinisation/androgenisation, caused by anabolic steroids. It was, she said “unmistakable”. She predicted in 1969: “According to my estimate, there will soon be more pill swallowers than non-swallowers at major competitions.”

Thirty two years later, on December 19, 2001 – long beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of two decades of deceit in and out of competition – Berendonk was awarded the Heidi Krieger Medal, a doping victim assistance award, for her work and in 2004, she and her husband, Prof. Werner Franke, a molecular biologist, were presented with the Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.

In 2017, on the occasion of Berendonk’s 75th birthday, the SWR TV channel described her as “the great pioneer of the anti-doping fight”.

Both she and Franke should long ago have been awarded the Olympic Order for their long-term commitment to the truth behind records and results that remain the official record of Olympic, World- and European-Championship history more than half a century after the Olympic Movement was tainted by the politics and deceit behind the GDR’s state-secret, systematic doping program,

As things stands, the IOC is wedded to keeping fraud as the official record of at least four, if not five, Olympic Games, a stance that is reflected in the silence and inaction of affiliates such as World Aquatics (formerly FINA) and other international federations, including continental associations such as European Aquatics (formerly LEN).

Championing Clean Sport, Truth and Justice

Brigitte Berendonk was born in May 1942 in Dankmarshausen in Thuringia, a state that would become part of East Germany.

She became a national champion in the German Democratic Republic in 1958 before her family fled to the Federal Republic in the same year. In 1959, she was crowned West German pentathlon youth champion.

After graduating from high school, she studied English and sports at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg. In 1967, she was selected as a member of the FRG’s national athletics team. And competed at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, finishing 8th and 11th in discus at those respective Games.

Throughout the 1970s, she attacked officials and sports doctors for turning a blind eye to what was unfolding. Her campaigns made enemies of those who refused to listen, learn and investigate on behalf of athletes, their welfare and the reputation of sport.

In March 1977, Berendonk participated in what Die Zeit would come to call two “legendary debates” in the Aktueller Sportstudio program of the ZDF TV channel with the Freiburg sports doctor Joseph Keul.

He was considered a sports medicine luminary at the time. Berendonk listened to his insults, innuendos and arrogance before turning on him and forcing the Olympic doctor to confess to having administered anabolic steroids to healthy athletes.

Praised by some, Berendonk was also lambasted by those who wanted to keep the dirty big secret of sport under wraps. Franke would later state that the couple were considered “traitors and spoilers” of elite sport because they told the truth.

Even after Keul’s confession, sports officials and politicians in West Germany largely ignored the warnings. Uncertain how to respond to the soaring progress being made by GDR athletes, the FRG took the path of least resistance in the Olympic and diplomatic worlds: in silence, it sought to keep the peace.

It was far from being alone in that regard: as Sharron Davies, co-author of Unfair Play with me, notes:

“It wasn’t a question of us thinking and speculating, we knew something was very wrong, we knew they were cheating. We didn’t know the precise details of the substances and we didn’t know how they were managing not to be caught but as far as many of us were concerned, we weren’t dealing with rumours – we knew.”

Image above: Sharron Davies with the first copy of Fair Play, the book written with Craig Lord

The silence riled Berendonk, who later taught English and sports at the Hölderlin-Gymnasium (high school) in Heidelberg. She believed the response and lack of action by governors and guardians to be absurd. “When 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girls are treated with male hormones, then any normal person has to say that the entire hormonal balance that is still developing is disrupted. So this is a medical error, an ethical error for which no one can be held responsible,” she wrote in Die Zeit.

Years later, she would help save and provide the evidence that would mean at least some of those responsible were indeed called to account in a courtroom – and held responsible.

Saved From The Shredders

In the chaos and turmoil of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in late 1989 and German reunification a year later, Berendonk and her husband Werner Franke, rescued some of the most significant and decisive evidence of systematic state doping in the GDR.

Working with colleagues in East Germany, the explosive documents, including state-secret doping dissertations and research papers housed in the vault of the Military Medical Academy in Bad Saarow, were saved from the frantic shredding of any incriminating paper work by the state-security police, the Stasi.

What was saved led to Berendonk’s 1991 book “Doping: from Research to Fraud”. The world now KNEW that systematic doping in Olympic sport was real, devastating and depraved, with girls as young as 11 being fed male steroids as propaganda pawns in a Cold-War game of two political tribes, the Communist East vs the capitalist West. Berendonk was not shy to also address doping in the Federal Republic (and global trends) in her work.

“The book was a big bang,” Franke would later say. “After that, no one could speak against it [deny it] anymore.”

Not that that has changed the nature of a challenge made all the more difficult by the refusal of Olympic sports governors and organisations, from the IOC downwards, to investigate the harm done to athletes and sport in general within the Movement.

The malaise has had serious consequences. In retirement, Berendonk, now 81, told Die Zeit: “Forty three medals were awarded in Beijing, which today, years later, have to be withdrawn because they were demonstrably based on doping. Nothing has changed in this matter. You still only get sports funding if you dope, because without doping you can’t achieve these top performances.”

The Passing Of Werner Franke

Werner Franke passed away Franke died on November 14, 2022, after suffering a brain haemorrhage on November 14. He was 82 and his death was announced as Sharron and I were putting the final touches to Unfair Play, a book in which both Berendonk and Franke are praised for their key role in exposing the truth about GDR doping. The evidence they uncovered played a significant role in the trials that would lead to convictions of coaches, doctors, scientists and politicians between 1998 and 2001.

East Germany won more than 500 medals in Summer and Winter Olympics from 1968 to 1988. Much of that was a specifically female “success story”: give a girl a little of what a boy gets from womb to puberty and you have a sure-fire, fraudulent medals machine in elite women’s competition.

I once visited Franke at his oncology department in Heidelberg. The records he kept of the GDR fraud were meticulous, though he acknowledged that he had travelled a steep learning curve when it came to sports-specific knowledge.

The invaluable work of Franke and Berendonk made it possible for others, including investigators ahead of the Doping Trials that got underway in 1998, and journalists, this one included, to piece parts of the puzzle together.

The canvas of the puzzle is now vast and includes doping victims who have received a share of the many millions handed out in compensation by the German state – but that same canvas is far from complete. Generations of victims of the GDR fraud have yet to be shown the due respect they deserve from the IOC and affiliated organisations. The work goes on.

Among the cases that came to light thanks to Franke and Berendonk was that of Heidi Kreiger, a shot-putter, who was left with such masculine traits due to the doping regimen she was put on that she eventually underwent sex reassignment surgery and a name change to Andreas. The aforementioned prize for helping doping victims is named after Krieger.

“Abuse of Science”

A co-founder of the Verein Doping-Opfer-Hilfe (Doping Victims’ Aid Association), Franke called the entire GDR doping system “an abuse of science”.

The Little Blue Pills of Oral-Turinabol, the most common of the anabolic steroids used in swimming and other sports in which such banned substances provide unnatural enhancement and unfair advantage, gained even greater notoriety after Franke unmasked how the medicine resulted in a high level of liver damage. When discussing side effects, Franke once told the DPA national news agency:

“Here, we have rapid acute effects such as deepening of the voice, male body [changes] and clitoris enlargement and so forth,” Over the decades, there are severe things like certain types of breast cancer. There are also cardiomyopathies, severe heart diseases up to the need to regenerate the whole heart etc. It’s abuse of science. There’s a background of science behind that whole criminality of doping. And I say criminality because luckily in a way, we succeeded that these cases went to the criminal court room and there were verdicts and sentences.”

Defending his outspoken campaign for justice, Franke once said: “I’m driven and will always remain so. I am clearly an enlightener for the public and an enemy of abusers.”

As result of Franke and Berendonk’s work, including their insightful 1997 paper “Hormonal doping and androgenization of athletes: a secret program of the German Democratic Republic government”, leading State Plan 14:25 architects Manfred Ewald and Manfred Höppner received fines and a suspended sentence and the top swimming doctor in that doping program, Lothar Kipke, was also convicted in 2000.

It would take a further two decades for Kipke to be stripped of the honour bestowed on him by FINA in the 1980s for “services to swimming”. Other architects of GDR doping remain honoured by the IOC to this day (see comment below).

Along the path of truth and justice, Franke and Berendonk had to continually defend their work. They faced 10 criminal and 12 civil cases – all of which they won.

In 2006, Franke also claimed that cyclist Jan Ullrich purchased about €35,000 (£30,000/$37,000) worth of doping products a year to Eufemiano Fuentes based on documents uncovered in the Operación Puerto doping case. A German court imposed a gag order on Franke after it claimed there was not enough evidence to link Ullrich to doping. The case later returned to court with DNA analysis linking Ullrich to nine bags of blood seized in the Puerto case and eventually, after four years, Franke won the case.

In response to Berendonk’s 1991 book and related research, Franke brought around 100 lawsuits. He told DPA: “Everyone was essentially won. And you could use [the law and legal cases won] to make things public …”.

He continued to speak up for clean sport and justice to the end of his days. In his last few years, he critised long-time colleagues from the Doping Victims’ Aid Association, accusing them of inflating the number of victims and acting unscientifically. He also found doping controls pointless, in these terms: “The World Anti-Doping Agency, national agencies, are not independent enough. That’s very clear.”

Dopers hated him, officials feared him but both knew they had to respect him because he had knowledge and truth ion his side and he refused to stay silent, come what may. On “his 80tyh birthday, he told DPA: “I haven’t become quieter. It’s no use, you have to speak directly in a proletarian way in order to be heard.”

Research, evidence, truth, justice, education and making all of that a part of transparent, public debate underpinned the credo of Berendonk and Franke.

We honour both today, Brigitte in her lifetime, Werner posthumously. They are owed a huge debt of thanks. Our modest SOS recognition speaks to that.

Editorial

As Berendonk and Franke noted throughout their work, doping was undoubtedly a part of the playbook of nations around the world but as the IOC likes to remind us, you can only deal with the evidence and proof unearthed – and just about all of that had the seal of “GDR state secret” on it.

It was all written down and recorded. It came with copious research papers, warnings from the scientific and medical communities; he personal notes and instructions of spymasters and those the state coerced and roped in to report back on teammates, neighbours and others. The warnings made clear that all the adults involved in planning and rolling out the doping knew that giving male steroids to girls as young as 11 came with serious risk of lifetime poor health and, indeed, disability for the athletes and even the children of those born to such athletes.

The evidence unearthed, researched and catalogued by Berendonk and Franke provided the explanation of what was already obvious. When it comes to the GDR, swimming, track and field, rowing and a few other sports, the official books of records and results provide clear snapshots of the heist unfolding: the dominance, time warp and terror of an era in which male steroids androgenised female athletes and placed the vast majority of women’s podiums beyond the reach of females facing females+ was there and remains there for all to see.

The GDR girls were not the only victims, of course. As is the case with all cheating, those denied in the 1970s and 1980s were not just robbed of their moment on the day but lost a lifetime of opportunities that the “amateur” (it was forbidden to earn from sport in those days) could expect to flow from Olympic gold.

Snap for silver and bronze, making an Olympic final, even becoming an an Olympian at all: yes, some were denied that purely on the basis that their national-champion status was not deemed good enough to justify selection because standards were raised artificially high as women and their coaches were told to look at the GDR and “match them!” even though that was impossible for the vast majority of world-class female athletes in specific sports.

The IOC spent the 1990s telling us it needed more information and then throughout the years since Sydney 2000 has cited the ‘statute of limitations’ as the reason why it could not act on the Sporting Crime of the 20th Century. Of late, my questions to the IOC resulted in the following answer: “…  the apparent issue in question has been dealt with by a number of inquiries and parliamentarian committees in Germany already in the 1990th [sic, 1990s meant]. All these facts are public knowledge since then.”

My reply included this:

Swimming needs an independent Integrity Unit

“It is indeed a fact that what Germany was able to handle in its own legal jurisdiction, it handled, including criminal convictions and many millions of euros handed out in compensation to victims of bodily harm (and harm of minors), AKA, young Olympic athletes. My question was not to the German government, however, it was to you, the IOC. Can you tell me why the IOC has never held an independent inquiry into the GDR era on matters in its own jurisdiction, matters that fall under its own rules and charter, contemporary back in the 1970s and 80s, and prevailing circumstances and  precedents set along the way?”

Image: Integrity has been a negotiable entity in Olympic sport for decades

The IOC said it had “nothing to add”.

Whatever its reasons, matters lost in translation, misunderstanding and so forth cannot possibly be a part of any reasonable explanation. After all, German is the native language of Thomas Bach, the current IOC president, had all the evidence he and the IOC could possible ever have needed to launch an inquiry in the very year, 1991, Bach became an IOC member. It was all in his native language. In other words: he must have known the truth for more than three decades.

By 1995-1997, much of it was available in English too, courtesy of the efforts of the likes of British anti-doping and athlete welfare champion Michelle Verroken and others who showed similar courage in other countries by inviting Berendonk and Franke to address the sports and scientific communities on their discoveries.

By the time the German doping trials opened in Berlin in 1998, Berendonk and Franke had both contributed massively to the evidence that would secure criminal convictions for some of the architects of the biggest heist ever seen in World sport.

That heist happened in broad daylight and to this day, the IOC has done nothing about it. When it finally does (it’s not a question of if but it would be good if Olympic bosses could make sure action is taken in the lifetimes of the victims), the “Movement” might care to give its “Olympic Order” to the German couple.

Surely that would be better that that granting such honours to the likes of Vladimir Putin (now stripped away – but given nonetheless), not to mention Erich Honecker, the GDR leader who approved the state secret under which elite Olympic athletes would be doped in order to excel in sport and serve as “ambassadors in tracksuits” to communist propaganda.

And then there’s Juan Antonio Samaranch, who invited Manfred Hoppner, the chief GDR doping doctor revelled in Stern Magazine interview in 1990, to help the IOC “draw the line where sports medicine ends and doping begins.” Hoppner was unapologetic about his role doping young athletes in that same Stern Magazine spread.

So, yes – Honecker still has his “Olympic gold” prize for services to sport. Such things make a mockery of the IOC’s Rule 50 insistence that athletes should keep politics out of sport. How about the IOC trying to live by its own Charter first and right the wrongs of the past?
By failing to do so, the IOC, regardless of its intentions, has reinforced the message that cheating will not be punished and that its fine to have a history book heavy on fraud as the official record of the Olympics.

Meanwhile, this day we honour Berendonk and Franke for a towering contribution to truth, justice and meaningful, impactful leadership on athlete welfare and safe, healthy environments in sport far beyond anything we’ve ever seen from any recipient of the Olympic Order or any in-house athlete commission.

High time the IOC started to honour the right people as part of its own, long-overdue process of truth, justice and reconciliation: if you say you’re not political, then don’t reserve your highest honour for … politicians. Keep such things for those who truly contribute to the welfare of athletes and clean sport.

Coming up in the SOS 2023 Awards: Our Courage Cups and the top Swimmers and Coaches

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4 thoughts on “SOS 2023 Awards: The Carlisle Cup – Lifetime Achievement To Berendonk & Franke”

    Fantastic piece Craig, will do our bit to spread the word to the younger & less informed parts of the swimming community. It’s a shameful part of sporting history that we have to remember, happened. Well done!

    Such a powerful story Craig, the publication of Berendonk and Frankie’s work in English was essential to ensure this evidence came before more people in the sports and anti-doping world. Some well known people used my support for publishing the truth and hosting Franke at the national anti-doping conference to silence me. Fortunately the truth is published and should be reprinted again!
    Every one in sport should be aware of the abuse of power going on.

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