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 (5'11¼") 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‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller, 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‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller 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‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller 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‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller, "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‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller 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‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller.
Emil Vrijman, a Dutch lawyer and acting director for the Netherlands Center for Doping Control, who became involved in the case as an expert representative for the athletes, says, "The International Olympic Committee [IOC] charter for doping in sports says very clearly that in order to have your athletes tested abroad, you should have an agreement [on testing procedures] between federations. The Germans didn't know how the South Africans tested. Why didn't they send someone over? All they had in South Africa was a faxed message to conduct tests. No procedural guidelines were drawn up."
And it seems the testing was not handled in textbook fashion. In their statement to the German federation, the three women said that the South African doctor administering the test carried their sample bottles around the examining room while she was filling out the necessary forms. As Vrijman points out, "By the time the athletes got dressed, it would have been easy for the physician to switch the samples. We in Holland make sure the athletes carry their samples themselves until the bottle is sealed before their eyes."
Also, the South Africans did not secure the samples—an A and a B sample for each athlete—for shipment in the manner followed by the IOC and the IAAF, the world governing body for track and field. According to Vrijman, the South African sample bottles were not sealed but had only screw-on caps; the plastic shipping containers in which the bottles were placed were not lined with the tamper-resistant hard plastic in use elsewhere; instead of being sealed in a pouch the containers were shipped in a duffel bag with a zipper.
Furthermore, Vrijman says, samples are supposed to be shipped by courier, but in this case the duffel bag was sent unaccompanied and was left unattended for two days in an airport before it reached the IOC-accredited testing lab in Cologne headed by Dr. Manfred Donike, an expert in the field of drug testing. Donike took the unusual step of immediately ordering that a video camera record all his moves while he opened the A containers. According to Vrijman, when he later asked Donike why he insisted on the video, Donike replied, "[The samples] looked suspicious to me."
"If you know from the press who is training in South Africa and you receive samples from there, you can piece this together and get your video camera and tape it," Vrijman says. "This didn't give me the idea that the procedure was neutral. It should be totally anonymous."
After each of the three women's B samples also tested as coming from the same source, the German federation concluded that the athletes had contrived to pour the same untainted urine into all of their sample bottles. But wouldn't it figure that the athletes would have thought to use three separate batches of "clean" urine? "A lot of people ask, 'How can you be so stupid?' " Berendonk says. "I think it is a certain audacity. In the past when there were rumors that their samples had been tampered with, they escaped unscathed. It was also unusual that the three samples were compared. Usually samples are only examined for whether they are positive or negative. Professor Donike must have been suspicious."
The case is in the hands of the federation's legal committee, which probably will complete its review within a month. The committee has the power to overrule the suspensions. Last week, in her regular column for the tabloid Bild, Krabbe seemed optimistic: Under the headline I BET THAT I WILL COMPETE IN BARCELONA! she said, "You get the feeling there is a conspiracy against you.... A lawyer wrote to me: 'Keep your head high. There are jealous people everywhere.' I believe that justice will prevail."
Krabbe's win in the 200 in Tokyo enhanced her appeal to sponsors.
M‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áller's use of steroids had been previously documented.