Print PDF


Dominating the Sports Arena

Abby Haight
July 2001

The Berlin courtroom still had the fenced enclosure used during the trials of Nazi war criminals, which seemed appropriate to the psychologist. Here, again, were men and women who claimed they were only following orders when they abused their countrymen, who argued that if they hadn't performed the experiments someone else would have, who refused to accept responsibility for the physical and emotional destruction they had caused. Eugene psychologist Steven Ungerleider, versed in the best and worst of human nature, watched in fascination. Before him was what happened when a small, totalitarian government tried to flex its muscles literally by dominating the international sports arena. He sat among women who had been the best and brightest of East Germany's athletes track stars and swimmers who brought glory to their country two and three decades earlier.  But now the women knew that the glory was false. They understood why their bodies had changed freakishly. Why some were victims of cancers and other unusual illnesses. Why so many of their children were born with deformities. The women had been guinea pigs for a systematic program of doping to improve athletic performance, a program known as State Planning Theme 14.25 that was begun in the 1950s to enhance East Germany's athletic prestige in the world.