Paris: Retired long jump legend Heike
Drechsler remembers her fears of being shot during the
historic demonstrations that helped lead to the collapse of
the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Twenty years on, Drechsler looks back with pride at
German reunification, but the years preceding the end of the
Cold War were filled with fear for athletes isolated in the
While democratic West Germany went on to football
greatness at the World Cup of 1974, the Communist-ruled East
won their duel when it came to the Olympics although it`s now
generally accepted that much of the East`s success was the
result of a programme of State-sponsored doping.
Cold War politics played havoc with the career of East
Four years after the American-led boycott of the 1980
Olympics in Moscow, in protest at the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan, Russia snubbed the Los Angeles Games leaving East
Germany a fellow absentee.
Speaking in a Eurosport documentary to mark the 20th
anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Drechsler said: "I
was very disappointed. It would have been my first Olympic
Games. I was in the shape of my life.
"In 1983, I became world champion and at these world
championships I beat my main rivals, who were then successful
at the Olympics."
Competing for a unified Germany, Drechsler made amends by
winning gold at Barcelona in 1992 and Sydney 2000. She has
never forgotten the fear she felt during the demonstrations
that eventually led to the fall of the Wall in November, 1989.
"We were afraid that people could be shot. We were afraid
that the government might decide to react like in China where
people were killed on the Tiananmen Square," she added.
"These were peaceful demonstrations, there were no riots,
and then the way things evolved was like a historical
Also born in the East, German swimmer Franziska Van
Almsick enjoyed a "happy" childhood, which was nonetheless
spiced with "secret" family visits to the West "so we could at
least see each other and hug each other".
Retired since 2004, Van Almsick was the youngest member
of a united Germany team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 --
where she won a silver and bronze.
Although experiencing a "happy" childhood, she said she
was raised to believe that the West was the enemy.
"I played football in school and the ball was sometimes
kicked over the wall, and the ball usually came back. When you
are a kid you want to ask (how)," said Van Almsick.
"We found it funny that the ball came back whereas we did
not know what was on the other side. We never got any answers
to that question.
"My mother explained me, and there were always strange
explanations, like `they are not our friends`."
Although divided, Olympics chiefs did not allow the East
and West to compete separately until the Mexico Olympics in
1968, when the GDR left its Western rival trailing in the
After the four following editions of the Games, including
two summer and two winter, between 1972 and 1976 the East
boasted 189 medals and the West`s 94.
Dr. Jutta Braun, a specialist in German sports history,
explained: "From 1968 until reunification the `small` GDR,
that was much worse than the FRG (West) in other fields such
as economy and freedom, was always better in the Olympic
The exploits of athletes hand-picked by the East to
compete in medals-rich Olympic sports would, however, later
come under scrutiny.
Dr. Braun said the evidence of state-sponsored doping was
undeniable: "This comes from the secret police of the ex-GDR.
It`s crucial proof that the ex-GDR systematically used doping.
"You can read that `since 1966, anabolic hormones were
used and more particularly for the 1972 and 1976 Olympic
"What is very important is that it was used in all
Olympic sports apart from sailing and gymnastics. It was
doping on a wide scale."
East Germany`s last Olympics hurrah was at the Seoul
Games in 1988. With 37 gold and 101 in total, the GDR finished
second in the medals table to Russia, who had 55 gold and 132