Werner Franke, who exposed East German doping program, dies at 82

Werner Franke, an esteemed molecular biologist who, together with his wife, exposed many details of the illicit state-sponsored athlete doping program in East Germany that brought the country a burst of Olympic glory in the 1970s and 1980s, died November 17, 2019. 14 in Heidelberg, Germany. He was 82 years old.

His son, Ulrich, said the cause was a cerebral hemorrhage.

Documents that Dr. Franke and his wife, Brigitte Franke-Berendonk, a former Olympic shot putter and discus thrower, found in the 1990s in German archives after the fall of the Berlin Wall showed the scale of the project of the government to use androgenic steroids. , including little blue pills called Oral-Turinabol, and hormones, to increase its athletes’ chances of winning medals in international competitions, including the Olympics.

“Several thousand athletes have been treated with androgens each year, including minors of each sex,” said Dr. Franke and Ms. Franke-Berendonk. written in 1997 in the journal Clinical Chemistry. “Special emphasis has been placed on the administration of androgens to women and adolescent girls as this practice has been shown to be particularly effective for athletic performance.”

Dr. Franke became a vocal anti-doping expert who helped former athletes who sued their doctors and coaches by giving them documents and scientific information about the drugs they had taken. He also provided documents to prosecutors.

“The depth of the doping culture in East Germany encompassed the world of politics and sports, an intertwining of powerful men,” said Jean Hoberman, an East German doping culture expert who wrote “Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and Dehumanization of Sport” (1992). “That was the environment in which Franke and Berendonk operated as beacons of integrity.”

Travis T. Tygartthe director general of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said in a statement that Dr. Franke was a “strong advocate for clean sport” and “one of the few who have had the courage to speak out and demand better for the athletes”.

Although there had been suspicions over the years that East Germany’s international success was due to more than improved training methods, the Frankes’ research defined the systematic program of the country – called State Planning Theme 14.25 – which involved doctors, scientists, coaches and the sports hierarchy of the country. and the government.

The plan had worked. At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, East German athletes won 25 medals, including nine gold medals. At the Munich Summer Games in 1972, they won 69 medals, including 23 gold. Four years later, in Montreal, they won 94 medals, including 42 gold; surprisingly, 11 of the 13 women’s swimming events were won by East Germans.

The Frankes described it as “one of the greatest pharmacological experiments in history”, with many drugs made by state-sponsored companies and awareness of side effects for women such as increased body hair, overmuscled physiques, ovarian infections and infertility. Shot put champion Heidi Krieger, was so damaged by the changes in her body caused by heavy steroid use that she decided to undergo transition surgery and became Andreas.

“They weren’t just making women stronger,” Dr. Franke told Sports Illustrated in 2003. “They were virilizing them.”

Werner Wilhelm Franke was born on January 31, 1940 in Paderborn, Germany. His father, Wilhelm, worked for the German railway; his mother, Rosa (Kröger) Franke, was a housewife. He studied biology, physics and chemistry at the University of Heidelberg and obtained the equivalent of a master’s degree in 1966 and a doctorate the following year from the same school.

He began his academic career as an assistant professor of biology at the University of Freiburg in 1967, the same year he met his future wife, who had immigrated from East Germany to West Germany. West in 1958. At first, Dr. Franke, who had run the 800 and 1,500 meter races for a club as a teenager, was her coach, guiding her to the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics, where she finished eighth and 11th in the discus throw. She was German champion in the shot put in 1973.

They married in 1975. By then, Ms Franke-Berendonk had told her husband of her suspicions that East German athletes, some of whom she had competed against, were taking performance-enhancing drugs. But they couldn’t prove it until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Dr. Franke learned in 1990 that classified documents outlining the anti-doping program were stored at a military installation in Bad Saarow, Germany, near Berlin, and obtained a court order to examine them. From these documents, the Frankes wrote “Doping: From Research to Deceit” (1991), which only bore Ms. Franke-Berendonk’s name because she was better known at the time. The book revealed medical records and dosages that showed Heidi Krieger received 2,590 milligrams of Oral-Turinabol in 1986.

“That’s about 1,000 milligrams more than what Ben Johnson got in 1988,” Dr. Franke told The New York Times in 2004, referring to the Canadian sprinter who had his gold medal stripped at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul after testing positive for a steroid.

Dr. Franke found and copied the files at a fortuitous time in German history.

He told London’s Daily Telegraph in 2003 that “the change due to unification was happening so fast – already the West German military ranks had taken over and the East Germans were no longer in power. So this gap, which existed only a few weeks in history, I was able to exploit.

In 1994, he had access to the archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police, deeply involved in the doping program. The files revealed, among other things, the doctors’ collaboration with the government. In one particular doctor’s file which included the medication protocols of the athletes he cared for, the doctor wrote: “For the majority of events, world-class performance cannot be achieved without the use of support” – a euphemism for steroids.

The files, which Dr Franke showed The Telegraph, also listed how many athletes could improve using steroids, including male discus throwers (10-12 meters), female 400 meter runners (five to 10 seconds) and javelin throwers (8 to 15 meters).

For 30 years, Dr. Franke was one of Europe’s strongest public voices against doping.

“He wanted to fix the record on all the things that were wrong with competition and doping,” said Steven Ungerleider, the author of “Faust’s God: Inside the East German Doping Machine” (2001) during a telephone interview. “But it was his wife who pushed him.” He added: “He wanted to help all the athletes, especially the 1976 team, which had been betrayed by East Germany.”

In the 2000s, Dr. Franke sought to correct the record of two top cyclists, Jan Ullrich, a German who won the 1997 Tour de France, and Alberto Contador, a Spaniard.

In the Ullrich case, Dr. Franke had access to Spanish police files from an investigation into a drug scandal that linked Ullrich to a payment of 35,000 euros to a doctor for doping substances.

“I inspected the file on Jan Ullrich compiled in Madrid,” he told a German TV station in 2006, “and all I can say is that it’s been a while since I I haven’t seen so many bad things”.

Ullrich initially denied the charge and went to a German court to impose a gag order on Dr. Franke, which was eventually overturned. In 2013, Ullrich admitted to doping.

In 2007, Dr. Franke bound Contador to the same scandal; the cyclist was exonerated by the Spanish cycling federation; but he was then banned for two years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, due to testing positive for the drug clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France. He won the race but was stripped of the title.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Franke is survived by one daughter, Friederike Franke; a granddaughter and a sister, Monika Gutheim.

Throughout his anti-doping activities, Dr. Franke continued his scientific work. In 1973 he joined the German Cancer Research Center as professor of biology and head of its research division. He held various positions there until mid-2021.

His research on cytoskeleton proteins – the protein scaffolding that gives shape and support to cells – helped identify and classify tumor cells molecular characteristics of these proteins.

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