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Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 07:21 GMT


Top rowing coach 'used drugs'
image: [ During the 1970s and 1980s the East Germans dominated Olympic rowing ]
During the 1970s and 1980s the East Germans dominated Olympic rowing

A top rowing coach who works with the British Olympic champion Steve Redgrave is believed to have used banned drugs in the former East Germany.

Jürgen Grobler's name appears on documents which have been unearthed by the BBC.

He now works for Britain's Amateur Rowing Association at the Leander Rowing Club in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, but there is no suggestion he has used prohibited drugs in Britain.

[ image: Jürgen Grobler pictured (left) with Steve Redgrave]
Jürgen Grobler pictured (left) with Steve Redgrave
He helped Redgrave win two of his four gold medals but again there is no suggestion the Briton was involved in drug-taking in any way.

Banned drugs

Mr Grobler has admitted he encouraged young rowers to take banned drugs in the 1970s and 1980s.

East Germany dominated rowing between 1972 and 1988, winning 45 Olympic medals, 31 of them gold.

Olympic gold medallist Martin Cross recalls: "Competing against the East Germans was absolutely hellish. They had won medal after medal and I assumed at the time they just trained more and were better athletes and I was doing well being in the same race as them."

[ image: Martin Cross:
Martin Cross: "We thought they just trained more"
But perfection came not only from a ruthless training regime but also the systematic use of bodybuilding drugs.

Corrupt system

Mr Grobler was one of East Germany's top coaches and has admitted being part of the corrupt system.

In 1989 the East German secret police, the Stasi, destroyed thousands of files containing sensitive material but documents about the use of drugs survived.

Many former East German athletes have claimed the routine use of anabolic steroids and other bodybuilding or stamina-giving drugs led to long-term health problems.

Marion Tschisgale says she was a guinea pig: "I started taking the pills when I was 10 and then I got chronic kidney infections. They happened more and more and at shorter intervals."

She was in constant pain for a long time and nearly lost her daughter in childbirth.

The German Unity Crime Commission is about to prosecute several of those responsible for giving drugs to at least 10,000 athletes.

State-controlled programme

Dr Giselher Spitzer, who is investigating doping for the German government, says: "It was a state-controlled programme to used performance-enhancing drugs within the sports of the GDR. Rowing was a centre of research."

"If people asked what the pills were they were told they were vitamins. If someone asked too much they were thrown out of the sport."

He says Mr Grobler was within the "inner circle" which ran East Germany's rowing schools, where children as young as 10 were given anabolic steroids.

Dirk Schildhauer, a former East German sculler and double junior silver medallist, says the use of Turinabol, an anabolic drug made in East Germany, was mandatory.

"Every rower in the national squad was given the blue pills. I think they continued to take them right up until they were in the national squad."

Avoided doping tests

He says they became adept at avoiding doping control tests.

Wilfried Hofmann, former president of the East German Rowing Association, denies drugs were widely used.

He says: "Our performances were down to our training and our coaching methods and the opportunities we had and there was nothing else to it.

"I can say with certainty we did not rely on anabolic agents or any other drugs."

After the fall of the Berlin wall East German coaches went to work in America, Australia and Europe.

Mr Grobler told the BBC's Newsnight programme he did not want to talk about his past.

He said: "I have to live with what went on in East Germany. I was born in the wrong place. It was not possible to walk away."

Stasi informant

Mr Grobler admitted he had "difficulties" with the thought of the former rowers who had health problems but added: "No-one was pushed. They always had the choice to walk away."

He denied being a Stasi member but admitted giving them occasional snippets of information.

[ image: Martin Brandon Bravo:
Martin Brandon Bravo: "He has our backing"
Martin Brandon Bravo, president of Britain's Amateur Rowing Association, admits they never asked Mr Grobler about whether he had been involved in the use of banned drugs.

But he says: "Until there is some serious evidence that man has our backing."

Steve Redgrave defended his coach: "I've known Jürgen for the seven years he's coached me and if there was any involvement it would be the system and not the man himself to blame.

"Jürgen's a coach not a medic."

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