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MIL OSI Translation. Region: Germany / Deutschland –

Source: Koerber Foundation In an interview with Laura Wesseler, Iris Buchholz talks about the GDR’s sports system, alleged vitamin pills and her life after competitive sports. Ms. Buchholz, how did you get into rowing? As a child, I always had the inner drive to do sports and tried it out different sports. A boy from the neighborhood took me rowing when I was eleven – and that’s where I got stuck. I don’t even know where my ambition came from – it was probably just nice to be with other athletes. Rowing is a team sport. How can you tell if someone has a talent for rowing? It is good if you are tall and the leverage of the entire body, i.e. arms, legs and upper body, is optimal. At 1.76 meters, I was even a little too small later and didn’t quite meet the standard measurements for this sport. After I knew the technique and then trained almost every day, I quickly performed very well in two and four. I drove to regattas and competitions with Dynamo Schwerin on the weekends and we were quite successful. How did the move to the sports school in Berlin come about? When I was 14, I and my teammate beat a club team in two at a competition in Berlin. We were just so good that the relevant people noticed us. In 1976 I was brought to the Children’s and Youth Sports School (KJS) in Berlin, where I lived in the boarding school. I was very motivated because I was out in nature, had fun and was successful with my teammates. Weren’t you homesick in Berlin? After all, you were only 15 years old, and of course I was homesick. But once you were in this system, it was very difficult for the parents to bring the children back. And after moving to Berlin, my whole life was only focused on sport and I didn’t even think about whether I really wanted all of this. You were naive, you just follow along and don’t notice how you are being absorbed by the system. Today, of course, I know a lot more than I noticed back then. What memories do you associate with your life at sports school? My coaches rated me psychologically very well at the time. That had to do with my marginal suitability – I was a little too small, and so my coaches let me know from the start that nothing would come of me. However, I tried all the more and wanted to show everyone. However, I already noticed then that I was getting increasingly back pain and above all stomach problems. I kept getting sick and was no longer able to participate in regular training. Today you would probably call it burnout. Our efficiency has also been successively increased with the help of various supporting means. We did a lot more than the body was actually able to do. The psyche was completely split off and the pain threshold was increased by doping drugs. You can no longer feel your body and forget your body awareness. That is the fatal thing. Did you realize then that you were doped? Our diet was always under control, we didn’t buy or prepare anything ourselves. We could never see what our food consisted of, it came from a central kitchen and was individually portioned for each person. We were allowed to take alleged vitamin pills regularly ourselves in our rooms. Other pills were assigned to us and our trainers monitored the intake. Even when we asked what we were actually taking, they said: “These are vitamins”. Many are probably wondering how one can be so naive and believe that. But when you were in that system, you were so naive. How do you rate the involvement of the trainers and doctors? Did everyone know what they were administering? The trainers had their instructions, provided information on the constitution of the athletes and then learned from the doctors what drugs they should give us. They worked closely together. From 1974 onwards, a state plan decided to enforce compulsory doping for squad athletes in the GDR. Trainers and doctors must have known that some of us were also guinea pigs. When I noticed after two years that things were no longer going well and told the doctors that I really couldn’t anymore, they didn’t care. I was even yelled at that there was no question of stopping. That shook me, of course, because they were trusted people for us. We rarely saw our families and they were sort of a surrogate family. This family privation was part of it. “That’s why you’ll be on the podium at some point,” we were told. When did you get out of the system? That was a really bad phase. I fell short more and more often and the more I tried to keep myself at the required level, the worse the health complaints became. These pains were then so severe that I had to feel them and could no longer split off. Two years in a row, shortly before it started, I was kicked out of the World Cup squad. I couldn’t and I didn’t want to. When I said that, the doctors and coaches threatened me. But I did not give up until a single doctor realized that it was no longer justifiable for me to continue doing competitive sports. At the age of 19 I was “delegated”. During this process I was repeatedly threatened that my life would be made difficult if I got out. And that’s what they did. What happened after you left sports school and boarding school? The whole system was rigorously shut down for me overnight. There were no subsequent medical care appointments and no advice on how to get off the training. That’s deadly for an athlete’s heart and I’m still struggling with that today. So we were just human material for political purposes. The perpetrators certainly had their reasons at the time, I understand that. Nevertheless, we were radically exploited without looking at our future. When I got out of the system, despite my first grade, I was only able to get a place in socialist economics through my father’s initiative and with a lot of luck. With my studies, a whole new life began for me: I was suddenly so free and no one told me what to do. When did you notice that something was wrong with my health? I got the first shock when I was around six years ago I saw an NDR documentary on doping. The tablets that were shown looked very familiar to me, and one of the interviews was with a former rowing companion who is doing very badly today. I should have noticed before when I suddenly fainted twice at the age of 47. After I was admitted to the hospital, I was told I needed a pacemaker. Four years ago, I began to notice that I was no longer breathing enough, my face had swollen and turned blue from physical and psychological stress. I’ve always worked a lot, held commercial management positions and was often a bit of a boss against my will because I never learned to say no. What happened next? I was getting hoarse more and more often, even though I didn’t have a cold. The voice stayed away from me. The whole body has started to seal. I was scared to death inside and no doctor took me seriously. Later I found a Hamburg vascular surgeon through my own initiative. That was my salvation. If I hadn’t met him, I would certainly not be here anymore. And only when I later admitted myself to a clinic did the psychotherapist there ask about my biography. Only much later, when the body begins to reduce strength, does the serious damage to the health of former competitive athletes like me come – both mentally and physically. On the theme of this year’s history competition »Moving Times. Sport Makes Society «, it is a good idea to research state doping in the GDR. Where can participants find information to help them search for clues? The Stasi played a major role in the field of sports and the files tell you a lot about clubs, biographies and of course the subject of doping. The state commissioner for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for coming to terms with the SED dictatorship even offers a self-help group for those who suffer from the long-term effects of state doping. Contemporary witnesses can be asked for an interview there if they are ready. The Doping Victims Aid e. V. in Berlin would certainly be a possible contact for research. More about the history competition at Overview of all locations of the Stasi records archive with contact options:


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and / or sentence structure not be perfect.

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