People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 35

August 29, 2004

      OLYMPICS 2004: The “GHOST” OF GDR

 S Kar


IT is official now. Amidst all the dope charges and drug charges in the 2004 Olympics, the USA is getting a silent drubbing though statistics and political realities may not be showing it. The erstwhile German Democratic Republic (GDR) seems to be smiling at Olympic champions America and others who once were in awe with them.


In 1976, at the Montreal Olympic Games, the GDR (East Germany) for the first time overtook the USA in terms of the number of gold medals won, though the US still won more medals overall than the GDR. The next two Games were boycott affected. The 1980 Moscow Games were boycotted by the Western nations, while the 1984 Los Angeles Games were boycotted by the socialist bloc. Seoul in 1988 therefore presented the next opportunity for a showdown between the major socialist sporting nations and the champion of capitalism, the US. This time, the GDR was decisively ahead of the US, beating it both in gold medals and on the total medal count.


Unfortunately, those were the last Games in which the GDR would compete, since Germany was reunited in 1990 and the socialist era in East Germany came to a close. Soon thereafter, the Western media was replete with ‘exposes’ of the "East German sports machine".  A picture was painted of a ruthless state machinery driving athletes to inhuman feats and pumping them with drugs to enhance its medal tally. It is an image that has endured in many people’s minds.


But the reality is quite different, as is now becoming evident. Almost a decade and a half after the re-unification of Germany, the former East Germany continues to dominate the medal count for unified Germany at Athens.


At the time of writing, the Germans had won 5 individual gold medals and 3 team gold medals in Athens. Four of the individual golds were won by athletes born in the GDR or the USSR in the 1970s. All had entered competitive sports while the GDR still existed as a separate nation and some had even represented the GDR. As for the team events, all three members of the men’s team sprint winners in cycling were born in the GDR between 1970 and 1978, while 3 out of 4 rowers in the women's quadruple sculls team were East Germans born between 1969 and 1976.


The silver medals were no different. Of the 3 individual German silver medal winners, 2 came from those born in the GDR, while information about the birthplace of the third - Christian Lusch – was not available. Of the 7 silver medals won in team events, 4 came from teams consisting exclusively of East Germans, one (the tennis men's doubles) from a team of West Germans and the remaining 2 from a mix.


It is only in the bronze medal winners that West Germans made a significant contribution. Of the 8 individual bronze medals, 4 came from athletes born in West Germany, 3 from those born in the GDR and 1 from an athlete born in the USSR in 1973. None of the team bronzes came from teams consisting exclusively of East German or West German athletes. In fact, they included two people born in South Africa too.


On the whole, therefore, the former East Germany accounted for almost two-thirds of the German medals. What is more, that share is likely to increase further by the end of the Games, with several East German canoeists likely to pick up medals. Clearly, therefore, it is ideologically motivated propaganda to put down the good showing of the socialist countries to mere doping or “sports machines”. The reality is that socialism did (and does in Cuba even today) ensure that the masses are able to access sports facilities and hence enormously expands the base from which talent can be tapped and champions nurtured.