Doping to the Limit

Karin Helmstaedt

It was suspected for a long time, but now it's been said out loud. In an interview with German television, swimmers Chris-Carol Bremer and Mark Warnecke said they believe drug use is widespread in swimming all over the world.

"It's been clear to me and to a lot of others for quite a while now that doping is widely practiced," said Bremer, 27, and the spokesperson for the German national swim team. "There have even been cases of testosterone and EPO being found in swimmers' bags," he said.

Both students of medicine, Bremer and Warnecke say they have noticed significant physical changes in many swimmers.

"The principle is to keep one's testosterone level just under the legal limit of six," said Bremer. He explained that a lower but regular dosage of the hormone can still have a significant doping effect while allowing the athlete to stay under the threshold. According to international rules, an athlete tests positive when the testosterone-epitestosterone ratio, or TE value, exceeds 6 to 1.

Bremer said: "Those who do it right can stay just under the limit, say, at 5.5:1." Warnecke agreed: "With the help of a good sports doctor you can spend the whole year on the stuff."

He said that timing, as well as the regular dosage spread, was the key. "I believe those who use drugs take their doses at night, so that by morning, when the controller comes there's no trace of it. The ones that get caught are those that slip up," he said.

"It's no secret that you can easily get around doping controls," said Bremer.

Their claims were supported by Professor Klaus Mueller, chief analyst at the IOC accredited laboratory in Kreischa. Mueller said that in general he sees "a lot of elevated testosterone levels that would merit a closer examination."

Bremer and Warnecke said they were speaking out because they were worried about the effect of the trend on young competitors. "It's time to stop the hypocrisy," said Bremer. "It's so well known and yet people willingly look away."

The two swimmers maintain that they themselves do not use drugs. At the world championships in Perth last January, they put forward a proposal to publish the successive test results-retroactive to 1990-of the entire German swim team. This way, Bremer explained, a "steroid profile" could be established that would show any abnormalities in testosterone levels. Nothing further was done, however, apparently due to the lethargy of the German Swimming Federation (DSV).

The reactions to Bremer and Warnecke's initiative have been positive; the DSV announced that it will look into setting up an Anti-Doping Commission . "Until now we've only had individuals dealing with the problem of doping," said DSV President RŸdiger Tretow, "That's not enough." The German Sports Federation (DSB) wants to arrange a meeting with the two swimmers, and President Manfred von Richthofen maintained that "we are happy for any sort of tip."

Earlier this month, German sports fans were shaken when three-time winner of the Berlin and Boston marathons Uta Pippig was suspended by the German Athletics Federation (DLV) after returning a positive drugs test.

Pippig's sample was analysed at the Kreischa lab that, ironically, used to function as the main testing centre for East German athletes; pre-travel tests determined if the athletes would come up clean in competition testing. Only then were they allowed to travel.