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Dark side of sports

Ute Soldierer / lbhNovember 12, 2013

In a documentary film, Sandra Kaudelka profiles four former GDR athletes. DW spoke with Kaudelka about heroes from her childhood and the dark side of sports in socialism.

Close up portrait of director Sandra Kaudelka Photo: Michael Kotschi
Image: Michael Kotschi

DW: Ms. Kaudelka, you yourself were once a competitive athlete in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Was your central motivation for the film "I Will Not Lose" to show what happened to your childhood idols?

Sandra Kaudelka: Absolutely! The coverage in the media about GDR sport doping angered me. I wanted to make a more nuanced film about the topic, as I experienced it at the time - for better or worse.

Do you now perceive your own experience as a competitive athlete differently?

Not differently, but I can handle it better. The shooting, the meetings with my former idols - it all helped me to gain something positive from the entire experience.

With the knowledge we have today about how the sport wunderland of the GDR was based on abuse and doping, is it still possible to honor the heroes of that time?

These are great people. They were part of the system. Everyone attempts to make the best of the situation he or she is dealt. Some try to escape and others try to establish themselves in it.

Close up archive portrait of GDR sprinter Marita Koch Photo: dra
GDR sprinter Marita Koch still holds the 400-meter dash world recordImage: DRA

Udo Beyer, the former shot putter and Olympic champion says in the film that he knew about the doping. At any point during shooting, did you ask yourself whether you had been doped without your knowledge?

Of course I knew that there was doping in the GDR, but I didn't think that we divers were affected. Building muscle in a sport that requires fine coordination doesn't make much sense.

But at some point your doubts grew?

Yes. Because Ines Geipel, one of the film's protagonists, explained to me that even gymnasts and divers between the ages of 10 and 13 years old were offered steroids to stop their growth hormones. And that, in turn, makes complete sense. Because in these sports it is important to be small and agile.

After the fall of the Wall, your former idols shared a similar fate with many of the conformist politicians in the GDR's power structure. Did that surprise you?

No, not at all. I knew that, which is exactly why I wanted to make this film. I wanted to show that these are people who exerted themselves so much and trained for six hours a day, every day for 20 years. And in the end, they have almost nothing to show for it. The success of a woman like runner Marita Koch is actually comparable to Boris Becker.

Archive photo of two divers on a diving board, getting ready to jump Photo: Lichtblick Media GmbH/Jenny Lou Ziegel
Child gymnasts and divers were given steroids to stunt their growth hormonesImage: Lichtblick Media GmbH/Jenny Lou Ziegel

For the GDR, these athletes were the perfect advertisement to the rest of the world. Did they also enjoy many privileges?

Yes, but in my film I show just how small these privileges are in proportion. What does it really mean to know you are allowed to buy a car after a short time. Even the wishes and dreams were very modest. But my film should also show how bitter it is when someone like Brita Baldus, for example, has completed two university degrees yet still can't seem to break into her profession. This has been the case for me, as well as my parents' generation from the GDR. It's been difficult for them to find their way around in the new system.

As a young girl Sandra Kaudelka was GDR youth champion in diving. In her documentary film, "Einzelkämpfer," titled "I Will Not Lose" in English, she tells of the athletic ambitions in socialism, profiling four athletes: Udo Beyer, the Olympic champion in shot put; Marita Koch, the fastest sprinter in the GDR - who still holds the world record in the 400-meter dash; former diver and European champion Brita Baldus; and former athlete Ines Geipel, who has become one of the sharpest critics of sports in the GDR. For months, the director conducted interviews and delved into archives to find rare, historical recordings. The result is a personal documentary about the dark side of GDR sports and life after success.