Monday, August 15, 2016

The GDR's Olympic legacy, and "The Rise and Fall of Gerd Bonk, the World Champion of Doping."

Photo credit, Der Spiegel.

A long read, a must read, and a very sad story.


Gerd Bonk approached the bar with an almost pained expression, as though suddenly sad. It was his third and final attempt at the clean and jerk in the 1976 Olympics, and the bar was set to 235 kilograms (about 518 pounds)—17.5 kilograms less than he'd lifted at the European Championships three months prior, when he had set a world record. The East German super heavyweight stood for a moment, eyes closed, head tilted back, face to the sky. Perhaps he was praying.

Then he opened his eyes, bent at the waist, and gripped the bar. In the kind of swift and efficient motion one doesn't expect from a wide-bodied, six-foot-one, 320-pound hoss, he hoisted the bar to his shoulders, the part of the lift known as the "clean"; from there, he "jerked" the weight, thrusting it quickly above his head. After a moment teetering slightly under the heavy load, arms extended, Bonk dropped the bar and for the first time acknowledged the roaring Montreal crowd. He raised both hands. Smirked. It may not have been a world record, but Bonk had just won Olympic silver.

Bonk was one of 22 weightlifters from the Eastern Bloc to medal at the 1976 Games. Athletes from NATO countries, by contrast, won just two medals. To see the world's strongest man lose out on the gold was high drama, but Bonk's defeat only got more fascinating with time. Thirteen years later, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it emerged that he had used an unfathomable amount of steroids—and still didn't win.

"He was not just the world [record holder in] weightlifting," Herbert Fischer-Solms, a retired German radio journalist who spent much of his career reporting on doping and knew Bonk, told me by phone. "He was also the world champion of doping—given to him by his trainers, functionaries, and his doctors."

No comments: