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New light thrown on Stasi's role at '76 Games

After injecting athletes with performance-boosting drugs at the Montreal Olympics, East German officials dumped the leftover serum and syringes in the St. Lawrence River, newly uncovered documents indicate.

East Germany startled the world at the 1976 Games by capturing 40 gold medals, second only to the powerhouse Soviet Union.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago this month, revelations of widespread doping emerged, leading to criminal trials and compensation for athletes unwittingly dosed with steroids.

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A chance discovery in the Berlin archives of the notorious Stasi, the East German secret police, led University of Waterloo history professor Gary Bruce to a 95-page file on the spy service's operations at the Montreal Games.

A Stasi officer's final report on the Games contains an apparently none-too-subtle reference to the drug program under the subheading Destruction of the Rest of the Special Medicine, noting: "About 10 suitcases of medical packaging, needles, tubular instruments, etc. were sunk in the St. Lawrence River."

Bruce said eight of the report's nine pages were missing - likely destroyed in a massive Stasi purge of highly sensitive files at the end of the Cold War. But he has no doubts about the memo's subject matter.

"It's not usual to destroy legal medications, or sink them in the bottom of a river."

The documents make it clear that Stasi chief Erich Mielke saw the Games as a means to improve East Germany's standing in the world by ensuring all went well on the athletic field and that nothing went wrong away from it.

He put the fabled Markus Wolf, head of the Stasi's foreign espionage wing, in charge of Operation Finale, a tightly controlled effort to monitor East German athletes in the years leading up to the Games as well as during the 16-day sporting festival.

The secret police especially feared defections and tried to ferret out any hints of disloyalty among team members.

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Officers from the Stasi and other East Bloc security services met at KGB headquarters in Moscow before the Games to co-ordinate efforts, says Bruce.

The KGB worried the Ukrainian and German emigre "colonies" in Montreal might bombard athletes with anti-Communist pamphlets.

None of this came to pass, but the Stasi didn't take any chances.

Before the Games even began, two athletes were kicked off the team for chatting with an Austrian hotel clerk during a foreign training exercise.

The archival records show there were 67 informants among the 511 East German Olympic team members - a ratio of more than one in every 10 athletes.

There is no indication in the files as to how willing they were to spy on fellow team members. But Bruce's overall sense of what motivated Stasi informants leads him to suspect some athletes co-operated out of fear of reprisal - including possible exclusion from future international events - while others were quite happy to help out.

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"They enjoyed the thrill in some fashion of being a member of the secret police," he said. "And so some of them were quite willing to inform when the Stasi approached them."

Some members of the East German delegation, including a translator, were actually Stasi officers.

Seemingly innocent social interactions were keenly scrutinized for early signs of a planned defection.

The Stasi noted that one athlete received a visit from his grandfather who lived in the United States. Another passed his phone number to a Canadian girl at a dance. And a female team member aroused suspicion by staying out all night with an Italian athlete.

One East German with apparent marital problems was sent home early in case he decided western refuge was the solution to his troubles.

There was an overture to one East German swimmer to join the American team, said Bruce. "But the Stasi intercepted that note before it got to the athlete."

Stasi spies were also concerned the media in Montreal would ask about drug use, and later expressed disappointment with the numerous references in Canadian newspapers to East German athletes being doped.

While suspicions were rampant, the extent of the doping program did not emerge until after reunification of the two Germanies.

Many athletes had no idea the little blue pills they took contained anabolic steroids. Several later suffered serious health effects including cancer, cysts and liver problems, and female athletes delivered babies with birth defects.

Former East German sports chief Manfred Ewald, who helped orchestrate the scheme, was convicted in July 2000 for his role. He died two years later.

But in the summer of 1976, scandal and shame were a long way off, and the Stasi's fears of Olympic calamity quietly slipped away after the Games, much like the remaining special medicine.

"For the most part," says Bruce, "they were very, very happy with how things had gone in Montreal."

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