Werner Franke, an esteemed molecular biologist who, with his wife, exposed many of the details of East Germany’s state-sponsored, illicit athlete doping program that brought the country a striking surge of Olympic glory in the 1970s and ’80s, died on Nov. 14 in Heidelberg, Germany. He was 82.
Ulrich, Ulrich’s son, claimed that it was a cerebral hemorhage.
The documents that Dr. Franke and his wife, Brigitte Franke-Berendonk, a former Olympic shot putter and discus thrower, found in the 1990s in German archives after the fall of the Berlin Wall, showed the breadth of the government’s plan to use androgenic steroids, most notably little blue pills called Oral-Turinabol, and hormones, to bolster its athletes’ chances of winning medals at international competitions, particularly the Olympics.
“Several thousand athletes were treated with androgens every year, including minors of each sex,” Dr. Franke and Mrs. Franke-Berendonk wrote in 1997 in the journal Clinical Chemistry. “Special emphasis was placed on administering androgens to women and adolescent girls because this practice proved to be particularly effective for sports performance.”
Dr. Franke is a well-known antidoping expert. He helped athletes who sued their doctors or trainers by giving them scientific information and documents about the drugs that they used. He also provided documents to the prosecutors.
“The depth of the doping culture in East Germany encompassed the political and sports world, an intertwining of powerful men,” said John Hoberman, an expert on East German’s doping culture who wrote “Mortal Engines: The Science of Performance and Dehumanization of Sport” (1992). “That was the environment that Franke and Berendonk operated in as beacons of integrity.”
Travis T. Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said in a statement that Dr. Franke was a “fierce advocate for clean sport” and “one of the few who had the courage to speak out and demand better for athletes.”
Although there were suspicions over the years that East Germany’s international success was attributable to more than improved training methods, the Frankes’ research laid out the country’s systematic program — called State Planning Theme 14.25 — which involved doctors, scientists, coaches and the nation’s sports hierarchy and government.
It worked. East German athletes won 25 gold medals at Mexico City’s 1968 Summer Olympics. They won 69 medals at the 1972 Munich Summer Games. 23 of these were gold. Four years later, in Montreal, they won 94 medals, 42 of them gold; stunningly, 11 of the 13 women’s swimming events were won by East Germans.
The Frankes described it as “one of the largest pharmacological experiments in history,” with many of the drugs manufactured by state-sponsored companies and an awareness of side effects for women like increased body hair, overmuscled physiques, ovarian infections and infertility. One shot placed champion Heidi Krieger,Andreas was so traumatized by the changes to her body due to heavy steroid usage, she decided that she would undergo transition surgery and become Andreas.
“They weren’t just strengthening women,” Dr. Franke told Sports Illustrated in 2003. “They were virilizing them.”
Werner Wilhelm Franke was a German born Jan. 31, 1940 in Paderborn. His father, Wilhelm, worked for the German railroad; his mother, Rosa (Kröger) Franke, was a homemaker. He studied biology, physics and chemistry at Heidelberg University and earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in 1966 and a Ph.D the next year from the same school.
His academic career began as an assistant professor of Biology at the University of Freiburg in 1967. This was also the year that he met his future spouse, who immigrated from East Germany to West Germany back in 1958. Her coach was Dr. Franke. He had coached her in the 800 and 1,500 meter races as a teenager. Later, Franke guided her to the 1968 Summer Olympics where she placed eighth and 11th in discus throw. In 1973, she was the German shot put champion.
They got married in 1975. By then, Mrs. Franke-Berendonk had conveyed to her husband her suspicions that East German athletes, some of whom she had competed against, were taking performance-enhancing drugs. They could not prove it, however, until 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell.
Dr. Franke found out in 1990 that classified documents describing the doping drug program had been stored at a military facility in Bad Saarow near Berlin. A court ordered him to review them. From those records, the Frankes wrote “Doping: From Research to Deceit” (1991), which bore only Mrs. Franke-Berendonk’s name because she was better known at the time. The book included medical records and dosages showing that Heidi Krieger took 2,590 milligrams Oral-Turinabol between 1986 and 1986.
“That’s about 1,000 milligrams more than Ben Johnson got in 1988,” Dr. Franke told The New York Times2004 refers to the Canadian sprinter who lost his gold medal at Seoul’s 1988 Summer Olympics after testing positive for a stimulant.
Dr. Franke discovered the files and copied them at an opportune moment in German history.
He told The Daily Telegraph of London in 2003 that “the change because of the unification was happening so fast — already the West German military ranks had taken over and the East Germans were no longer in power. So this gap, which only existed for a few weeks in history, I was able to exploit.”
1994 was the year he obtained access to the archives of the Stasi (East German secret police), which were heavily involved in the doping program. The files also revealed the involvement of doctors with government. In the file of one particular doctor that included the drug protocols of athletes under his care, the doctor wrote, “For the majority of events, world-class performances cannot be achieved without the use of supporting means” — a euphemism for steroids.
Dr. Franke also showed The Telegraph the files that contained a list listing how steroids could help various athletes. This included male discus throwers (10-12 m), 400-meter female runners (5-10 secs) and female javelin throwers (8-15 m).
For 30 years, Dr. Franke was one of Europe’s loudest public voices against doping.
“He wanted to correct the record on all the things that were wrong with competition and doping,” Steven Ungerleider, the author of “Faust’s God: Inside the East German Doping Machine” (2001) said in a phone interview. “But it was his wife who spurred him on.” He added, “He wanted to help all the athletes, especially the 1976 team, that had been betrayed by East Germany.”
Dr. Franke attempted to rectify the records of Jan Ullrich (a German cyclist who won 1997 Tour de France) and Alberto Contador (a Spaniard).
In the Ullrich case Dr. Franke was granted access to Spanish police files relating to an investigation into a drug scam that linked Ullrich to a 35,000 euro payment to a doctor who used doping substances.
“I inspected the file on Jan Ullrich compiled in Madrid,” he told a German TV station in 2006, “and all I can say is that it’s been some time since I’ve seen so much bad stuff,”
Ullrich initially denied the accusation. He then went to Germany to place a gag order against Dr. Franke. This was ultimately overturned. In 2013, Ullrich admitted to doping.
2007 Dr. Franke linked ContadorSimilar scandal. The Spanish cycling federation exonerated the cyclist, but he was banned for two additional years. by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, Due to a positive test for the drug Clenbuterol in the Tour de France 2010. He won, but the title was taken away.
Franke is survived not only by his son and wife, but also by Friederike Franke, a daughter and one granddaughter. Monika Gutheim, a sister, was also with Franke.
Dr. Franke maintained his scientific research even during his antidoping efforts. He joined the German Cancer Research Center in 1973 as a biology professor, and then became its head of research. He held several positions at the center until mid-2021.
His research into the proteins of the cytoskeleton — the protein scaffolding that provides cells with shape and support — has helped make it possible to identify and classify tumor cellsThese proteins’ molecular properties.
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