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Women and Steroids – The “Wonder Girls”

The East German Olympic Swim Team in 1976 surprised the world when they suddenly dominated the sport. In 1976 the East German team double their medals from the previous Olympics and the woman’s swim team dominated by taking 11 of the 13 golds in the sport. These women continued to dominate the pool for almost twenty years. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, the truth about this sudden domination came out. The women on the team were being fed steroids and were being told they were vitamins.

The women on the team remember being given as many as 30 pills a day as well as injections by their coaches and trainers. They were told that they were getting substances that would help the recuperate between training sessions. Kornelia Ender noticed before the 1976 Olympics that she gained eighteen pounds but figured it was due to her hard work and didn’t think it was due to any performance enhancers.

The steroid regimen that these girls underwent was well-coordinated so that they would pass their drug tests at the Olympic games – so much so that one promising team member was pushed out of the Games because of a miscalculation in dosages and the trainers and coaches feared that she would test positive.

These instances of steroid use have not gone unnoticed. For example, Heidi Kreiger (who is not on the swim team, but an East German shotput champion) was given steroids unknowingly and attributes that excess testosterone in her system as one of the reasons why she eventually had a sex change. Additionally, the German government has estimated that around ten percent of these athletes have serious health issues related to this steroid use including liver canver, organ damage, psychological defects and infertility.

The women on the 1976 swim team were teens and preteens when they were given these steroids. Now, they report many adverse effects from this “secret” drug use including birth defects, enlarged hearts and gynecological problems – including one team member who has had multiple miscarriages (Naimzadeh).

Carola Nitschke surrendered her medals and asked to have her name and awards striked from the record books because she had been unknowingly using steroids when she won the medals. She’s not the only one who feels this way, but she also expressed the fact that it’s difficult to know if she would have won these medals without the doping. Many of the athletes feel betrayed in the sense that they weren’t given the opportunity to see if they really had what it takes to do it on their own – and that is something they’ll never get back.


  1. “1976 Montreal.” CBC.ca. www.cbc.ca.
  2. Naimzadeh, Sarah. “Wonder Girls and Steroids.” www.serendip.brynmawr.edu.
  3. Stone, Thomas. “Top 10 Drug Scandals.” www.isporty.com.
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