Issue 106 - March 1998
Following claims in the Mail on Sunday that Jurgen Gröbler, Britain's performance director, is 'alleged to have been a key figure in East Germany's reviled programme of drug cheats,' the ARA issued a statement expressing confidence in the man who produced Britain's only gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games. The statement also reiterates the ARA's unequivocal opposition to the use of illegal substances in rowing, pointing out that the association and the International Rowing Federation (FISA) were pioneers in round-the-year drug testing. British athletes have a 100-per cent clean record in dope tests, as have rowers of the former East Germany in international tests.
Gröbler was a German Democratic Republic coach from 1972-90 and chief coach of the men's team in 1980 when the GDR eight narrowly beat the British for the gold medal at the Moscow Olympics. Gröbler then became chief women's coach until he was headhunted by Leander Club in 1991. He became Steve Redgrave's personal coach - indeed, Redgrave was instrumental in identifying his talents - and moved to the most senior position in the ARA in 1993, where he has masterminded the men's team and personally coached the Redgrave-Pinsent pair and the world champion four which they are now part of.
Rowing was unusual in the GDR system in that it had its own medical centre at Gruenau, the only sport not under the direct thumb of the Leipzig Sports Institute. It is arguable what role doping played in the GDR's record of 153 golds, 74 silvers and 42 bronzes in European, World and Olympic championships from 1966-90 (total golds available: 334; first Olympics under GDR flag 1972, boycotted 1984 Olympics).
Thor Nilsen, chairman of FISA's competition committee, and Hans Howald, chairman of FISA's medical commission at the time, both came to the conclusion that doping proved largely ineffective in rowing. 'We can get the same result without dope,' Nilsen told me in 1990. Bruce Grainger, performance director at the ARA before Gröbler, warned against attributing the whole GDR success story to doping. 'They have left us a huge number of technical lessons on the actual business of rowing and training, and for their last seven or eight years crews from other countries matched those standards.'
© Copyright Christopher Dodd, 1998.
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