SwimmingHow Doping Overhauled the Landscape of the Women's 100 Freestyle

How Doping Overhauled the Landscape of the Women’s 100 Freestyle

How Doping Overhauled the Landscape of the Women’s 100 Freestyle – A Record Book Rewritten

The precise impact of performance-enhancing drugs cannot be measured. The illicit science does not dictate a .23 drop for three-months’ use, or a .41 improvement for a year of doping. And the advantage reaped by one athlete may not equate to what is gained by another individual who, too, has decided to venture down this dark path.

Still, we know there is a significant impact. Performance-enhancers promote quicker recovery. They enable athletes to endure harsher and longer training. They assist in the generation of increased strength. Combine these advantages, and there is no mystery why the world-record book has been occasionally tainted through the years.

There are a handful of world records considered the strongest candidates as the most doping-fueled standards in history. One option is the 4:36.10 mark posted by East Germany’s Petra Schneider in the 400-meter individual medley at the 1982 World Championships. That record lasted for 15 years, until China’s Chen Yan broke it at the 1997 Chinese National Games.

Meanwhile, Wu Yanyan’s world record in the 200 medley, set at 2:09.72 in 1997, endured for a little more than 10 years, until Stephanie Rice went 2:08.92 at the 2008 Australian Olympic Trials. This record was under assault on several occasions, but found a way to hold up, even with the likes of Katie Hoff firing several shots in its direction.

Kornelia Ender – Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord/NTCLAL Archive

In a singular event, though, what Kornelia Ender produced in the women’s 100 freestyle from 1973 to 1976 can be argued as the most-impactful example of performance-enhancing substance use. The East German changed the event, as she lowered its world record on 10 occasions in the span of three years. In the process, she captured the Olympic title and a pair of world crowns.

At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Ender was a 13-year-old upstart for East Germany, which was about to launch a systematic-doping program which altered the history of the sport. In addition to helping her country claim a pair of silver medals in relay action, Ender was the silver medalist behind Aussie Shane Gould in the 200 individual medley.

Her overhaul of the 100 freestyle started in July 1973, when Ender set a world record of 58.25, an effort that bettered Gould’s standard of 58.50. By the time the first edition of the FINA World Championships two months later, Ender had broken the record on three other occasions, taking the standard down to 57.54.

It was just the beginning.

Two more records followed in 1974, including the first sub-57 outing (56.96) at the European Championships. A year later, she again broke the record twice, a mark of 56.22 delivered at the World Champs. Then came 1976, in which Ender took the event into sub-56 territory for the first time. She clocked 55.73 at the East German Olympic Trials, then won gold at the Olympic Games in Montreal in 55.65.

From the moment Ender set her initial world record through her 10th global standard, she improved the record by an eye-popping 2.85 seconds. For context, in a comparable timeframe, the men’s world record in the 100 freestyle was improved by 1.78 seconds. Meanwhile, Ender’s speed matched what men went 28 years earlier, a minimal period compared to the typical 40-50 years in which women’s records catch up to those of their male counterparts.

Shirley Babashoff Kornelia Ender and Enith Brigitha 1973

Shirley Babashoff Kornelia Ender and Enith Brigitha 1973 – Photo Courtesy – NT/CLArchive

Ender was part of the East German program that saw officials systematically supply performance-enhancing drugs to their athletes. Oral Turinabol was the steroid of choice for the teenage girls who were victims in a different fashion than the opponents who were robbed of medals and their rightful moments of glory. Although it has been almost a half-century since the East German program dawned and more than three decades since its demise with the fall of the Berlin Wall, what unfolded cannot be forgotten. Not for the history of the sport. Not for the athletes whose dreams were crushed. Not for the young East German women who were treated as science experiments.

While some of her teammates have acknowledged they were part of a detailed and meticulously designed cheating program, Ender has straddled the fence.

“We had no knowledge, nor any way of knowing, that such a problem existed,” Ender once told Craig Lord, an International Swimming Hall of Fame journalist. “There was no mention of it, and nobody spoke about it. It was possible that we were given things in our food and drink. We were fed by a special kitchen at the school, but we didn’t know of anything…Now, after all this time, I still ask myself whether it could be possible they gave me things, because I remember being given injections during training and competition, but this was explained to me as being substances to help me regenerate and recuperate.”

Yes, what Ender was supplied indeed helped her bounce back from grueling workouts, and there was nothing legal or legitimate about them. Rather, they played a major role in one of the darkest chapters in the sport, and the women’s 100 freestyle – thanks to Ender’s record assaults – can be argued as the event that was influenced the greatest.

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