Over twenty years ago, in April 1987, a twenty-six year-old heptathlete, Birgit Dressel, died in West Germany. An investigation was opened at the request of her parents. The findings of the criminal investigator and the medical investigating committee in charge of establishing the cause of death stripped away the veil of deceit with which the sports officials and politicians misled the domestic and international publics. The truth came to light: just as with the Eastern European countries of “real socialism“, the countries of the capitalist West created their own sports industry of death that would mutilate and kill thousands of young people. For the first time in the history of sport the world had the chance to gain a detailed insight into the “documents of horror“ (“Der Spiegel“) that had been, in all places where “world-class sport“ is nurtured, carefully hidden from the public gaze. (1)
The story of the tragic death of Birgit Dressel is a warning to young people carried away by dreams of “athletic fame“, to parents, doctors, teachers of physical education and all those who, as victims of these illusion of “world-class sport“, can contribute, by their idolatrous relation to the mania over record-breaking and the blind promotion of the idea that “sport is the best ambassador“, to the development of increasingly cruel mechanisms for the destruction of young people in sport. The death of Birgit Dressel clearly showed that the road to “optimal results“ had become the road to self-destruction. Birgit died in April of 1987, but her death is still present as it reflects the fate of an increasing number of young people who have become the victims of “world-class sport“. At the same time, the epilogue to her death indicates the organic link between the sports mafia and politics: nobody was punished, nobody was held accountable. The murderers in white uniforms, protected by those who gave them orders from the world of politics and capital, continued their criminal activity. The desperate cry of Birgit’s mother: “They did not try to help my daughter, they finished her off!“ – most dramatically speaks to the true nature of contemporary sports medicine. An even greater irony is that, immediately after Birgit’s death, Willi Daume, then the President of the National Olympic Committee of West Germany and one of the heads of the international sports mafia, nominated Armin Klümper, the man who developed the doping mechanisms in West Germany to monstrous proportions and who was directly responsible for Birgit’s death, as the Olympic team physician! (2)
Daily doses of tablets taken by athletes are proof that medication has become indispensable in achieving victories and breaking records: they start with harmless pills, only to continue with real medicines, usually against inflammation and pain, which are always given by prescription. In the end, man becomes the slave of devastating, legally prescribed, doping drugs. “Birgit is the victim of the pharmaceutical industry!“ – said Birgit’s father after her death. International competitions are regularly visited by international drug peddlers, many of whom carry a doctor’s title along with their sample cases full of the newly developed products of the doping industry. They come to recruit the young. The practice is tacitly accepted by sports associations. In such a state of affairs, the struggle against doping is doomed to failure.
The tragic death of Birgit Dressel forced people like Willi Daume to admit: “I dread to think that athletes, for example, take anabolic to increase muscle mass, while in a number of countries the use of anabolic steroids in livestock farming is forbidden.“ In spite of that, the main authorities on sports medicine in the West continue to recommend anabolic to all those who want to become muscular “macho men“ and “Amazons“ in order to achieve “optimum results“.
Nineteen eighty-six was a successful year for Birgit Dressel. She managed to move up from 33rd to be ranked no. 6 in the world. She was preparing for the light athletics world championship in Rome (September 1987) and for the Olympic Games in Seoul. She had to remain in good shape at all cost. Birgit did not want to live forever in her little attic flat. She was determined to do everything necessary to set a record that would bring her money and fame and a peaceful retirement. Others had managed, why couldn’t she?
Every day, from her well-equipped medicine cabinet, Birgit would take nine pills on average and wash them down with an ampoule of some liquid med. The investigation found that she had used up to 101 different medications! Among them vitamins B1, B12 and C; meds containing copper, magnesium, and pills claimed by the manufacturer to treat arteriosclerosis, swelling of the legs, allergies, osteoporosis, inflammation of the intestines, weak heart, arterial cramps, swelling… Their names are the products of pure fantasy: “Pascovenol“, “Frubiase“, “Oxypangam’, “Dreisafer“… Birgit also used to drink “Megagrisevit“, an anabolic listed as a forbidden doping substance. She managed to obtain it “anonymously“, through the mail. (It would turn out later that the “anonymous“ sellers were the top level athletic coaches, who obtained these medications on the black market and sold them with an important mark-up, even to their own “protégés“!) This medication is prescribed to people suffering from serious diseases, especially to cancer patients during the final stage of their illness. Dressler used to drink it on a daily basis in order to get muscle gain. She became increasingly masculine. This, however, did not keep her from regularly dosing with “Megagrisevit“, a steroid sold with the warning that it is a sexual hormone used to help the transformation of a feminine into a masculine body. Since 1986, Dressel had been using the anabolic “Stromba“, with similar side effects.
Birgit’s doctor and unquestioned “health advisor“ was a sports medicine professor, a graduated radiologist (!), Armin Klümper, who was recognized as the “top authority“ (“Ober-Guru“) in West German sports medicine. His “Special Clinic for Sports Traumatology“ near Freiburg is the “haven“ for Germany’s ”top athletes“. In the 1990s, the average number of “top“ West German athletes who annually received “treatment“ in his “special clinic“ was 2,400, or 70% of all German athletes. For decathlon competitor Kurt Bendlin, Klümper is the “most important person in West German sport“. According to Dietmar Mögenburg, Olympic champion in men’s high jump, Klümper is a “miracle worker“. Some world champions openly admit that Armin Klümper should be credited for their medals. The extent to which athletes are willing to submit to monster-doctors, who treat them like laboratory rats, can be seen in the case of “Schalke“ football player Wolfgang Patzke, who allowed Klümper to inject his back with seventy “cocktails“ within a period of twenty days, despite the fact that, in his own words, after each shot he got “a sick feeling“.
Birgit Dressel was not so lucky, nor did she have a true mentor. She blindly trusted the “miracle worker” and regularly visited his clinic. She last saw him on 24 February 1987. On that occasion the “Injection Guru” gave her a shot containing 15 different medicines, along with 12 additional capsules. On the same day, Klümper gave his “patient” a substance called “NeyDop“, containing a mixture of “standardized macromolecules of soluble organic lysates” obtained from the cerebral cortex, midbrain, hindbrain and placenta. The manufacturer recommends the use of this medication only for the treatment of paralysis agitans and severe brain damage caused by syphilis and epilepsy. Birgit certainly did not suffer from these conditions. This “cytoplasmic therapy with cell injections“ or, in ordinary language, a therapy using fresh cells in a conserved form, is one of Klümper’s specialties. As long ago as 1985, Klümper allowed Dressel to inject herself with fresh cells despite many previous warnings by a number of colleagues about possible negative effects on the immune system. (This was found out later to be one of the main causes of Birgit’s death). Early in August 1987, several months after Birgit’s death, the West German Ministry of Health prohibited the use of this medication. On the same day, Klümper injected Dressel’s painful lower back with “Discus Compositum“, a mixture containing 37 different substances. Among those were vitamins, zinc, silver, calcium-phosphate, even sulphur. In addition, Klümper “treated“ Dressel’s ischialgia with “Cefossin, Cefak”, a drug containing gold, with negative side effects, that was found during the autopsy.
Over the course of her career, Klümper gave Dressler over 400 “special“ injections and recommended the use of a large number of medications, among which were those with severe effects on the organs. As with many “top athletes“, Dressel was convinced that her body was capable of easily coping with anything injected into it. Birgit’s mother Lisa, who used to play volleyball, warned Brigit a number of times about the possible consequences of medications. Brigit’s response was typical: “Mom, I need them. Everyone takes them. It’s nothing at all. Decathletes take twice as many.“
According to the report by the “miracle worker“ Armin Klümper (dated 24 February), Birgit Dressel was “healthy to the highest degree” and “at the peak of fitness”. After the autopsy and according to the medical records, the official report revealed that, since 1981, Dressel had been suffering from ever-recurrent hip pain, lateral bending of the spinal column, damage to the disks and fusion of the vertebrae, displacement of the pelvis by two centimeters, degeneration of both kneecaps and fallen arches. In addition, her body was “extremely susceptible to infections”, and she suffered from occasional high blood pressure. As a result of constant straining, her heart muscle contained a number of connective tissues instead of muscle tissues. The “healthy to the highest degree” Birgit Dressel, according to Klümper’s statement in the Police Investigation, was in truth a chronically ill girl, whose body was overloaded with hundreds of drugs. Sport has made a cripple of her long before her death, destroying her joints and prematurely ruining her internal organs.
All that was the consequence of “stereotypical extreme exertion“, as this torture is called in sports science. Within seconds, the lower back is hit by the entire kinetic energy of the weight of the body. The simulation apparatus showed that during a career the “successful” heptathlete must endure between 200 000 and 300 000 instances of extreme physical pressure, which even the strongest woman cannot achieve. Wildor Hollmann, a sports physician and professor from Cologne, claims that “there is no job that even remotely approaches the world-class sport in its adverse effects on the body”. Thus, for example, when practicing on the rings, a gymnast must endure a pressure on his wrists in excess of five times his bodyweight; in a quickly taken penalty kick the ball hits with the strength of a 150kg shot; skiers expose their knees to a pressure higher than that endured by astronauts at lift-off of a rocket; in sports requiring endurance, the heart becomes three times its normal size, it beats arhythmically and only 35 times per minute. Professor Hollman thinks that athletes, due to intense training and increased practice time, have reached their “biological limits”. Fatigue, disease and organ failure are inevitable consequences of such trends. It is fair to say that “top athletes“ are becoming a “bunch of sports cripples and premature invalids” – as the “Der Spiegel“ journalists claim.
Not so long ago, Bertolt Brecht said that “great sport begins at the point it ceases to be healthy“. Former rhythmic gymnast Herta Löwenberg wrote in her diary: “Sport is death”. The medical journal “Ärztliche Praxis” concludes that “high-level sport has nothing to do with health“. An increasing number of doctors are facing sport and illness. Every second orthopedist lives off the injuries suffered in sport.
It is 8 April 1987. The beginning of the end. Birgit sets out to her last practice. Shot-put. She suddenly feels a sharp pain in her lower back extending to her pelvis. The pain is familiar to her. Since the beginning of the year, she has twice stopped a practice for the same reason. Dressel and her coach conclude that it was a severe muscle strain. The same afternoon, they visited the orthopedist, Dr. A (the texts dealing with this case do not mention doctors’ names, using single letters instead!), with a good reputation among the athletes. He gave her two or three milliliters of “Xylonest” as a local anesthetic, then “Voltaren”, commonly administered for the treatment of rheumatism. About 6pm, Dr. A used his syringe again, this time at the sports centre. Since Dressel continued to feel pain, Dr. A gave her “Myo-Melcain”, a combination of a local anesthetic and honey.
The next day in the afternoon, Birgit visited Dr. A again. Her condition had deteriorated. Her leg and butt had become extremely sensitive to touch and cold. After an x-ray examination, instead of honey, Dr. A injected “Voltaren” and then “Baralgin”. Both medicines are considered “strong pain-relievers”. For use at home, Dr. A gave her “Godamed” and “Tranquase-5” tablets, as well as “Optipyrin” suppositories. They contain, among other ingredients, tranquilizers and codeine, an opiate like morphine. In spite of warnings by independent experts, such medications are widely used in Germany. Doctors believe in the so-called shotgun effect, while patients have a silly belief that “more medications work more”. This belief is especially widespread among athletes. Birgit Dressel also believed that, and it cost her life.
At home, according to reports from the official investigation, Dressel had between 10 and 15 tablets of “Godamed“ in her system. The same afternoon, a neurologist, Dr. B, visited her along with Dr. A and diagnosed her with “lumbago without neurological disorders”, recommending the application of ice. She did not get any better. Birgit did not sleep a wink that night. In the meantime, her coach called Dr. A three times asking for help. His recommendation was: “Godamed”, but “not too many“. He also consulted Dr C, an emergency physician, who recommended “Aspirin” and “Heparin” ointment. And that was it.
The next morning, at 6:30am, Dr. A visited Dressel again. She was in “excruciating pain”, but had a “strong pulse”. He did not observe any indication of a shock, allergic symptoms or neurological disorder. Because of the “excruciating pain”, his diagnosis was: “kidney attack”. It was one of a number of false assumptions and wrong diagnoses that were made on that day. Sixteen hours and twenty-four new treatments stood between Birgit and death. Almost every new diagnosis was followed by a new therapy. Tens of new medications would be pumped into Birgit’s dying body. This time, Dr A injected a large ampoule of “Meta-Attritin”, another medicinal compound. This “shot” was supposed to be injected into her back muscle. But however hard he tried, he could not effect the injection. The muscle was so tight that the syringe bent. Dr. A gave her the injection in the right buttock.
After the second visit, Dr. A decided to send Birgit to a clinic, two days after she first felt the fatal pain. With a presumed “kidney attack” and in severe pain, Dressel was transported to the Urology Department at Mainz University Medical Centre, which, like other similar institutions, enjoyed a good reputation. A number of specialists gathered around Dressel. After three long hours, a team of specialists, that had already been convened, gave the priority to the urologist, Dr. C. After an x-ray examination, he concluded that, as far as his area of expertise was concerned, he could not detect any impairment. His colleague, Dr. D, agreed with this conclusion and notified his superior, primarius Dr. E, accordingly. In the meantime, to relieve her pain, she was given an injection of “Buscopan”.
It was 1pm. Birgit was transported to the emergency surgical ward. She was moaning in pain. Four surgeons tended to her. The first, Dr. F, thought that the most important thing was to relieve the pain. Birgit then received intravenous therapy, in which, over the course of several hours, she was given two ampoules of “Buscopan Compositum” deluted with “Sterofundin”. “Buscopan Compositum” also contains five grams of a substance called metamizol, which, due to its severe side-effects, was later banned by the Ministry of Health of the Federal Republic of Germany. According to the forensics report, Dressel may have received a fatal dose. Birgit survived this treatment, but the pain remained.
Emergency surgeons, F, G, H, and I, finally came to the correct conclusion that it was not a sports injury, but “multiple organ failure” or, as an ancillary assumption, a “disc or spinal cord disease”. The autopsy showed that their suspicion was right. Birgit had a severe inflammation of the spinal nerves, and this caused the pain. Acting on this diagnosis, a general surgery specialist, primarius J, and two neurosurgeons, doctors K and L, were called in. Seven hours after being admitted to the clinic, Dressel was still able to “orient herself in time and space“ and was complaining of great thirst. In their joint report, the neurosurgeons recorded that Birgit “was talking a lot”. At the same time, her lips and nails turned blue. There was also some white crusting on her lips. While answering questions, Dressel “uncontrollably released urine“. The diagnosis of the surgeons was: “There is no indication of a neurological disorder; suspected pill poisoning.”
In addition to the team of neurologist, a team of internal medicine specialists was convened and computer tomography of the head was performed. Neurologists Dr. M and Dr. N were called in, but there was nothing they could do. The doctors could only conclude that she had endured a “shock, threatening her vital functions”. Birgit’s athletic heart began to beat faster and faster, and she had difficulty breathing. Such an urgent case required an anesthesiologist. Doctors O, P, Q, R, S, T, and U, were called in. In response to the energetic voice of the internal medicine specialist, Birgit moved her arm and opened her eyes for the last time. They put an oxygen mask on her face and she was moved to the emergency room, where she would be placed in an induced coma and put on a respirator. An hour later, at 19h 45min, the dying Birgit was put in an emergency vehicle and, under constant supervision, transported to the intensive care unit. The diagnosis was now: “Suspected blood poisoning, blood decomposition”. The diagnosis was correct but belated. At that moment, Birgit was already in the claws of death.
Doctors V and W made a last attempt to save her life. Among other medications, they gave her four units of blood and high doses of natural hormones. All in vain. Birgit’s tortured body could no longer fight for life. “World-class athletics“ and thousands of pills and injections had done their job. On 10 April 1987, Birgit passed away.
1) The text is based on the article published on 7 September 1987, by the German magazine “Der Spiegel” under the title “Tod einer Sportlerin” (“The Death of an Athlete”).
2) Compare: „Der Spiegel“, 9/1992.
Translated from Serbian by Vesna Todorović (Petrović)
English translation supervisor Mick Collins