Obituary Werner Franke: Success through attention (

Doping researcher Werner Franke

Photo: imago/Reiner Zensen

When the World Athletics Championships were held in Berlin 13 years ago, Werner Franke also came. But not to cheer for any stars chasing medals. No, Franke was invited to laud four courageous coaches and officials who dared to oppose the wild doping of young athletes in the GDR and the FRG in the 70s and 80s.

If Horst Klehr, Hansjörg Kofink, Johanna Sperling and Henner Misersky were successful at all, then only to a very limited extent. At least now, decades later, the Doping Victims Assistance Association (DOH) wanted to honor her with the Heidi Krieger Medal for her courage. Frank should do that. He spoke for more than an hour and a half. Little was known about the four honorees. But a lot about doping doctors, the legal profession and suspected fraud cover-up actions. Franke was in his element. The biggest German doping hunter. The man who uncovered the extent of the GDR state doping could not be stopped. It was, once again, his show.

This show is now over. Werner Franke died on Monday evening at the age of 82. And with that, the fight against doping loses a figurehead, probably even the central one of its early years. The Heidelberg cell biologist, married to the former discus thrower and shot putter Brigitte Berendonk, recognized early on the damage that anabolic steroid doping in particular caused in women. He accused, but rarely the athletes themselves; he also doubted that everyone knew exactly what they were taking. For Franke, the sports officials who drooled after medals and the doctors who knowingly broke their medical oaths by handing out doping substances were to be castigated.

His biggest coup was the securing of secret files from GDR archives in which the names of those who commissioned the nationwide doping, doctors, trainers and athletes were named. These culminated not only in Franke and Berendonk’s highly acclaimed book “Doping Documents – From Research to Fraud”, but also in lawsuits against high-ranking sports association officials such as Manfred Ewald.

Franke had finally found his destiny, even if he liked to portray the anti-doping fight as a necessary evil that his penchant for justice demanded of him. As a thoroughly successful scientist in the field of cancer research, he was bound by the principle of scientific accuracy. However, his high-profile accusations against doping fraudsters did not always comply with these guidelines. Franke liked to shock with his choice of words (“non-stop messes”) or exaggerated with generalizing statements like: “You can’t believe anything. Even if there will be more controls than ever before. The athletes are set in such a way that nobody gets caught.«

Franke did not always make friends with some colleagues, but above all with athletes and officials who did not want to be lumped together with fraudsters. But he knew that the attention gained in this way would ultimately help the common goal the most to fight the evil of doping in the long term.

In any case, the penchant for self-portrayal, which he couldn’t quite get a grip on during that laudatory speech in Berlin, hardly damaged his credibility. It is also to his credit that he never put on East-West glasses when denouncing the doping problem. »Everything is permitted, as long as the state has a benefit. West German opportunism did not differ from socialist opportunism in that respect,” Franke once said.

The last time he caused a stir was when biology fell out with the doping victim support association he once co-founded. A good three years ago, he accused him of politically exploiting those seeking compensation. The DOH only existed for its own sake, so the thesis, which prompted Fanke to be banned from a press event. Others would probably have looked for the way of private dialogue, but Franke preferred to take it in front of the cameras.

At least he successfully dragged the anti-doping fight there. Initially, Franke was considered a scoundrel, now he is deservedly recognized as a pioneer. Even sports journalism, which has been uncritical for decades, first had to get used to this uncomfortable, loud, unruly heckler. Here, too, Frank was ultimately successful. It is significant that his son was one of the first to inform Hajo Seppelt, a journalist, about his father’s death. The ARD doping expert is probably just as popular with fans – and a thorn in the side of many athletes and officials as Werner Franke had been all his life.



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