The Stuff Of Dreams, Legends & Nightmares – Steaua Vs. Dinamo: A Romanian Eternal Derby (Part Two)

The Eternal Derby sounds both heavenly and down to earth. A mortal competition with the possibility of producing a moment that lasts forever. Strangely enough, something like this occurred at an Eternal Derby (also known as the Romanian Derby) match between Steaua Bucharest and Dinamo Bucharest in 1988. It turned out to be one of the more bizarre matches in the history of Eastern European football. A match that was by turns fantastical, depraved and totally ridiculous. It would offer proof of the old cliché that “the truth is stranger than fiction”. If a novel had been written with a plot based upon what happened at the match no one would have bothered to believe or read it. Officially, the match was played to decide the Romanian Cup champion. That result is still in doubt today because the match was never completed.

Unclaimed - The Romanian Cup Trophy

Unclaimed – The Romanian Cup Trophy

Occupying The Pitch – A Fight Beyond The Finish
The Romanian Army was flexing its muscle, not on the field of battle, but instead on the field of football. The Army sponsored Steaua Bucharest football team had come to dominate the Romanian national league during the latter half of the 1980’s. Their rise had come at the expense of Dinamo Bucharest, which enjoyed the Securitate’s (Romanian Secret Police) backing. The rivalry between the two sides was fierce. The stakes could not have been higher. For years, the Army felt that their power had been trumped by the Securitate. The Army had regained its footing, quite literally, by occupying top place on the pitch. In 1989, Dinamo had an excellent opportunity to steal a march on Steaua. The teams were almost evenly matched. The deciding factor in the final might well come down to a lucky bounce or chance mishap. What happened turned out to be just as unlikely as it was unbelievable.

This version of the Eternal Derby was hard fought and tense. Steaua looked to be on their way to another title after they scored the first and only goal of the first half. It came in the 27th minute when their star striker Gheorghe Hagi put them on the board. Dinamo was not able to breakthrough until late in the match. They tied the game with a goal in the 87th minute. It now looked like the match would be decided in extra time. The final seconds were ticking away in the 90th minute when Steaua striker Gavrilo Balint struck a perfect header. His shot was beyond the goalkeeper’s grasp, giving Steaua what looked to be the winning goal. Steaua’s celebration was abruptly terminated by a referee’s call that Balint had been offside. Steaua’s players were stunned and furious. There is a great amount of confusion over what happened next. Multiple witnesses report that Valentin Ceaucescu – the club’s general manager and the son of the Romanian Nicolae – signaled from his place in the stands for Steaua’s players to leave the field. To this day, Valentin denies that he gave any such signal. Whether he did so or not is beside the point because Steaua’s players did leave the field and refused to return.

The Moment of Decision - Controversy defeats all comers in the 1988 Romanian Cup Final

The Moment of Decision – Controversy defeats all comers in the 1988 Romanian Cup Final

A Flash From The Pants – Stop Them & Drop Them
If this turn of events was not sufficiently bizarre, Dinamo’s Ioan Andone dropped his shorts and proceeded to give a full frontal flash to Valentin, grabbing a certain organ then swinging it in one of the lewdest and crudest gestures ever seen on a football pitch. Andone’s act of frustration would net him a year-long suspension. At the same time, his action symbolized the lunacy of Romanian football, where politics and power trumped performance on the field. When Steaua failed to come back out and finish the match, the game was awarded to Dinamo. To the victor went the spoils, but only for one day. Less than twenty-four hours later, the government decided to change the result, likely at the behest of Valentin who persuaded his father to ensure Steaua’s ultimate success. This was not to be the final result.

Eighteen months after that contested Cup final, Nicolae Ceaucescu was overthrown. He and his wife Elena were lined up and shot after a hastily arranged show trial. Valentin might have joined his parents in front of a firing squad, but he was saved by one of Steaua’s players who hid him in their apartment. His managerial acumen, workaholic tendencies and preferential treatment towards the players had made him a beloved general manager and probably ended up saving his life. As for the winner of the 1988 Romanian Cup, Steaua returned the Cup to Dinamo, but refused to accept it. No winner has ever been declared. A blank space is all that can be found in the record books.

Then & Now - Valentin Ceaucescu

Then & Now – Valentin Ceaucescu

Bottoms Up – A Humbling Fall
Despite a nation beset by a tumultuous transition to democratic capitalism filled with chaos and corruption, Romanian football soared to its greatest heights internationally in the early 1990’s. The greatest player of that generation, Gheorghe Haji, an ethnic Macedonian, became known as the Maradona of the Carpathians. Haji had been one of Steaua’s key players in the late 1980’s. He was the first Romanian player to be seen cruising around Bucharest in a Mercedes. At one point, the enterprising Valentin attempted to trade Haji to the Italian club Juventus in return for funding that would result in Fiat building a car plant in Bucharest. Nicolae put a stop to this deal because it smacked of free market capitalism. Haji went on to spearhead the Romanian team in their upset of Argentina in the second round of the World Cup in 1994. Haji and Romanian soccer had come a long way to escape from the long, dark shadow of the fallen Ceaucescu regime.

Unlike Haji, Valentin Ceaucescu’s career headed in a very different direction after the fall of communism in Romania. He was arrested, but eventually released. Fortunately, Valentin had spent his earlier years focused on education rather than politics. This came in handy as he was able to transition into the life of a nuclear physics researcher at an institute in Bucharest. He now lives quite modestly off a pension he earned through his work. This is a far cry from the heady days when Valentin was managing one of the most powerful football clubs in Europe. The club ascended to the greatest of heights under his management before falling back to earth. His involvement with Steaua was the stuff of dreams, legends and nightmares. Never more so than in the 1988 Romanian Cup final against Dinamo. A match that redefined the meaning of Eternal Derby.

Click here for: A Proxy Power Struggle – The Rise Of Romanian Football: Valentin Ceaucescu’s Brilliant Coup (Part One)

A Proxy Power Struggle – The Rise Of Romanian Football: Valentin Ceaucescu’s Brilliant Coup (Part One)

Romania is not a country that immediately comes to mind when discussing European countries which from time to time have managed to meet with greater than expected success on the football pitch. Judging by the more recent results of the national team it is little wonder that few remember the glory days of Romanian football in the 1980’s and 90’s. Since that time, Romania has largely failed to impress on world football’s biggest stages. That has been especially true of late. Though they qualified for the 2016 European Championships, the Romanians subsequently finished last in their group, losing in ignominious fashion to that footballing featherweight, Albania, in their final match. They then failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This underwhelming performance resulted in the firing of the head coach. Another attempt is now underway to resurrect the national team’s lost glory.  Currently, Romania is ranked 35th in the latest FIFA World Rankings. That low ranking is a far cry from the halcyon days of Romanian football that began in the mid-1980s and peaked in the early 1990’s when they reached a ranking of fifth in the world and made the quarterfinals of the 1994 World Cup.

In an ironic twist of fate, this period of football glory took place while at the same time the country was suffering grave damage due first to the megalomaniacal excesses of the Ceaucescu regime and then the whirlwind of tumult which followed the nation’s transition to democratic capitalism. The brilliance of Romanian football during this era is most famously represented by Steaua Bucharest’s victorious run to the European Cup Championship in 1986. Conversely, one of Romanian football’s lowest points would take place only a couple of years later, when an even more improbable turn of events occurred. This happened in what is known as the Eternal Derby, annual matches between Steaua and Dinamo. The 1988 battle of Bucharest heavyweights is now counted among the most infamous in footballing history. That match is worth recalling because it symbolizes just how bizarre Romanian football had become. In that respect, it was not much different from the national political scene.

European Cup Champions 1986 - Steaua Bucharest

European Cup Champions 1986 – Steaua Bucharest

Rise Of A Footballing Dynamo – Kicking Butt
Anyone who has even a cursory knowledge of modern Eastern European history knows the name of Nicolae Ceaucescu, the dictatorial leader of Romania from 1965- 1989, Ceaucescu’s communist regime put an indelibly hideous imprint on the country. Centralization and industrialization occurred at breakneck speed, while the security police arrested tens of thousands and spied on millions more. It is believed that by the 1980’s one in three Romanians was an informer for the secret police. This was a society where paranoia ruled. At its head was Ceaucescu, the prototype of a venal dictator, out of touch with those he ruled and just as out of touch with reality. He spent wildly on megalomaniacal monstrosities while his own citizens went half-starved and suffered through winters where the heat was turned off rather than up. Romania was an unfathomable dystopia for those who lived there in the 1980’s.

With such a monumental level of dysfunction, it is hard to believe that this same system could produce the greatest footballing teams in the nation’s history. One of which rose to a level of European preeminence that had never been attained by a football club in Romania or Eastern Europe for that matter. During the 1980’s the name Ceaucescu was not so much feared, as beloved in some Romanian footballing circles. That was if you happened to be a fan of Steaua Bucharest, the traditional club of the army. While Nicolae cared little for the game, his son Valentin was obsessed with it. Valentin was a nuclear physicist by education, but a football administrator extraordinaire. In 1983 Valentin Ceaucescu was appointed general manager of Steaua, thus inaugurating the team’s meteoric rise to the top of Romanian football. At that time, the national league was dominated by Dinamo Bucharest, which won three consecutive league titles from 1982 through 1984. Dinamo was sponsored by the powerful Securitate, the nation’s all powerful internal security service. The dominance of Dinamo was said by many to be symbolic of their grip on the nation. The army’s power paled in comparison or so it was thought.

In The Name Of The Father - Valentin Ceaucescu With His Mom And Dad

In The Name Of The Father – Valentin Ceaucescu With His Mom And Dad

Foot Soldiers – A Pitched Battle In Bucharest
The Securitate ensured that Dynamo had access to the best resources and top players throughout the country. This began to change when Valentin Ceaucescu took the helm at Steaua. The club had not won a league championship since 1977, but with Valentin playing the role of patron in chief that was about to change. Steaua was backed by the army, the only institution in Romania which could hope to compete with the Securitate for power and prestige. Valentin’s managerial style was more that of a company executive than a communist apparatchik. He worked day and night to bring the best footballers to the Steaua side. His efforts paid immediate, as well as lasting dividends. Steaua won five consecutive league championships beginning with the 1984-85 season. This period included a remarkable 104 game winning streak by Steaua. Their success was not limited to the Romanian national league either.

In 1986, Steaua made an unprecedented run to the European Cup championship, defeating Barcelona on penalty kicks in the final played before 70,000 Spaniards in Seville. This was a monumental upset. Steaua was the first Eastern European side to excel at the highest level of club competition. Steaua’s success came at the expense of Dynamo, which chafed at the rise of its bitter rival. The Securitate attempted to harass Steaua’s players and even went so far as to place Valentin under surveillance. Such measures did little to change the outcome of matches. The Securitate and Army had long been rivals off the field, but the rancor soon rose to a fever pitch on it as well. Their football matches became a proxy for the power struggle between the security services and armed forces. The rivalry reached a new level of rancor when the two teams faced off in the 1988 league final. An epic match ensued, memorable for all the wrong reasons. A match that few who were in the stadium that day would ever forget.

Click here for: The Stuff Of Dreams, Legends & Nightmares – Steaua Vs. Dinamo: A Romanian Eternal Derby (Part Two)

 

The Miracle of Marton Fucsovics – Hungary’s Top Tennis Player Realizes His Potential

In February it will be exactly one year since I wrote my first post mentioning Marton Fucsovics. At the time, he was Hungary’s top tennis player, but that was about the extent of his fame. Fucsovics was ranked #163 back then. He looked to be headed for journeyman status. In tennis parlance that means a career toiling away at second tier challenger events in provincial European cities. By the beginning of 2017, Fucsovics had been playing on the pro tour for five and a half years. The great promise Fucsovics had shown when he won the 2010 Wimbledon Boys’ Singles Championship looked to be a thing of the past. Then something remarkable happened, Fucsovics began to play the best tennis of his life. His rise in the rankings was steady. He achieved a career high of #109 prior to Wimbledon, after he won a grass court challenger event in Ilkley, England. This gained him a main draw spot at the All England Club.

In the autumn of 2017 the man who goes by the nickname of Marci, broke inside the top 100 for the first time ever. This occurred after he qualified for the main draw at the ATP Tour event in Basel, Switzerland where he made it to the quarterfinals before losing a close three setter to fourth ranked Marin Cilic. Fucsovics finished the season ranked at a career high of #85. As the self-anointed personal record keeper of Marton Fucsovics, I could not have been more pleased. His 2017 season was more than his small, but growing group of fans could have hoped for. Marci from Nyiregyhaza was on the verge of becoming a household name in his tennis starved homeland of Hungary if he could manage to stay in the top 100. As the 2018 season began, I began to worry if Fucsovics would be able to achieve the same high level of results he had during 2017. That worry has now vanished due to the miracle of Marton Fucsovics.

On the verge of a major breakthrough - Fucsovics ranking prior to the Australian Open

On the verge of a major breakthrough – Fucsovics’ ranking prior to the Australian Open

The Notable Nyiregyhazan – Scorching The Competition
Only two notable residents are listed on the English language Wikipedia page for Nyiregyhaza, a small city in eastern Hungary. One of whom is the famous children’s book author, Gabor Nogradi. The other is a female Hungarian pop singer by the name of Ibolya Olah. It should not be long before Marton Fucsovics’ name is listed alongside them. That is because Fucsovics is playing tennis at a level that has not been seen from a Hungarian since Balazs Taroczy in the 1980’s. To put it bluntly, Fucsovics has started off the season on fire and is now positively scorching. The analogy is appropriate since Fucssovics has garnered the best results of his career in Australia, where he is just as hot as the weather. He arrived Down Under in the Australian capital to play the Canberra Challenger as a warm up for the Australian Open. He proceeded to sail through the draw to the final with only the loss of a single set. In the final, he faced the Italian veteran Andreas Seppi. Fucsovics won the first set, but dropped the next two. Nevertheless, getting to the final led to his highest ranking ever at #80.

The result gave Fucsovics momentum as he headed to Melbourne for the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam event. Grand Slam tournaments are where rising players solidify their status and the best players etch their name in history. Coming into the Australian Open, Fucsovics had never won a match in the main draw of a Grand Slam event, though he had come closest at the U.S. Open this past August where he lost in a fifth set tiebreaker to the Frenchman Nicholas Mahut. Coming off his runner-up finish in Canberra, Fucsovics had good reason to believe he could finally break through for his first Grand Slam tournament victory. This hope was tempered by the thought of what happened to Fucsovics last year at the Australian Open. He had lost in the first round of qualifying to a young Australian, Bradley Mousley, who was ranked #529 at the time. It would turn out to be the worst loss Fucsovics suffered in 2017. Of course, there was another way of looking at this result. Fucsovics could not do any worse at the Australian in 2018 than he had in 2017. He really had nothing to lose and everything to gain this time, including valuable ranking points.

Hungarian Hero - Marci signs an autograph for a young fan at the Australian Open

Hungarian Hero – Marci signs an autograph for a young fan at the Australian Open

Everything To Gain – The Confidence Man
His first round opponent was a fellow Eastern European, the diminutive Moldovan journeyman Radu Albot. The two had played four times previously, with Fucsovics winning three of those meetings. The Hungarian’s greatest advantage over Albot is physical. He is five inches taller than the Moldovan. Fucsovics power game would end up overwhelming Albot in four sets, as he won three-quarters of the points on his first serve. He also hit 13 more winners, while feasting on Albot’s weak serve, which he broke nine times. It is difficult to imagine just how big this first round victory was for Fucsovics. He gained a boost to his confidence that would bode well for his next match. He would be a decided underdog against the top ranked American player in the world, #13 seed Sam Querry.

Prior to his second round encounter with Querry, Fucsovics had never beaten anyone ranked higher than 36th in the world. Marci proved there is a first time for everything in 2018, as he defeated Querry in four sets. This time he won 82% of his first serve points. The key moment came in the second set when he was able to win a tiebreaker 8-6. Fucsovics also teed off when returning Querry’s second serve. Just like in the Albot match, Fucsovics won over half of his opponent’s second serve points. With this win, Fucsovics entered a new stage of his career. For the first time ever, Fucsovics had beaten a player in the world’s top 20. His reward was a third round match with a man he had already handily defeated earlier this year, the Argentine Nicholas Kicker. Fucsovics once again thoroughly dominated Kicker, only allowing him seven games. He did this with the same winning formula from his previous victories, winning 63% of Kicker’s second serve points and out slugging him from the baseline by hitting twenty more winners. Fucsovics’ confidence is now at an all-time high and it has showed. He has been steamrolling the opposition.

The ultimate challenge - Fucsovics faces Federer in the 4th Round of the Australian Open

The ultimate challenge – Fucsovics faces Federer in the 4th Round of the Australian Open

Realizing Potential –  Scaling New Heights
It is hard to imagine a more thrilling tournament up to this point for Fucsovics. He has now guaranteed himself a quarter of a million dollars in prize money, a ranking in the world’s top 60 and most importantly a fourth round matchup with the player many consider the greatest ever, Roger Federer. It is a daunting, but well-deserved match for Fucsovics. He has spent the past twelve months working his way up to this point. Fucsovics has put himself in a great position with nothing to lose. Compared to where he was at this time last year, mired in the obscure world of tennis’ lower ranks, he has come farther than anyone could have expected. What led to his resurgence? There were big victories in Davis Cup, a title and multiple finals in Challenger level tournaments. These achievements did not necessarily point to his breakthrough at the Australian Open. Perhaps it has been something outside the world of tennis that has helped him scale new heights. Just two months ago, Fucsovics was engaged to get married. Success both on and the court have coalesced, leading to the miracle of Marton Fucsovics, a Magyar sportsman finally realizing his potential.

Olympian Achievements – Miklos Nemeth: In The Name of the Father

Hungarians have long excelled at sports. Their triumphs have been beyond all proportion to their size as a relatively small nation. Most famously the Hungarian national football team, known as the Magic Magyars, was the best in the world for much of the 1950’s. Hungarian football teams managed to finish as runner-up in both the 1938 and 1954 World Cup competitions. At the Summer Olympic games, Hungary has long punched up above its weight. The nation ranks ninth overall in the all-time tables with a total of 491 medals. This includes 175 gold medals. Only Finland has won more medals based on their per capita population. Hungary is the top medal winner among countries that have never hosted an Olympics. Almost one-fifth of the medals won by Hungarians have come in fencing, a sport they have helped dominate in the Olympics along with France and Italy.

Hungary ranks first all-time in medals won in the Modern Pentathlon and water polo events as well. The latter is one of the most popular sports in the nation. The Hungarian national water polo team has won the gold medal in eight of the past twenty-one Olympic Water Polo competitions and placed in second another three times. No other nation comes close to such numbers.  One unique record also held by Hungarians is that the nation spawned the only father and son duo to win gold medals. The two men who achieved this were also world record holders in their respective sports. Yet for all their success, the son found it difficult to live up the standard set by his father until one magic moment in Montreal changed everything.

Imre & Miklos Nemeth - The only father & son to win Olympic Gold Medals

Imre & Miklos Nemeth – The only father & son to win Olympic Gold Medals

Great Expectations – Like Father, Unlike Son
Miklos Nemeth grew up in the shadow of sporting greatness. When he was just a year old, his father Imre won a gold medal at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in the hammer throw. Thus young Miklos could never remember a time when his father was not an Olympic champion. Like father, like son or so it was hoped when Miklos began to excel at sports. There was immense pressure on Miklos to live up to his father’s achievements. His father hoped he would also become a hammer thrower, but the son instead took to the javelin. He was a prodigy right from the start. By the age of twenty he had thrown 87.42 meters in competition, which was only four meters less than the world record at the time. Great things were predicted for Milos, especially in the world’s most important competition, the Summer Olympic Games.

World record breaker - Miklos Nemeth making his gold medal winning javelin throw at the 1976 Montreal Olympics

World record breaker – Miklos Nemeth making his gold medal winning javelin throw at the 1976 Montreal Olympics

Nemeth first competed at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Unfortunately his form was badly off as he was dealing with an elbow injury at the time. The best throw he could muster was 75.50 meters, nowhere near good enough to qualify for the final round. He finished a miserable seventeenth in the qualifying round. His performance at those Olympics signaled a worrying trend of poor performances in the biggest events. This would reoccur throughout the early and middle parts of his career. In three different European Championships, Nemeth placed no higher than fifth. At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich he did qualify for the final round only to fall short once again, this time placing seventh. Though still relatively young, at twenty-six years old, it seemed that Nemeth would never fulfill his vast potential nor live up to the golden standard set by his father. The pressure of having a gold medal winning father in a small nation was more than Nemeth could handle at times. He grew frustrated by the lofty expectations placed upon him. At one point he remarked, “It is not an easy thing in my country to be the son of an Olympic Champion.” Critics thought he was looking for an excuse to explain away his poor performances. The consensus among the media was that nerves were to blame. Nemeth could not handle the pressure.

Delayed Gratification – The Winner Takes It All
In 1976 Nemeth qualified for his third Olympic Games, this time held in Montreal. Most athletes would have been ecstatic over such an achievement, but Nemeth knew that he was still judged by the fact that he was the son of Olympic star Imre Nemeth. This time though, the pressure was largely off. Miklos Nemeth was not considered one of the favorites. His results had been pretty good leading up to the Olympics, but he had been written off as a choker. He finished second in his qualifying group, but this did little to raise expectations. Surely Nemeth would find a way to finish in the lower echelons of the final.  No one, not even Nemeth himself could have imagined that he would wipe out a decade of failures in just one moment, but that is exactly what happened. On his very first attempt Nemeth let loose with a tremendous throw. As it flew through the air, he turned away, but could not help himself and turned to look back.

Miklos Nemeth - 1976 Olympic Champion

Miklos Nemeth – 1976 Olympic Champion

The javelin landed 94.58 meters (310 feet & 4 inches). No javelin had ever been thrown that far. To do it on the first throw, in the most important and pressure packed competition was incredible. Nemeth had suddenly and abruptly silenced all of the critics who had doubted him. His competitors were demoralized. No one came close to matching Nemeth’s throw. The second place throw was a full six and a half meters behind Nemeth’s. His winning margin was the largest in the history of the Olympic javelin throw. It was an amazing feat that not only won Nemeth a coveted gold medal, but would have been good enough to win the next two Olympic javelin throw competitions as well. The record breaking throw also meant he was now part of the only father-son duo to win gold medals at the Olympic Games. In many ways Miklos Nemeth’s achievement was much greater than that of his father’s. He had lived up to the highest of expectations, overcoming unrelenting pressure that had mounted over many years. After winning the gold medal he was now the favored son, of not only his father, but also Hungary.

 

Throwing It All Away – Uwe Hohn: East Germany’s Star-Crossed Javelin Giant

In the annals of Olympic and World Champion Track and Field competitions, the name of Uwe Hohn is missing. Hohn, an East German national, was one of the greatest javelin throwers in history, but he never won a gold, silver or bronze medal at either of the sports premier competitions. It might be said that Hohn came of age in the wrong age. In 1984 when Hohn reached his peak he was not allowed to participate in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, since East Germany joined the Soviet Union and several other Eastern Bloc nations in boycotting the games that year in Los Angeles. As a substitute, East Germany and other nations of the same ideological bent held other competitions, one of these yielded Hohn’s most amazing achievements, a feat unsurpassed to this day.

Uwe Hohn - Ready to Launch

Uwe Hohn – Ready to Launch (Credit: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1984-0513-018)

Going The Distance – A Broken Record
On July 20, 1984 at the Olympic Day of Athletics, a track and field meet held in East Berlin, Uwe Hohn launched a javelin throw the likes of which has never been seen before or since. He flung his silver-grey spear so far that it landed on the edge of the field not far from the oval track. A few seconds after releasing the throw, Hohn raised his arms in triumph. He knew well before the javelin had landed that his throw was special. Alarmingly, the throw landed not far from a high jump mat that had been supposedly placed at a safe distance. When it finally landed, the judges rushed over to make the measurement. The distance was 104.80 meters (343 9 ¾ inches), a world record. Hohn had surpassed the existing world record by an incredible five meters. He had become the first and still only person to toss the javelin further than the one hundred meter mark.

Commentators began to worry that Hohn might one day toss the javelin onto the track or into the stands. Just how far Hohn might throw one of his wing tipped spears was open to conjecture. What was not in doubt was that Hohn, like so many of his fellow Eastern Bloc athletes, was capable of record breaking performances that were almost unimaginable. At that time and ever since then, whispers about doping were prevalent. Documentation that has been discovered since the Berlin Wall fell confirms that East Germany administered one of the largest state sponsored programs to provide their athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Some of Hohn’s record breaking achievements were aided by such a doping program. One document that came to light from the East German archives showed Hohn was given 1,135 milligrams of Oral Turinabol, an anabolic steroid, in 1985. The drug was also used to assist weightlifters. There may have been other instances of doping that have yet to surface. How much steroids led to Hohn’s sucess will likely never be known for sure. One thing is for certain though, the track and field record books were never the same after the likes of Uwe Hohn and his compatriots took to the field.

Uwe Hohn - threw the javelin a world record 104.80m in 1984

Uwe Hohn – threw the javelin a world record 104.80m in 1984

Getting Physical – A Barrel Chested Brute
Just two weeks after Hohn’s record throw in East Berlin, the 1984 Olympic Men’s javelin throw competition was held. Hohn was upset that East Germany had decided to boycott the Olympics, so much so that he made it publicly known. He ended up being reprimanded for speaking out. The gold medal was won by Arto Harkonen whose winning throw was covered only 86 meters. That was 18 meters less than Hohn’s, an almost unfathomable distance when it comes to the difference between world class javelin competitors. What accounted for Hohn’s otherworldly throws? The usual answer is performance enhancing drugs. Yet a case can also be made for Hohn’s physique, training and technique. The guy was a broad shouldered, barrel chested brute. He was 1.98 meters (6’5”) tall and weighed 112 kilograms (over 250 pounds). By comparison, his closest competitors looked slight. Hohn matured much faster than the mere mortals he competed against. At the age of 19 he was the European Junior Champion, a years later he was the European Champion.

At the time of his world record Hohn was only 22 years old. A year after setting the record Hohn was champion at the 1985 World Cup meet in Canberra with a throw of 96.96 meters, which turned out to be the best throw that year. It also turned out to be the last great performance of Hohn’s career. In 1986 he was irreparably injured in a weight lifting accident. The weights he was trying to lift fell on him, badly injuring his back. The sciatic nerve damage which resulted led to surgeries, but Hohn was never the same again. This robbed the sport of seeing how Hohn would have fared with the newly designed javelin instituted by the International Association of Athletic Federations around this time. The new javelin’s center of gravity was moved forward, which helped limit the distance it could be thrown by around 10 meters on average. It also led to less flat landings which made the distance of throws much easier to measure.

Uwe Hohn in 1984 at his peak

Uwe Hohn in 1984 at his peak (Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1984-0603-003)

The Eternal World Record – Going The Distance
There has never been a 100 meter throw with the newer version of the javelin. It is doubtful no matter how chemically enhanced Hohn’s performance, that he would have been able to throw that far. The closest anyone has come to a 100 meter toss with the newer javelin was the Czech Jan Zelezny with a throw of 98.48 meters at a meet in 1996. The mark Hohn set so long ago on a summer evening in East Berlin is often referred to as the “eternal world record”. Very few believe it will ever be broken. Whether it will be expunged from the record books is another matter. There are recurrent calls for anyone whose name was discovered in East German archival documents in connection with doping to have their records deleted from the books. Even if this is done, Hohn may end up with luck on his side since the type of javelin he set the record with is no longer in use. No matter what happens, Hohn is likely to remain the only man to ever toss a javelin 100 meters. An incredible athletic achievement, that much like the man who did it is now all but forgotten.

You Can’t Run Away From Your Problems – Waldemar Cierpinski: East Germany’s Mediocre Marathon Man

Goalie Jurgen Croy and his teammates on the 1976 East German Olympic Football Team were looking for motivation before they took the field against Poland in the Gold Medal match in Montreal. They needed just the right inspiration to get fired up before they took the field to play in torrential rain. They found it in an unlikely source, fellow countryman Waldemar Cierpinski, who they had just watched improbably run to victory in the marathon. Croy said the team “just sat there staring at each other, thinking that if this living example of mediocrity can lift himself up and win the marathon, and we don’t beat Poland, we are never going to hear the end of it.” Croy and his teammates had found the proper motivation. The East Germans scored two goals in the first 15 minutes of the game and went on to win the gold medal by defeating Poland 3-1. They had been inspired by “a living example of mediocrity”. Little did they know that this mediocrity was not through winning Olympic marathons.

Waldemar Cierpinski - The dubious two-time Olympic marathon champion

Waldemar Cierpinski – The questionable two-time Olympic marathon champion (Credit: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-W0801-0126)

The Unexpected Champion – Waldemar Who?
“Who in the world is Waldemar Cierpinski?” That thought must have run through the mind of American marathoner Frank Shorter. Shorter was the defending Olympic marathon champion and looked well on his way to becoming only the second man to ever win two Olympic marathons in a row. The only problem was that Shorter, who had taken the lead long the streets of Montreal, was suddenly confronted by the presence of Cierpinski at the twenty-five kilometer mark. Shorter was shocked that the East German had caught up with him. He became even more rattled as Cierpinski moved in closer to him, a strategy the East German was using to unnerve the American. It seemed to work as Shorter was forced to shove his surprise opponent out of his running space. Cierpinski was eventually able to take the lead and made it to the finish line a minute ahead of Shorter. The finish though turned out to be premature, at least in the mind of Cierpinski who ran another lap after he had officially finished. It turned out that he was confused.

His confusion turned to celebration as Shorter was at the finish line waiting to congratulate him. The American was a gracious runner-up, even though Cierpinski had thwarted his bid for a second consecutive Olympic marathon gold medal. Four years later, at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, Cierpinski was the one attempting to win a second consecutive gold medal in the marathon. Once again he would have to come from behind. This time Cierpinski made his move around the thirty-sixth kilometer mark as he blew by the leaders. He kept up a blistering pace right up to the finish, sprinting the last 200 meters in just 33 seconds. With the victory Cierpinski joined the Ethiopian Abebe Bikila as the only men to win consecutive Olympic marathons.

Running to victory - Waldemar Cierpinski making the final lap at Montreal at the 1976 Olympics

Running to victory – Waldemar Cierpinski making the final lap at Montreal at the 1976 Olympics (Credit: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R0731-0135)

The Recordbreaker – A Shadow Comes To Light
It is said that you cannot run away from your problems, that wherever you go they are likely to follow. In the case of Cierpinski, a two time Olympic champion marathoner, that old saying turned out to be true. Cierpinski’s legacy seemed secure, but then the Berlin Wall came crashing down. That event meant records of the East German Stasi (secret police) came to light. These records were unlike the record books Cierpinski’s name had previously been part of. Rather than recording his athletic achievements, the records turned out to cast a shadow over them. After his two Olympic victories there were a few eyebrows raised about how a formerly mediocre steeplechase runner suddenly became a world beater, but there was no hard evidence against Cierpinski. In addition, the 1976 Montreal Olympics were the first ones to have drug testing, but these tests were for anabolic steroids, not blood doping. This fact would turn out to be more than a mere footnote.

In 1998 Dr. Werner Fricke, a German scientist, gained access to Stasi archives in the eastern German city of Leipzig. From these documents he unearthed State Plan 14:25. This plan for state sponsored drug use by athletes turned out to be on an almost unfathomable scope and scale. It named over 10,000 East German athletes who had been given banned substances.  On page 105 of State Plan 14:25 was the name of Waldemar Cierpinski who had been given drugs in order to boost his performance. Cierpinski’s sudden ascent from mediocrity to Olympic greatness in 1976 took on a whole new meaning.  Now he looked like, at worst just another drug cheat and at best the victim of a state sponsored plan to create Olympic medal winners for propaganda purposes.

Cierpinski may have been incriminated, but in many respects he had been quite fortunate. After his competitive career ended Cierpinsi did not seem to suffer any side effects from the drugs that were given to him. Other East German athletes ended up with diseases, had children with birth defects or were forced to abort pregnancies due to the deleterious effects of steroids and blood doping. Cierpinski became a member of the German Olympic Committee. Though there has been talk of stripping him and other East German athletes of their Olympic medals nothing has been done so far. For his part, Cierpinski has remained almost totally silent on the topic. In a rare interview he said, “As long distance athletes, we had to prove that we had not taken anything before we left the country.” That statement did not lend itself to credibility since Cierpinski would have been proving that he was drug free to the same state that had administered drugs to him in the first place. In this case, the cheaters were doing the checking.

For the record - Waldemar Cierpinski in 2014

For the record – Waldemar Cierpinski in 2014 (Credit: Udo Rupkalwis)

No One Other Than Himself – The Height Of Mediocrity
It is unlikely that Waldemar Cierpinski’s Olympic medals will be taken away from him. If it did not happen in the years after he was first exposed than it is highly unlikely that anything will be done in the future. Just how much these drugs helped Cierpinski will always be open to question. The truth is that the answer can never really be known. Without the drugs though, it can be stated with some certainty that Cierpinski would have remained “a living example of mediocrity.” and an inspiration for no one other than himself.