By Udo Ludwig and Michael Wulzinger
On July 2, 2006, after the first stage of the Tour de France, T-Mobile cyclists Sinkewitz, Klöden and Kessler separated from their team and had Sinkewitz's girlfriend drive them to the University Medical Center Freiburg. According to the commission's report, Schmid met them there in the basement-level biochemistry laboratory, where he closed the shades and began to reinfuse into the athletes blood that had been brought there for storage several weeks earlier.
But there were complications. The blood in Sinkewitz's first bag coagulated, but Schmid, instead of abandoning the effort, "simply infused the second bag," referring to the false start as "bad luck." Once again, the blood did not enter Sinkewitz's body as anticipated. The problem was apparently the result of either a "defective" technique while taking the original blood sample or "bacterial contamination" of the blood.
The experts conclude that Schmid's behavior was in violation of a German law that regulates blood transfusions. They also state that his actions were "particularly irresponsible," because Schmid sent the athletes on their way after the procedure. Sinkewitz, according to the report, left the lab with half a liter of apparently faulty blood coursing through his veins. Schmid, the experts write, exposed Sinkewitz to the "risk of extremely serious complications," including septic shock and pulmonary embolisms, two potentially fatal conditions.
The commission assumes that it was not just Sinkewitz, who later confessed, but also Kessler and Klöden who received transfusions of their own, previously stored blood on that July 2. Kessler was later given a two-year suspension for testosterone doping, while Klöden is now a member of Kazakhstan's Astana team and is considered Germany's best professional cyclist still active today. Kessler and Klöden have not commented on the allegations.
The commission members also cite as evidence of blood doping the samples Heinrich had analyzed a week later during his short trip to Freiburg. All of these samples contained extremely low levels of reticulocytes, which suggests a "high probability of earlier manipulation." This evidence, the report concludes, helps to explain why the T-Mobile team won the team classification and Klöden arrived in Paris in third place despite the loss of the T-Mobile captain, Jan Ullrich.
Only four of the seven blood samples could be traced to T-Mobile cyclists. The three others were labeled with the "personal identification codes" of team staff members, two of which had remarkably athletic blood counts. The commission assumes that this was how the two physicians tried to cover up the identities of the remaining riders. The way the Freiburg doctors "ignored and downplayed the health hazards of doping" was "horrifying," the final report concludes.
The commission also came to the conclusion that Schmid and Heinrich had no accomplices at the University Medical Center Freiburg. Strict secrecy was apparently part of their strategy. The cyclists derisively referred to another doctor who occasionally helped out during races and was even hesitant to administer vitamin preparations as "Dr. Banana."
The three investigators also found no evidence that Joseph Keul, the former head of the institution, who began promoting the Freiburg hospital's sports medicine department internationally in the 1970s, played an active role in Schmid's and Heinrich's activities. However, they believe that Keul, with his equivocal views on the use of drugs in professional sports, paved the way for the later doping career of his students Schmid and Heinrich. Keul apparently argued that EPO was "safe when used correctly," even though the risks of EPO use had been known for years, and included thrombosis, pulmonary embolisms, strokes and tumor growth.
For professional cyclists, there could be nothing better than being taken under the wing of a recognized German university hospital, especially with Keul as the department head. Keul was Germany's best-known sports physician, a longtime physician to the West German Olympic team and tennis federation, a man with excellent connections in the political world. In other words, Keul was virtually untouchable. And, according to the report, he was a man who "was always prepared" to downplay the use of drugs in sports.
Keul, who died in 2000, even misled the public when it came to the case of the Telekom team, the predecessor to the T-Mobile team. During its scandalous 1998 tour, Keul told Telekom's PR director, Jürgen Kindervater, that he had given "five television and nine radio interviews" in which he had been able to demonstrate "that our Telekom team is under our control and is not taking any banned substances."
In 1999, when SPIEGEL first reported on systematic and comprehensive doping in the Telekom team, Kindervater characterized the story as a "perfidious campaign of character assassination" and tried to prevent its publication with legal means. Joseph Keul was one of the key witnesses in the case. In a sworn affidavit, the professor stated that his institute had "complete documentation" of the cyclists' "examinations by sports physicians" on file, and that there was "not a single case" in which the results showed that they had "taken banned substances."
To demonstrate that it was serious about its opposition to doping, Telekom established and funded a working group called "Doping-Free Sports" after the scandalous 1998 tour. The chairman of the group was Joseph Keul. Lothar Heinrich, one of the two team physicians, was a founding member of the group and also its secretary.
Although Keul's Freiburg working group commissioned a handful of studies by outside scientists, it benefited mainly from 792,500 ($1 million) in funding from Deutsche Telekom. Ironically, the Doping-Free Sports initiative promoted a number of academic projects conducted by Schmid, the results of which could be used to perfect his Freiburg doping network. The elaborate cover-up was strongly reminiscent of the state-sponsoring doping system in the former East Germany.
In May 1999, Keul and Heinrich headed a seminar, sponsored by the Doping-Free Sports group, for coaches, doctors and journalists in the Black Forest. While experts discussed drug-free sports inside the conference facility, Heinrich was outside, delivering at least 20,000 units of NeoRecormon to cyclist Jaksche, who paid for the drug in cash.
The commission discovered that Heinrich used the Doping-Free Sports group's account to pay for subsequent shipments of performance-enhancing drugs. One of these shipments was allegedly sent to Klöden's then-girlfriend. Keul examined, approved and vouched for the accuracy of the invoice.
Keul took advantage of the fact that, as an éminence grise of the German sports community, he had practically free rein to do as he pleased in Freiburg. Outside donations to the institute, including funds from sports associations, were deposited into private accounts and the account of the Nenad Keul Foundation, which he had founded. The commission writes that it could not understand why the "years of inaccuracies relating to virtually all aspects of Professor Keul's revenues were not discovered until after his death."
Questions of Accountability
But as detailed and convincing as the report's description of the Freiburg physicians' involvement in the doping system is, it remains vague when it comes to examining the question of accountability. After Keul's death, a physician named Aloys Berg assumed his position temporarily, until Professor Hans-Hermann Dickhuth was named director of the department in 2002. The commission found no evidence that either man was involved or complicit in doping activities.
Nevertheless, once the report has been published, University Medical Center Freiburg management will have to address the question of whether Berg and Dickhuth could be held accountable for what happened in their department. The issue is all the more relevant because Schmid and Heinrich were not the only ones involved in the doping system. Another doctor, Georg Huber, who was responsible for amateur riders, was active, as were two others who no longer work at the hospital today.
Another question that remains unclear is how much the sponsor knew about the many thousands of tablets, injections and blood bags. The statements given by Telekom and T-Mobile managers were "unproductive," the commission writes. According to the commission's findings, the sponsor did not inspect, or was even interested in, the doctors' accounts with the pharmacies involved. The cycling team's Bonn backers had apparently relied completely on the supposed "persons of integrity" in Freiburg.
Nevertheless, after the first stage of the 2006 Tour de France, when the three German cyclists disappeared and spent several hours in Freiburg receiving blood infusions, their absence was "widely noticed," Luuc Eisenga, the T-Mobile team's technical director at the time, told the commission.
Eisenga makes himself even clearer in an internal report written by private detectives who also investigated the doping scene. Eisenga said that "essentially everyone knew about the Freiburg sports physicians' work." Eisenga claimed that he himself had discussed the subject with one of the sponsor's representatives after the trio's visit to Freiburg. T-Mobile, however, continues to deny having had any knowledge of the matter.
The University Medical Center Freiburg dismissed Heinrich and Schmid without notice in 2007, and the office of the Freiburg public prosecutor is investigating both men. In addition, the German state of Baden-Württemberg wants both physicians to hand over the money they earned with their illegal activities. Despite the commission's intensive efforts, the two doctors, as well as the owner of the pharmacy in Elzach and the professional cyclists Kessler and Klöden, refused to cooperate. When contacted by SPIEGEL last Friday, none of the individuals involved was prepared to comment on the accusations.
Heinrich initially sued the university for wrongful dismissal, arguing that he was acting under orders. According to his attorney, Heinrich had, at the beginning of his career, entered what "may have been an existing system," one for which he could not have been held accountable. The attorney argued that holding Heinrich responsible would be "highly questionable." Meanwhile, Heinrich has withdrawn the suit and now works abroad. Schmid sued the university in a labor court and lost the case, which is now before an appeals court.
Schmid and Heinrich have not yet had their licenses to practice medicine revoked. They are still permitted to work as physicians.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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