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400m WR holder (47.60) Marita Koch gives a rare interview

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INTERVIEW-Athletics-Reclusive Koch insists 400m record will fall

By Karolos Grohmann
Wed Aug 31, 2011

BERLIN Aug 31 (Reuters) - When Amantle Montsho snatched a landmark 400m gold medal at the world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea on Monday, world record holder Marita Koch was too busy to watch.

The woman who holds the second oldest women's world record, set in 1985, has long withdrawn from the spotlight, finding refuge in the fashion and sports stores she owns in Rostock, Germany.

On the day the Botswanan became the toast of Africa with a scintillating run to hold off American Allyson Felix in the final metres, the German had other things to do.

"I only saw it taped on the morning of the next day and I did not see the heats either," admitted Koch, who now uses the surname Meier-Koch following her marriage to long-time coach Wolfgang Meier.

"There is not really much to say," the soft-spoken Koch told Reuters on the phone in a very rare interview. "One should not necessarily expect spectacular times at major events."

Montsho won in a time of 49.56 seconds, almost two seconds slower than the spectacular 47.60 seconds Koch set in Canberra, Australia more than two-and-a-half decades ago.

The 1980 Olympic champion from what was then East Germany (GDR) had missed the 1984 Olympics because of her country's boycott but made up for that disappointment with one of sport's most spectacular records.

"In the 100 metres there have also been many victories with times that have been far less spectacular," the 54-year-old added.

"At big events, times are not as important as winning. I myself have won major races with times above 48 or 49 seconds," she said.

Indeed Koch did, but, as opposed to the 100 metres where the record has been broken more than a dozen times since the years she competed, hers has never really been threatened.


"My record will go eventually for sure," she said quietly, with what sounded like a hint of laughter. "I can't say when but what is certain that, yes, my record will fall."

Whether it will be broken soon or not, Koch's record time is not only her legacy but also a curse.

With every record dating back to before the fall of Communism in 1989 viewed with more than just a hint of suspicion, it is easy to dismiss athletic achievements during that era as the result of systematic doping in the Soviet Union and its satellite states, including East Germany.

The German athletics federation (DLV) also views these records as tainted but has failed to have them erased for fear of legal repercussions from the athletes.

Since Germany's reunification, Koch has consistently denied taking banned substances despite some evidence dating back to the time of the GDR linking her with the state's doping programme.

Reducing, however, her record to merely another accomplishment of East Germany's infamous "blue pills" or Turibanol is not really doing justice to Koch's natural talent.

"The main weapon was those little blue pills from Jenapharm, the state pharmaceutical company... East Germany's anabolic steroids," International Olympic Committee medical commission chief Arne Ljungqvist wrote in his recently published memoirs 'Doping's Nemesis'.

As opposed to the muscle-bound former Czechoslovak Jarmila Kratochvilova, holder of the 800m record since 1983, Koch was a slim, elegant runner, whose appearance was a far cry from the steroid-pumped Eastern European products of a Cold War often fought out in the world's sporting arenas.

Koch generally shuns interviews and her East German sporting past leaves her well out of unified Germany's sporting elite.

It took more than four dozen phone calls to finally convince her to speak to Reuters.

When Koch, however, had enough, she simply hung up saying, "I have to go now. Customers are waiting." Like her run in 1985, it was over very quickly. (Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editin by John O'Brien)



Another interesting article on the most famous 400m in women's athletics.

400m WR holder (47.60) Marita Koch gives a rare interview Athletics_446326t
Marita Koch blitzed the 400m in under 48 seconds
in Canberra despite being in the unfavourable second lane.

After a quarter of a century, Koch remains untouchable

Male records are being broken every other week but marks set by dubious East German should not stand

By Simon Turnbull,
Athletics Correspondent
The Independent
Sunday, 5 September 2010

There was no chance of the Lightning Bolt striking at the Spaladium Arena in Split yesterday. Track and field's most prolific record-breaker of recent times has been undergoing running repairs since his sudden acquaintance with defeat in Stockholm a month ago. He also has a book to promote, chronicling how he revised the 100 metres world record three times over the course of 2008 and 2009 and the 200m record twice.

Still, this afternoon in the Croatian capital, day two of the Continental Cup – as the old World Cup team competition has been renamed – will feature David Rudisha, the 21-year-old Kenyan who has set new global figures for the 800m twice in the past fortnight – 1min 41.09sec in Berlin and 1:41.01 in Rieti. David Oliver, the American who came within 0.02sec of the 110m hurdles world record in Paris in July, will also be in action.

For the best of the bunch in men's track events, it seems the world record ledger remains an open book. Sadly, to the women's elite at the majority of distances on the track, it is shut tight. From 100m to 800m it has been a closed book since the 1980s.

The one individual world record set in the World Cup has been out of reach for 25 years. At the Bruce Stadium in Canberra on 6 October 1985, Marita Koch blitzed 400m in 47.60sec. Watching it now on YouTube, it remains a stunning sight to behold. Running in the unfavourably tight second lane, Koch sets off like she is running a 200m race and just keeps going, as though she is immune to the natural brake fluid of lactic acid.

In a quarter of a century, no other female 400m runner has broken 48 seconds. In the Continental Cup race in Split yesterday, only one woman broke 50sec, Amantle Montsho of Botswana, prevailing in 49.89. Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic champion, has a lifetime best of 49.61.

Koch's untouchable time stands as a legacy of the track and field machine of the German Democratic Republic – a machine that was found to have been not so much oiled as turbo-charged by a systematic doping programme when documents of the Stasi secret police force came to light after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In an extensive examination of Stasi files for their revelatory 1991 book Doping-Dokumente, Brigitte Berendonk and Werner Franke uncovered a list of annual dosages of Oral-Turinabol administered to Koch and the other leading lights of the all-conquering East German women's track and field squad. They also unearthed a letter from Koch to Jenapharm complaining that Barbel Wockel, who won the European 200m title ahead of her in Athens in 1982, was being given stronger doses of the steroids because her uncle was president of the pharmaceutical company that fed the East German athletics regime.

Not that Koch has ever acknowledged any taint. Now 53 and running a sports shop with her husband and former coach, Wolfgang Meier, in Rostock, she has insisted: "At the World Championships in Helsinki in 1983 I had to go to dope-testing three times and always I was clean. The same applies to my career overall. I was a mature and responsible athlete."

There are three other East German marks that remain unbeaten: the men's and women's discus records held by Jürgen Schult (74.08m) and Gabriele Reinsch (76.80m with a lighter implement) plus the 4 x 100m relay time of 41.37sec set by Koch's team-mates Silke Gladisch, Sabine Rieger, Ingrid Auerswald and Marlies Göhr at the 1985 World Cup in Canberra.

Koch's 400m performance in the Australian capital eclipsed a record that had been held by Jarmila Kratochvilova, but the world 800m record set in Munich in 1983 by the big hulk of a Czechoslovakian – 1 min 53.28sec – remains unchallenged.

Like Koch, Kratochvilova never failed a drugs test but her build, and her sudden progress late in her track and field life (she didn't break 53sec for 400m until the age of 27 and was 32 when she broke the 800m record) raised more than a few eyebrows.

When she competed on the US indoor circuit in 1984, Dr Leroy Perry, a chiropractor who worked closely with leading athletes in the United States, told the Los Angeles Times: "I've never seen a body like that. I think there is something chemically different about her physiological make-up, and it had to happen in the last five years. And I'm sure it hasn't come from weightlifting."

The United States sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner underwent a similar physical transformation before she put the 100m and 200m records beyond reach, at 10.49sec and 21.34sec respectively, in 1988. She, too, never failed a drugs test, but Carl Lewis, in his autobiography, Inside Track, described her sudden leap from also-ran to untouchable as "a change that came too quickly for the imagination." He added: "Her physical appearance alone – muscles popping everywhere – made a lot of people wonder. Then there was the voice, much deeper than it had been in the past."

Flo-Jo died in 1998, aged 38, after suffering an epileptic seizure. Her records, however, live on. Like those of Marita Koch and Jarmila Kratochvilova, they are likely to remain beyond reach for a good while yet.

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