SA athletics coach denies doping, spy claims
THE man branded the mastermind of East Germany’s doping programme is devising a plan to boost SA athletics.
Dr Ekkart Arbeit , who denies claims of performance-enhancing drugs against him, will deliver a proposal to Athletics South Africa (ASA) recommending special schools for athletes.
“We must create some schools, sprinting schools, a long-distance school,” he told the Sunday Times in Daegu this week, where the track and field team is acclimatising before heading to the Beijing Olympics on Wednesday. Arbeit is scientific adviser to ASA.
“I am making proposals for 2012. One will be special schools. We need a special programme for the women, too,” he said (of the 25 athletes on the team, just five are female).
The head coach of the former East Germany’s athletics team in the 1980s, Arbeit was allegedly instrumental in devising doping programmes for athletes.
It has also been said he spied for the secret police. He dismisses both claims, saying he has not been charged nor convicted.
“When I became head coach, I stopped all the doping programmes but nobody would like to hear that.”
Arbeit , 67, supports the World Anti-Doping Agency’s efforts, but believes the battle is a difficult one to win.
“When we are talking drug-free sport, it’s an illusion. At the time of competition it’s free, but in preparation it’s not.”
He says the fight against doping will fail if it focuses only on elite athletes instead of society as a whole. Steroids, for example, are easily available at many gyms and even schools — as are recreational drugs, which are also prohibited substances. He also questions the extensive use of supplements.
Arbeit believes the SA athletics team has nine medal prospects — 2004 Athens silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (800m), LJ van Zyl and Alwyn Myburgh (both 400m hurdles), Khotso Mokoena (long jump), Robert Oosthuizen (men’s javelin), Elizna Naude (women’s discus), Justine Robbeson (women’s javelin), Hendrick Ramaala (marathon) and the men’s 4x400m relay, which is likely to include Van Zyl and Myburgh.
In training this week, he worked closely with athletes, giving advice to Mokoena and Naude. He displayed an easy-going style, offering suggestions with a smile and some words of encouragement. He also appeared happy to get his hands dirty, setting up and later packing away the hurdles himself.
He says South Africa has plenty of untapped potential.
“We have enough talent. We must go step by step to make the right structure. We have not one full-time paid coach,” he says, pointing out that Russia has 2000 salaried coaches.
“The provinces need at least one full-time coach each, but maybe not to start with. It should be part of the plan for the next Olympic cycle. It is necessary.”
Arbeit says another problem in SA is that athletes specialise when they are too young.
“They are all not explosive enough on the leg side; they have a big deficit. It should be developed from 12 years, 13, but we are starting too early to become too specific. It is not good for athletics. They should do gymnastics, swimming, too.”
He cites former shot put star Udo Beyer who, when he became Europe’s junior champion at 19, could do the 100m sprint in 11.05sec and top 2m in high jump — using the straddle instead of the Fosbury Flop.
“Nobody can do that now,” says Arbeit , who clearly puts his theory into practice at training.
Working on explosive leg power, he had Naude and Tsholofelo Thipe jumping over low hurdles off stationary starts.
Arbeit has been haunted by the drug allegations over the years, causing him to lose a job as head coach of the Australian team. He coached British heptathlete Denise Lewis and, in 1996, he was hired by West Hartlepool rugby club to help with fitness and speed training.
THIS STORY WAS PUBLISHED IN THE SUNDAY TIMES ON AUGUST 10, 2008