The Current

Should the IOC redistribute medals to swimmers who lost to doping East Germans in 1976?

At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Canada's women swimmers were gold medal favourites but it was East Germany that dominated. Their success was due to a state-sponsored doping program and some in the swimming community want the injustice to be rectified.
Winners of the Olympic Montreal swimming 100m freestyle women event wave on the podium, July 20, 1976. (Left to right) East German Petra Priemer (2nd-silver), East German Kornelia Ender (1st-gold) and Dutch Enith Brigitha (3rd-bronze). (AFP/Getty Images)

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Four decades after the East German women's swim team dominated at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, former Canadian Olympians are campaigning for medal redistribution after it was revealed the East Germans were linked to a state-sponsored doping program.

Today, all the tarnished gold medals still belong to the German athletes.

Former Canadian Olympic swimmer Anne Jardin Alexander remembers swimming against the East Germans. She tells The Current's Connie Walker that the Canadian team was very competitive.

"We really believed that we could do it. Our coaches said nothing was holding us back. We were in great form and we were ready to compete," says Alexander.

East German Kornelia Ender (C) sprints to win the women's 100m freestyle event, July 19, 1976 during the Olympic Games in Montreal. (AFP/Getty Images)

Her first encounter with the East German swimmers was in the changerooms. Alexander tells Walker that when she heard their voices, she thought they were men.

"I just thought, 'Okay I've got a big job to do because my gosh look how big and powerful they are.'"

Kornelia Ender of East Germany after the Women's 100 metres Butterfly, July 22, 1976 during the XXI Olympic Summer Games. (Tony Duffy/Getty Images)
At the time, Alexander said she "heard whispers of doping" but just focused on her own performance.

"We were very naive back then about competition and cleanliness and all that stuff so, I really didn't think too much about it other than I have a big job ahead of me."

The Canadian swimming team did win two bronze medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics, but Alexander says it was tough not living up to everyone's expectations.

"It's really, really hard to not win when the rest of the country wants you to win and you sometimes come up short."

Wendy Hogg of Vancouver receives her bronze medal with team members Robin Corsiglia, Susan Sloan and Anne Jardin of the women's 400-metre medley relay team, Montreal, Que., July 18, 1976. (Robinson/Pool/The Canadian Press)
 Alexander thinks it's a good idea to redistribute the medals but "at the same time you can't rewrite history books."

"I would love for my friends and teammates to receive medals for people that came fourth, fifth or sixth … that would be tremendous for the acknowledgement of it all."

"But it doesn't really change standing up on the block and doing your best at that particular time."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.