Shirley Babashoff is a two-time Olympic gold medalist — but it’s the four gold medals she didn’t win that stick with her the most. Forty years after her last Olympic Games, Babashoff still maintains that she was robbed by a Cold War-era doping regime that powered East German swimmers to victory over the Americans.
Babashoff was widely considered one of the greatest swimmers in U.S. history — some even called her the female Mark Spitz — but her dream of individual Olympic gold was thwarted by an East German team that swept the women’s individual events in all but one race.
When Babashoff first suggested at the 1976 Games that the East Germans were using performance-enhancing drugs, she was ridiculed by the media. Unlike American swimmer Lilly King, whose finger wagging and vocal criticism of Russian athletes who have been caught doping at this year’s Olympics earned her hero status, Babashoff was painted as a sore loser.
But after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, documents revealed an extensive system of state-sponsored doping that proved her suspicions correct. Still, the International Olympic Committee never struck the East Germans from the 1976 record books or upgraded Babashoff’s silver medals to gold.
“They took a lot away from me,” she said. “And I can’t just let that go.”
Mark Johnson comments in support of Babashoff’s claims, relying on research from his book Spitting in the Soup.