Anecdotes of sports medicine - Roland Matthes

While searching for renowned speakers for the Limburgs Congress of Sportsmedicine, for several years I tried to invite Roland Matthes (1950-) from the former East Germany (the German Democratic Republic). The Olympic champion 100 and 200m backstroke of 1968 in Mexico and 1972 in Munich improved a world record 16 times, and became three times world champion. In addition, he graduated in 1982 as a doctor and specialized in orthopedic surgery. In spite of many phone calls to the GDR Olympic Comitee I did not get any result.

Early 1987, to my great surprise, I received a phone call from the GDR. The lady on the other side of the line asked me if I was still interested in speakers from the GDR. She promised that two speakers would fly over, Doctor Rolf Donath (1929-2017), Director of the Zentralinstitut des Sportmedizinisches Institut in Kreisha near Dresden and Hans-Georg Aschenbach (1951-), in 1976 Olympic champion ski jumping in Innsbruck and three times world champion, who also was a sports physician and orthopedic surgeon. The reason for their arrival became clear to me a few weeks later, Erich Honecker (1912-1994), the State Council President of the GDR would make a state visit to Belgium and to improve relations, other prominent GDRs could also fly over to our country.

I waited for my guests in the airport of Maastricht, but to my surprise, only Donath came out of the plane. When I asked him where Aschenbach was, he murmured something about a flu and quickly changed the subject. Later I learned that it was discovered that Aschenbach would use his journey to flee to the West and therefore had to stay home. Nine months later he succeeded fleeing to the West afterall when he went to a contest in Hinterzarten near Freiburg with the national team. After his flee he started a practice as an orthopedic surgeon, but also revealed a lot of doping secrets from the GDR for the press. Only a few months later was the wall fell. In 2012 he published the book 'Euer Held. Euer Verräter. Mein Leben für den Leistungssport' (translated freely: 'Your hero, your traitor. My life for competition sports').

Back to Donath. When I drove him on the highway from Maastricht airport to the congress venue Hengelhoef, he asked me at some point when we would approach the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. When I told him that we had just passed over he could not believe his ears, because he saw no barriers or watch towers. But when we arrived in Hengelhoef panic struck him. After all, the American forces were performing big maneuvers in Germany at that moment, and every year again they held a stopover in Hengelhoef. So it was teeming with GIs and tanks and Donath turned pale.

Unfortunately I have never been able to get Roland Matthes at our congress. After the fall of the Berlin Wall he started as orthopedic surgeon in Marktheidenfeld, a town near Würzburg in the south of Germany.