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He left the courtroom much the way he first went in, crowded by a horde of cameramen and with a triumphant grin on his face.

Manfred Ewald, once East Germany's most powerful sports official, was given the toughest sentence yet handed down in the short history of East German doping trials, but it will do little to alter his daily routine.

A Berlin court found the 74-year-old guilty yesterday on 20 counts of contributing to the bodily harm of former swimmers and athletes who were fed male hormones without their knowledge or consent. Ewald was given a 22-month suspended jail term, with no pecuniary penalty.

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Dr. Manfred Hoeppner, former chief sports doctor and the architect of East Germany's state-sponsored drug program, was also convicted and received an 18-month suspended sentence.

"You've played the part of a fragile old man," the judge said to Ewald as he explained his verdict. "It was hard to discern the relentless fuhrer . But that's what you were."

Often referred to as the "Honecker of sport," Ewald directed East Germany's sporting success for nearly three decades. Despotic, ruthless and politically cunning, he was president of the East German sport and gymnastics union, leader of the national Olympic committee and he sat next to former leader Erich Honecker on the Communist Party's central committee.

As director of the high-performance sport commission, it was Ewald who in 1974 drafted the secret State Plan 14.25, which made it state policy to administer muscle-building anabolic steroids to young athletes.

His goal was to gain international recognition for East Germany and, as the judge put it, he was "merciless" in achieving it. He put medals before the health of the athletes.

Neither the athletes nor their parents were advised of the doping practice. Instead, young swimmers and athletes received the East German-manufactured steroid Oral-Turinabol in the guise of vitamin pills.

Many of them were young girls well under the age of 18. Older athletes were forced to sign an oath of secrecy, but were not advised of the potential damaging effects of the drugs.

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With Hoeppner's help, the plan worked. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, East Germany topped West Germany's medal total for the first time. By 1976 in Montreal, East Germany's Wundermaedchen ruled in the pool and led the entire Olympic team to a medal victory over the United States.

Initially scheduled for a single day, the final and most spectacular of the doping trials took 22 days over 2½ months. The testimonies of 208 athletes and volumes of Stasi files -- many of them delivered by Hoeppner himself in his dual role as a Stasi informant -- attest to the massive manipulation of an estimated 10,000 elite athletes.

The original 142 counts were reduced to 22 for time reasons since the statute of limitations for all doping crimes is up on Oct. 3, and a first-instance verdict had to be reached by then.

Michael Lehner, a lawyer for the victims, was unhappy with the result. "It's basically an acquittal. Those few months [suspended sentence]don't mean much to them. There is no reason why Ewald didn't get at least two years in prison."

Ewald, who never offered even a symbolic admission throughout the trial and whose lawyer recommended an acquittal, listened to the evidence of 22 victims without flinching.

The women told harrowing tales of hormonal disturbances, repeated miscarriages and deformed children. The court heard their permanently deepened voices as they spoke of how their bodies were masculinized, how one suffered liver damage, another cancer.

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As grounds for Ewald's mild punishment, the judge cited the time elapsed since the actual doping took place. Which makes it conceivable police investigators might be partly to blame. It is being argued that had they gotten their act together sooner, in 1992 or 1993, this trial may have had a different conclusion.

As for Hoeppner, 66, who not only testified but repeatedly apologized to the victims, the judge acknowledged his efforts. "Without your extensive testimony, it's likely this trial and many of the others could never have taken place."

Disappointment was expressed by four of the victims on hand for the verdict.

Andreas Krieger, formerly European champion shot putter Heidi Krieger, strode past reporters, snapping only, "I'll have to digest this first." Krieger was so physically changed by the drugs that she had a sex-change operation in 1995 after suffering great emotional trauma and even contemplating suicide.

Brigitte Michel, a former discus thrower from Berlin, said through clenched teeth, "It's a verdict. Are we satisfied with it? Certainly not.

"We always said we'd be satisfied with a conviction of any kind," she went on, "but this verdict doesn't correspond with the damage that's been done. It's not enough, but we can live with it."

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Hoeppner, who moments before had once again expressed his regret, drew the same conclusion, but left on a more cynical note. "I can live with this verdict," he said. "I just hope that East German sport will no longer be discredited.

"Every now and then you have to know how to lose," he added. "That's what sport is all about."

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