I have been home at Lake Constance since Sunday and after landing, I got this message: "Supposedly another one is coming out.Tomorrow. And Georg Preidler is no longer on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Co."
Yesterday the rumour was confirmed and frankly, I am stumped. Not just because Georg was my teammate for three years, but also because the whole doping network with a doctor from my hometown of Erfurt was based in Thüringen. I went to school there and started by athletic career there. My friends and family live there and, although I have in the meantime moved to Switzerland, it is still my home.
The last days in Dubai, I have with disbelief followed how more and more details came to light about the network around Mark Schmidt, the athletes and how that all functioned. And how Erfurt and Thüringen all of a sudden are being portrayed as a center of international sport fraud.
I don't want to speak here about the personal depths that are involved when looking at someone like Mark Schmidt. Egoism and financial motives would be perhaps most important. I personally don't know him and his surroundings.
I am very happy that this now has come to an end – as painful as it is. I find it tragic that a handful of people can do so much damage to the image of German sports and my hometown. In the coming days there will surely be new names and details made public, and I find one fact especially bad: that Dr. Schmid's practice was also an official contact point of the LSB Thüringen for many young up-and-coming athletes, who were examined and treated there and now are put in a bad light, although they did nothing wrong.
How can it be that after the experience of the controversy of the UV light treatment by Dr. Franke at the Olympic support center Erfurt 2012, in which I was also involved, people here didn't become more aware? Even if you can't directly compare the cases, the consequences are again that it is the young athletes who suffer, because those in charge didn't properly look at things. That makes me angry and disappointed.
As a pro cyclist, I am always confronted with the topic of doping. I can't blame anyone for that, when you look at the history of cycling and other endurance sports. Nevertheless I have always tried to be a good example and transparent. I am proud that this current case around Mark Schmidt comes from the Anti-Doping law which I have supported. The severity of the law and police investigational methods are necessary against this kind of criminal energy of the back-room men and athletes and to protect the honourable people.
You always hear about a second chance in doping cases and that people can learn from their mistakes. That is also a big question in cycling, where there are still many people from the scandal years serving as Sporting Director, support giver or manager. And everyone has earned this chance and most take advantages of it. But Mark Schmidt has lost the right to that, in my opinion. It seems as if he has helped athletes to cheat 10 years ago, came out of it with no problem and then promptly built up his blood doping system again and even took over the equipment from Stefan Matschiner, who had just been caught and punished. There is just no more ignorance and audacity.
The more important questions are, how can we help athletes like Georg Preidler, who apparently slipped off the narrow path and could no longer hold out agains the pressure? Some athletes aren't as lucky to have the environment that I have, one which has supported and protected me during my whole sports career. Success in sport is not just physical but also involves mental strength. That is why I think that especially young athletes can and must be prepared for this situation with coaching and much explanation, in order to be strong later when they are faced with temptation. And we athletes should not be left along with this assignment. Sport plays an important role in society, keeps people healthy and fit, and provides both entertainment and role models. But all of that can become too much for an individual and he breaks because of it, or tries to find a shortcut through doping.
The sport must take a long look at itself. When I see the corrupt practices of many sport functionaries, the bribery and pay-offs involving the large sports federations and the loss of prestige of the Olympic Games, which actually should be the shining example, then you don't have to wonder why there are always athletes who cheat. Of course one can't condemn all athletes, functionaries or federations, because I believe that most of them are engaged for a clean sport. But the fish starts to stink from the head down. And it is a slap in the face to all clean athletes like me, sports fans and all the passionate volunteer trainers, caregivers and helpers like those in Erfurt, who support sport with their heart and soul.