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Jan Ullrich: The Best There Never Was

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Yet this put him on a pedestal and the move from cheer to adulation, and the risks this brings are well set out in this book. A Wunderkind who won the amateur worlds in 1993 as a teenager and almost won the time trial against the pros there too, he was second in the 1996 Tour de France, taking the final time trial. He’s one of several to talk about his time and there’s plenty from others like Rudy Pevenage, Jörg Jaksche or Rölf Aldag too but given the rivalry for years, featuring Armstrong makes sense.

Whether through early problems like weight gain or the deep personal problems of recent years, at times there’s a temptation as a reader to place Ullrich onto an imaginary psychologist’s couch and diagnose his issues through the pages, especially as the intensity of the book seems to grow with recent events where Ullrich goes from trying to win a bicycle race to coping with life. Jan Ullrich’s career was part of this, his first win suggested he’d dominate the Tour, and with it the sport for years to come. Doping is one among the lead themes of the piece (obviously), and the DDR is being related to that (not as obviously), while other *strongly* related subjects, albeit present in the book (dunno to what extent), hadn’t appeared at all before I named them, despite being by far more relevant both in Ullrich’s history and for their general interest regarding “sport medicine”.It’s “the same USADA” (not exactly *the same* of course), covering up doped Olympic medallists or catching Lance. There’s exploration on when Ullrich might have started using EPO and whether he was a victim of the East German state doping program. I think that if there’s a contrast in attitudes of sort to reflect about is how singling out DDR allows us to “forget” all the time what USADA was doing, or CONI and so on and on. The possibility of doping in the DDR days is perhaps more about Ullrich’s upbringing as a child and the person he became, but as suggested above, the danger is ersatz psychology.

However, *unless* serious facts are brought forth by Friebe on the subject, I still find that speaking of a couple of seasons as a teenager in a State Sport School as a meaningful doping-related point is just poorly reinforcing commonplace assertions, especially given that the subsequent twenty years or so showed that Ullrich was *actually* being doped in every sort of other system (and the passive voice is also especially relevant here), *plus* that athletes from any sort of background became “that kind of person” without any help from the DDR. There was a point towards the end of the book when I could feel the weight of pages on the left of the hardback spine and how I almost didn’t want to turn further, as if to leave some kind of future ahead.

Doping Opfer Hilfe (essentially focussed on victims of State doping under the DDR) is probably one of the best possible examples of the serious issues which may be fostered by this kind of notable (and declared) ideological biases. This is an institutional level of financial and moral support that I’ve not seen in pro sports whether it’s cycling, tennis, athletics etc, but for many reasons this is not going to happen, because it’s not the state that’s perpetuating it, because some victims because wealthy through it and so on. The point is that when doping is strongly related to some of the State’s power structures (as it was in the DDR, for sure… and pretty much everywhere else) it becomes harder to tackle for a series of reason. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it certainly isn’t an assassination piece on the DDR, which, if I understand you correctly is what you’re assuming?

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