Ender, Kornelia (1958—)

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Ender, Kornelia (1958—)

East German swimmer . Born on October 25, 1958, in what was then the German Democratic Republic of East Germany; married Roland Matthes (a swimmer), in 1988 (divorced); remarried; children: (first marriage) one daughter; (second marriage) one daughter.

Selected championships and honors—individual:

silver medal in the 200-meter medley in Olympics (1972); silver medal in the 200-meter individual medley, World championships (1973); gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle, World championships (1963 and 1976); silver medal, 200-meter freestyle, World championships (1975); gold medals in the 100-meter butterfly, World championships (1973 and 1975); gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle, 200-meter freestyle, and 100-meter butterfly, Olympic Games (1976); gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly in the Olympic Games (1976); named World Swimmer of the Year (1973, 1975, and 1976).

Selected championships and honors—team:

silver medals in the 4×100 freestyle relay and 4×100-meter medley relay in Olympics (1972); gold medal in 4×100-meter medley relay and silver in the 4×100-meterfreestyle relay in Olympics (1976); World championships in the 4×100-meter medley relay (1973 and 1975); World championships in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay (1973 and 1975); inducted into International Swimming Hall of Fame (1981).

The first woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympics, Kornelia Ender was a member of the East German swimming team that dominated the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, taking gold medals in 11 out of 13 events and shattering eight world records. The success of the East German swimmers, however, was clouded with charges of drug use among some of the athletes. Particularly outspoken in her accusations was Shirley Babashoff , who was Ender's most daunting challenger. Babashoff was branded as a poor sport at the time, although with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, 20 former East German coaches admitted that they had given steroids to selected athletes as a matter of government policy. Ender was never implicated in connection with steroid use and denies having ever used performance-enhancing drugs. "I don't think I was the type who needed something," she told a reporter for Sports Illustrated. "I didn't lift weights much. I was agile, naturally strong. I did drills. I had a naturally perfect freestyle stroke. I was used as an example to others."

The daughter of an army officer and a nurse, Ender was a robust child who was an outstanding swimmer by the age of six. Her talent was such that age 11 she left home to enter the Chemie Club training center in Halle. There, in a program that controlled her activities around the clock, she was rigorously trained under the supervision of a coach and a team physician, swimming six or seven miles a day. "After every workout I got a 'cocktail' with vitamins," Ender recalled, although she was quick to add that no one ever mentioned drugs. "Sports officials never talked to us about anything.… I wish I could ask Coach Langheim, but he died of cancer in 1982."

At the 1972 Olympic games, Ender, then 13, anchored two silver medal-swimming relay teams and placed second in the 200-meter medley. In the four years that followed she became so proficient in the butterfly and freestyle sprints that she was virtually unbeatable. She was World Swimmer of the Year in 1973 and 1975, winning four gold medals in both World championships. A Sports Illustrated reporter once described her as "propelling herself into the water with such authority as to give the impression that she was pulling the pool toward her."

At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the 5'8", 155-pound swimmer played a crucial role in East Germany's success, winning the 100-meter and 200-meter freestyle sprints, the 100-meter butterfly, and anchoring the 400-meter medley relay team that took the gold. She not only broke a world record in each event but swam two of the individual events—the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle—back-to-back, substituting for Barbara Krause in the freestyle. Time magazine described her as exploding out of the starting block with such force that she picked up a three-foot lead before she even started to swim. "She dives shallow and planes high like a speedboat, with much of her body out of the water. Her motion is so efficient—though not stylish—that she is able to set world records while taking substantially fewer strokes per minute than the women she leaves in her wake." In addition to her four golds, Ender also took home a fifth medal—a silver—in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. Thus, she and Babashoff share the distinction of being the only women to win five medals in swimming in a single Olympic Games.

Against the wishes of her coaches, Ender retired from swimming after the 1976 Olympics, a decision that ended her chance for a hero's life in East Germany. Her marriage to fellow swimmer Roland Matthes, with whom she had a child, ended in divorce, and plans to become a doctor were dashed when a medical school professor did not promote her. In 1984, Ender married once more and had a second daughter, after which she and her second husband tried unsuccessfully to apply for an emigration visa. Finally, in 1989, she and her family were able to settle in West Germany, where she currently practices physiotherapy.


"The Games: Up in the Air," in Time. August 2, 1976.

Grace & Glory: A Century of Women in the Olympics. Chicago, IL: Triumph Books, 1996.

Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1998.

Markel, Robert, ed. The Women's Sports Encyclopedia. NY: Henry Holt, 1997.

Whitten, Phillip. "The Glory that Never Was," in Swimming World and Junior Swimmer. Vol. 37, issue 7. July 1996, p. 37.

——. "The Way Things Should Have Been," in Swimming World and Junior Swimmer. Vol. 38, issue 8. August 1997, p 13.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts