Cornelia Ender was the most dominant female Olympic swimmer of her generation. In the 1972 Summer Olympics, at age 13, Ender won three silver medals. In the 1976 Olympics, Ender won a total of one silver and four gold medals. Ender set a world record in each of her gold medal swims. She was the most identifiable athlete on the East German (German Democratic Republic) swim team, a group that stunned the athletic world in 1976 by winning 11 of 13 womens' races, having won no races in the 1972 Games. At age 17, Ender was a very large and powerfully built young woman; her physique was the subject of considerable media commentary at the 1976 Games in Montreal. Ender ultimately broke 32 world records during her competitive career.
Through the 1980s, East Germany regularly occupied the third place position in total medals won in Olympic competitions; a nation of approximately 17 million people competed on a relatively even athletic footing with the Soviet Union, the United States, and all other large nations.
When East and West Germany were reunited as one nation in 1990, hard evidence was uncovered regarding the systematic administration of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing drugs to the members of various East German athletic teams in the 1970s and 1980s. Ender became a focal point for these enquiries given both her success in the pool and the massive musculature of her shoulders and her thighs through the period of her competitive success. In 1991, Ender revealed that she was first injected with what she later knew to be anabolic steroids when she was 13 years old. The injections were monitored by the East German team leaders and physicians. Ender was provided with no other information regarding the safety of the injections, except that the injections were to assist her with her recuperation in training.
Anabolic steroids had been banned by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1974, and the first steroid drug testing program was instituted by the IOC in 1976 for the games in Montreal.
Ender gained 18 lb (8 kg) in the three-month period leading to the 1976 Olympics; at the time she attributed the additional muscle mass to her intense training efforts. Notwithstanding the conclusive evidence of the state sponsored doping of Ender and other East German Olympic champions, there has been no action taken by the International Olympic Committee to strip Ender of her medals or to remove her records from the official Olympic standings.
Ender retired from competitive swimming after the 1976 Olympics. Ender has worked as a physiotherapist in Germany since 1984.