BERLIN -- Raik Hannemann wasn't the greatest swimmer to compete under the flag that once fluttered over that famed sports factory, East Germany.

But he was pretty good. And, he says, fairly typical.

Anointed an athlete at age 6, showered with plenty in a nation of want, induced to squirt high-tech drugs up his nose -- Hannemann says he was very much a product of his very strange environment.

Hannemann, a swimmer most of his life and a sportswriter the past two weeks, has been wowing the united Germany with his blockbuster columns about his career under the old Communist regime.

His biggest revelation has been that he and other athletes used a specially developed nasal spray that had the same effect as anabolic steroids, but which was undetectable after three days.

"I don't want to accuse anyone. That's not my purpose," he said. "I just want to show that this was part of the system."

Hannemann, 22, began taking performance-boosting drugs under the guidance of East German sports authorities in 1985, he said. He won a silver medal at the 1989 European Swimming Championships.

He got a job two weeks ago as a reporter in the sports department of a small eastern Berlin daily, Kurier am Abend. About the same time, German news magazines began a slew of exposes accusing top East German athletes of doping.

"I saw these Communist functionaries selling information, making money on a system they established," he said. "You can't blame the athletes. It was the system."

So Hannemann responded with columns contending that drugs were symptomatic of the system, not the individual. He accused former East German Sports Federation chief Manfred Ewald of urging athletes to dope up before battle.

The use of performance-enhancing drugs is by no means a new revelation, and certainly not one restricted to the former East bloc.

But what has rattled the newly united German sports foundation are allegations that doping not only was widespread, but institutionalized, part of the fabric of the former nation's training.

West German sports authorities, once delighted to be suddenly running the far more successful East German program, now find themselves with the biggest doping scandal since Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive at the 1988 Olympics.

In a flurry of news conferences, sports authorities this week announced measures to toughen testing. But they still don't know what to do about allegations that big stars were using chemicals when they brought glory to the fatherland.

Although only a third as large as West Germany, East Germany was always one of the world's sporting superpowers, consistently ranking with the Soviet Union and United States in total dominance.

The former nation chose its athletes young and worked them hard, drilling them with discipline and placating them with privilege.

It was the sort of system in which sport clinics, sport schools, sports doctors and sports psychologists (specialists in the science of psyching) were as common as beer halls.

It was the sort of system where a swimmer was studied much like an aircraft, hanging suspended and stationary in a tunnel while a rush of water would swoosh past as furrowed-brow experts jotted notes about the efficiency of each stroke.

"The water tunnel cost half a million marks," said Hannemann.

Hannemann came from the city of Leipzig, the son of a factory manager and scion of a sporting family with a natural affinity for athletics.

When he was 6 years old, a commission came to his school, singled out the budding jocks and began feeding them into the nation's elaborate sports machine.

He entered a special sports school at age 11, cracking books for three hours a day and working out for six.

There was heavy Communist indoctrination, and officials said even drugs were a weapon in the class struggle. Some athletes believed that, Hannemann said, but most did not.

"The real motivation was privilege," he said. "In {East Germany}, it would normally take 15 years to get a car, 18 years to get a new apartment. It was difficult to get a place in a good school."

But not for athletes, who had such privileges handed to them, he said.

Top performers got even more. Hannemann said gold medal winners in international competition got 10,000 West German marks -- coveted hard currency worth a small fortune in a Communist nation -- and a car.

They also got 25,000-30,000 in East German marks, which may have been worthless in the West but still bought a lot of bratwurst in the East. Silver medalists got about two-thirds of the booty, and so on.

Despite East Germany's reputation for being somewhat fanatical in its training techniques, Hannemann believes he and his colleagues used no more drugs than athletes elsewhere.

"I believe the top world leaders in a sport cannot be successful without it," he said. "There are always super talents that can do without it, but the majority . . . when you invest your life in something, it's hard to resist that little edge that might make a difference."

Hannemann is getting a lot more publicity now than he did dripping wet. He went on national television this week for a panel discussion that included Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson's trainer.

Hannemann believes that doping is so widespread worldwide that authorities should simply grant a blanket amnesty and start all over.

In the meantime, the tall, lanky young journalist with the triangular swimmer's build is waiting for the whole thing to blow over so he can get back to doing interviews instead of giving them.

"I just want to be successful as a sportswriter," he said.