A report by an independent committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency has accused Russia of effectively having a state-sponsored doping programme for its athletes. The 323-page report contends that high-ranking state sports officials have been engaged in a pervasive culture of doping. Everyone from coaches and track-and-field athletes to state-laboratory personnel have been involved. Medals won at the 2012 Olympics have been tainted by the accusations. But state-sponsored doping is an issue that goes back a long, long way.
The lives of many athletes were irrevocably changed by the East German drive for success on the world sporting stage during the 1970s and 1980s. Heidi Krieger, who at the age of 21 won a gold medal in the shot put event at the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart, had been systematically and unwittingly pumped full of anabolic steroids throughout her teenage years. She weighed 15 stone, had a deep voice, sprouted facial hair and was by then already confused about her true sexual identity. Eleven years later, she opted to undergo gender reassignment surgery and became Andreas.
The Stasi files, secret documents belonging to the East German Ministry of State Security and released after the Berlin Wall came down, contained damning reports of the extent of the GDR’s doping programme led by Sports Minister Manfred Ewald. Oral-Turinabol, an experimental steroid manufactured by Jenapharm, a state-run company later swallowed up by German pharmaceutical giant Schering AG, was administered unknowingly to an estimated 10,000 East German men, women and adolescents during a series of experiments that started in the late sixties and went on for about twenty years. Heidi was switched to STS 646, an anabolic steroid that caused male characteristics in women at a rate 16 times that of Oral-Turinabol, increasing her masculine features and characteristics way beyond what her body could cope with. In 1990, suffering with damaged joints, tendons and vertebrae, her career was over. Speaking about the experience later, Andreas Krieger said: “I had no sympathy with my body, it had changed beyond all recognition. It was as though they had killed Heidi. Becoming Andreas was the next logical step. For me, the tragedy is that I had no choice in determining my sexual identity – the drugs decided my fate.”
In May 2000, Krieger appeared in court, along with 140 other East German athletes, to testify against Manfred Ewald and Manfred Hoeppner, formerly the GDR’s top sports doctor. Speaking about this confrontation with Hoeppner, Krieger said: “I had always seen him as a respectable person in authority. Suddenly I was back in the system, and it was very difficult for me to stand in front of him and tell him: ‘This is what you did to me.'” The court awarded him a derisory 10,500 euros, but it was no compensation for the destruction of his entire identity. “They killed Heidi,” he told the presiding judge. “Heidi is dead, Heidi doesn’t exist any longer.”
Krieger met his future wife, Ute Krause, during these court proceedings. She was a swimmer who had also been caught up in the experiments. Having left the world of athletics in 1983, Krause had not had the same steroid exposure as Heidi and had not had to change her gender. Her struggles were of a different nature, as she developed bulimia in response to the weight gain caused by her ingestion of Oral-Turinabol. “I knew the word doping, but I didn’t really have any clue what it was,” she said. “We were slowly and intentionally moved towards it by the state. It was a dictatorship, don’t forget that. They had a grip on youngsters. I was just 11, turning up at the sports club after school, and this is where it started. The coach would give us pills at the pool after training. We were told they were vitamins, and that we needed them because we trained so hard. We were to take them without asking questions, assured that it was for our own good.”
Following her retirement as a swimmer, Krause trained as a nurse and gradually became aware of the ghastly East German secret. “The situation wasn’t like today, where you have an arsenal of different-looking pills with the same active ingredient inside,” she explained. “In the German Democratic Republic, there was just this universal turquoise pill. Finally, I was able to find out what it was: Oral-Turinabol.” She is convinced that echoes of this coercion are present in the institutionalised doping uncovered in Russia. “There are some people who genuinely don’t have a clue what is going on,” she said. “The others have an unseen half-knowledge. If you compete in sport at the very top, you soon pass the boundary of what your body and mind can cope with. It’s the all-or-nothing principle. Don’t stop with the Russians. It’s a worldwide issue. These operations are almost all organised centrally.”
Today, Andreas Krieger has to be injected with massive doses of testosterone every three weeks. “If I miss one of the shots I soon know about it,” he explains. “My beard stops growing and my body starts going berserk. I am irritable, I cannot concentrate and I frequently burst into tears. It’s my body saying it can’t cope. I still need these injections to stay male.” His European Championships gold medal, encased in a plastic hexagon shaped in the form of the chemical molecule used to make Oral-Turinabol, now forms part of a trophy which is awarded annually to Germans involved in the fight against doping.
Although more than 300 former East German sporting officials have been convicted of doping offences since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many of the athletes affected by the doping regime, including Krieger and Krause, still feel cheated. They are still waiting for justice.