Heidi Krieger: The price of victory

The East German shot-put champion Heidi Krieger was doped to win medals for the Communist cause. But the steroids she took changed her body forever. Now Andreas, following a sex change, he tells Tony Paterson why he's determined to find justice
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The Independent Online

Andreas Krieger was one of Communism's star athletes, but he is not proud of his achievements. He has turned his back on sport, and nowadays ekes out a living selling surplus US Army Ranger clothing from a shop in the run-down East German city of Magdeburg.

Krieger, a big, broad-shouldered man of 40 who sports a three-day beard, has more reason than most former track and field stars to want to forget a past that he will never really escape. A handful of black-and-white sporting photographs which date from the mid-1980s explain why. They show a muscle-bound, full-faced young woman in a tracksuit. Her features are uncannily similar to Krieger's own, but the hair is thicker and there is no three-day stubble.

"That was back in 1986 when I was Heidi Krieger, the East German woman who became European shot-put champion," Krieger says. Standing in front of the big Stars and Stripes flag that decorates his shop, he fights back tears as he adds: "The thing is, they killed Heidi."

Krieger's story is perhaps the most harrowing example of the effects of East Germany's state-sponsored practice of systematically doping young athletes to enable them to win medals for the Communist cause. Fed with injections and massive doses of anabolic-steroid pills from the age of 16, Heidi Krieger was, by the time of her 1986 European Championships win, a 15-stone Amazon with a deep voice and sprouting facial hair. She was by then already confused about her true sexual identity.

The effects of the systematic doping finally led her to undergo a sex-change operation in 1997. It was the moment when Heidi died and Andreas was born. "For me the tragedy is still that I had no choice in determining my sexual identity, the drugs decided my fate," he says.

Andreas Krieger is one of an estimated 10,000 East German athletes who have been more or less permanently damaged by the former Communist state's doping regime. Among them are champions such as Petra Schneider, the swimmer who defeated Britain's Sharron Davies in the 400 metres medley in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and Rica Reinisch, a world-record setter at the same event. Schneider has suffered serious heart and back problems since then. Reinisch suffers from recurring ovarian cysts and has endured numerous miscarriages. There are thousands more like them.

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 affected athletes still feel cheated. Fifteen years after the collapse of Communism they are still waiting for justice.

In an attempt to finally settle the score, Krieger and 159 of his colleagues will next month file charges against the German pharmaceuticals giant Jenapharm, the company which produced the steroids on the orders of the East German government during the 1970s and 1980s.

The athletes are claiming damages of €10,000 each. They are hoping for an out-of-court settlement. However, if the case goes to trial, it could result in an embarrassing showdown for the German chemical industry and senior Communist-era management figures who have advanced their careers in the business since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Dr Michael Lehner, the lawyer representing the athletes, says that his clients are embittered by the fact that none of the former East German officials convicted of doping has spent a day in jail for their offences. "The athletes want to resolve this issue properly," he says. "Financial compensation would at least amount to an admission of guilt, but when somebody suffers from liver damage for the rest of his life, when a woman has disabled children or is always mistaken for a man, then no amount of compensation can compensate."

Andreas Krieger does not need to be reminded of this fact. Today, 24 years after his East German coach started handing him batches of blue pills wrapped in silver foil that were described as innocuous "vitamins", Krieger is still on a regime of medication. Massive doses of the male hormone testosterone are administered by injection from his doctor every three weeks.

"If I miss one of the shots I soon know about it," Krieger says. "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."

But he also suffers from other permanent physical damage resulting from the rigorous training programme he was subjected to during his athletic career. The strenuous weight-lifting workouts Heidi Krieger was obliged to undertake as a budding shot-put champion ruined muscles and joints. These days Andreas can't lift weights because his vertebrae have been permanently deformed by his training. Even the most innocent of activities can cause crippling pain. "On Christmas Eve, I made the mistake of crawling under the Christmas tree to fix some of the lights. I ended up spending the whole of the holiday flat on my back in bed," he says.

The little blue pills that began his torment are an anabolic steroid called Oral-Turinabol. The drug was produced by Jenapharm, then a state-owned company, subservient to the wishes of the Communist regime during the 1970s and 1980s.

Its purpose was to enhance the sporting performance of athletes, and thereby the reputation of East Germany. An estimated two million of the tablets were administered to the country's athletes each year. And East Germany won 384 Olympic medals between 1972 and 1988.

Heidi Krieger was launched on an athletic career at 14 when she began attending a youth sport school in East Berlin. The institution was affiliated to the notorious Dynamo sports club which was sponsored by East Germany's Stasi secret police.

At 16, her trainer started giving her Oral-Turinabol. "I thought nothing about the pills, I was only 16. I was ambitious, and besides everyone else was taking them. Even my mother thought it was normal," says Krieger today.

But after six months, Heidi's clothes stopped fitting. By the time she was 18 she had developed a deep voice and had started to look increasingly masculine. She began to stay off the streets of East Berlin because passers-by called her "queer". The ultimate embarrassment happened one day when she was with her mother on a train. A male passenger told her that she looked like a drag queen. When Heidi got home, she took off her skirt. She never wore one again.

"I was totally confused. I didn't know whether I was a man or a woman," Krieger says. By 1991, Heidi's career was over. Her overtaxed body, damaged joints, tendons and vertebrae meant that she could no longer compete. But just as alarming was Heidi's sexual confusion. "I was starting to have crushes on women, and I was beginning to feel a prisoner in my own body, but still I didn't know what to do."

It wasn't until the mid 1990s that Heidi sought medical advice. "The doctor asked me if I had ever been given steroids. I said I wasn't sure, but when I checked things out it emerged that I had been given masses of the stuff."

Heidi's records show that in 1986, the year in which she became European champion, she was given 2,590 milligrams of Oral-Turinabol by her coach. The dosage is roughly 1,000 milligrams more than the amount given to the Canadian athlete Ben Johnson, whose doping programme shocked the world when it was exposed in 1988.

The sex-change operation that Heidi finally underwent has only made life marginally better: "Things are better now than when I was Heidi, but of course it's impossible to escape what's happened to me physically. I can't go to the sauna. I dare not be caught naked in public. I even worry if I go to the beach."

Isabelle Roth, Jenapharm's chief executive since March last year, admits that she is "deeply moved" by the sufferings of the former East German athletes. However, she insists that her company was not the "driving force" behind the regime's doping programme. "As part of a group of pharmaceutical companies, Jenapharm was obliged to collaborate in the State Plan," she said in a recent interview. "Oral-Turinabol was a substance manufactured by Jenapharm. It was legally approved by the East German government and available on the market. The drug was misused by the sports physicians and trainers. Jenapharm cannot be held responsible."

Her version is bitterly contested by the affected athletes and their lawyers. "Jenapharm was part of the East German regime's system. The company not only produced the pills but they developed substances for the specific purpose of doping athletes," says Dr Lehner, the lawyer fighting their case. "Their representatives were at the meetings when the whole thing was planned."

Dr Lehner will rely on crucial evidence from two witnesses who were at the centre of the doping programme, to support the athletes' case. One is Dr Manfred Höppner, who was once head of an East German state committee supervising the project. Höppner was fined and received a one-year suspended sentence for his activities in 1998. During his trial he revealed that Jenapharm representatives were present when decisions on doping were made.

The other key evidence will be supplied by Dr Rainer Hartwich, the former director of clinical research at Jenapharm. He has since left the company. Dr Hartwich claims that the company did not plan to develop Oral-Turinabol as a medication for general use, but rather intended to keep it a secret.

He is quoted in Stasi files as remarking that the drug "will be of immense value to our sport". However, he later warned the Stasi that the regime's "illegal" use of steroids had reached alarming levels. Dr Hartwich now insists that Jenapharm "has a moral duty to support the doping victims".

The case also raises hitherto unanswered questions about the role played by Isabelle Roth's predecessor, Dr Dieter Taubert, Jenapharm's director during East Germany's Communist era. Dr Taubert was referred to by the codename "Alexander" in Stasi files of the period. He is now chief executive officer of the German chemicals giant Schering, which bought up Jenapharm in 2001.

Andreas Krieger says that even if Jenapharm admits responsibility, no amount of compensation will restore his health. However, his ordeal has at least brought one ray of light into his life. Three years ago he married, Ute Krause, 42, a fellow ex-athlete also damaged by steroids, cheated by coaches and abused by East Germany's Communist bureaucrats.

Like Krieger, Krause suffered for years from the effects of steroids. As a swimmer, she suffered from bulimia for 20 years while struggling to combat the weight she put on through taking drugs. She once tried to kill herself with sleeping pills and vodka. "Ute understands what I am going through better than anyone else," Krieger says.

Today, neither has much respect for sport. Krause keeps a framed certificate of her 1978 world swimming ranking stuck on a wall above the lavatory in their Magdeburg home.

Krieger has gone a step further. His gold medal from the 1986 European Championships now forms part of a trophy which is awarded annually to Germans involved in the fight against doping. The medal is encased in a plastic hexagon shaped in the form of the chemical molecule used to make Oral-Turinabol.