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The drug victims: The little blue pills and the ugly aftermath that haunt the casualties of the state's greed for gold

Suicide, chronic disease and crippled lives are the legacy of East Germany's relentless pursuit of medals. Now some of the victims are breaking their silence, denouncing the officials who fed them the pills. Imre Karacs reports from Bonn.

The record books state that the gold medal for the women's shot putt in the 1986 European championships in Stuttgart was won by Heidi Krieger, with a throw of 21.10 metres. She was 21and at the pinnacle - it later transpired - of her career.

Krieger had been training hard since the age of 13. When she was 16, she started receiving the little blue pills from her coach. These "vitamins" were wrapped in silver paper, and seemed to help her gain strength. As the weights she lifted daily in the club gym increased, so did the size of the pills. Still, she asked no questions. She was somewhat surprised when the sports doctor prescribed her contraceptive pills, even though she was completely innocent in matters of sex, but took them obediently as well.

After her triumph in Stuttgart, Krieger's body began to rebel against the punishment. Her back was aching all the time, her knee and hips had to be operated on. In 1987 she was taking five of the blue pills a day, yet still came only fourth in the World Championships.

By now she was aching all over. The muscles she used to be so proud of no longer felt like her own. She suddenly felt trapped in a body that was not hers, abandoned women's clothes and started to feel embarrassed about going into the women's lavatory. She felt like a man.

She only discovered why several years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Hormone-Heidi" - as she had been known to her coaches - had been fed a record amount of testosterone: two and a half times the amount recommended in East German sports scientists' secret manuals. The contraceptives - a cocktail of female hormones - were administered in order to maintain a semblance of femininity.

But a man she was, and last year she completed the metamorphosis, in as much as that is biologically feasible. After another course of testosterone to complete the job, Heidi's breasts, womb and ovaries were removed, and the person emerging from the operating theatre took up the name of Andreas. The male organ is yet to be built, but "Mr" Krieger is happy none the less. At least he is alive, in a body to which he can now relate.

Several former East German athletes have committed suicide, and hundreds more are thought to be suffering various drug-related ailments. Catherine Menschner, a 33-year old former swimmer, is not certain whether it was the drugs or the strenuous training which literally broke her back. Now she cannot even lift her eight-year old child.

An estimated 2,000 athletes were given performance-enhancing drugs in the 1970s and 1980s. Even seven years after the disappearance of East Germany, many medallists are maintaining silence over the drugs they received. But some are beginning to speak out. A questionnaire sent out by Berlin prosecutors investigating doping practices has been filled out and returned by some 600 victims. Their complaints are textbook cases of steroid abuse: liver and kidney damage, impotence, severe emotional problems.

With the help of their testimonies, the prosecutors hope to put away a few of those supplying drugs. At the end of last year, four former East German swimming coaches were charged with causing bodily harm. Two of them, Dieter Lindemann and Volker Frischke, were hired by the German Swimming Federation after unification but had been recently suspended because of the investigation. For the moment, many other trainers remain at large, coaching the national squad for another successful Olympics.