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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence