By Imre Karacs in Berlin, 3 May 2000.
The secret of communist East Germany’s sporting prowess is well known: the dope pushers have been filing into courtrooms for years. Yet the sports officials and doctors who pumped young athletes full of anabolic steroids always walk out as free men. They had “only been following orders.”
That may change now, for sitting in the dock yesterday at court number 38 in Berlin was no less a figure than Manfred Ewald, the communist functionary who headed East Germany’s sporting establishment. And this time the victims, medal winners who lost their health in the Communists’ quest for gold, will have their say.
The trial of 73-year-old Mr. Ewald, the former head of the East German Olympic Committee, and of Manfred Höppner, the doctor who masterminded the doping regime, was to have lasted one day. That is what happened on previous occasions, with the judges dismissing the testimony of athletes as irrelevant. But it looks as though the script has been altered, in view of Mr. Ewald’s undeniable responsibility for what went on in East German sport. He had, after all, written an autobiography five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall with the title I Was Sport.
Mr. Ewald and the doctor are charged with 142 cases of grievous bodily harm. Mr. Ewald has so far pleaded not guilty, and sat through the first day of proceedings looking sternly ahead, not uttering a word. Dr. Höppner is pleading guilty in the hope of a light sentence. More than 30 athletes are trying to have their say as joint plaintiffs. Eighteen of them were in court yesterday. “You cannot just treat this case like shoplifting,” said their lawyer, Michal Lehner, outraged by the court’s plan to wrap up the proceedings in a day. The presiding judge relented, and the swimmers, gymnasts and athletes will be able to tell their harrowing stories and confront their tormentors in court.
The shot-putter formerly known as Heidi Krieger has been waiting for this moment for years. She won the gold medal in the 1986 European championships in Stuttgart at the age of 21 and was crippled shortly afterwards by pain.
Ms. 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, wrapped in silver paper, seemed to help her gain strength. As the weights she lifted daily increased, so did the size of the pills.
After her triumph in Stuttgart, Ms. Krieger’s body began to rebel. Her back ached continuously, her knee and hips required surgery. In 1987 she was taking five of the blue pills a day but only came fourth in the world championships. By now she was aching all over. The muscles she had been so proud of no longer felt like her own. She seemed trapped in a body that was not hers: she abandoned women’s clothes and started to feel embarrassed about going into the women’s lavatory. She felt as if she was 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 huge doses of testosterone: two and a half times the amount recommended in East German sports scientists’ secret manuals. At the end of her broken career, Ms. Krieger was a man. Three years ago 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 theater took up the name of Andreas.
He is lucky to be reasonably healthy. Several former East German athletes have committed suicide and hundreds more are thought to be suffering drug-related ailments. Catherine Menschner, a 33-year-old former swimmer, is not certain whether it was the drugs or the strenuous training that literally broke her back. Now she cannot lift her child.
An estimated 2,000 athletes were given performance-enhancing drugs in the Seventies and Eighties. A decade after the disappearance of East Germany, many medalists are maintaining silence over the medication they received but hundreds have co-operated with the Berlin prosecutors investigating doping practices. Their complaints are text-book cases of steroid abuse: liver and kidney damage, impotence, severe emotional problems.
Mr. Ewald, who began his political career in the Nazi Party and switched to the Communists after the war, no longer boasts about his omnipotence. He is silent. He cannot very well say he was following orders. Everybody else followed his.