The Legacy of Doping in the GDR

The Price of Gold

The Legacy of Doping in the GDR

Reunited Germany inherited many East German champions who had not only broken records in track and field, but also in the forced consumption of steroids. Twenty years later, German sports are only now beginning to recover.

Heidi Krieger became a victim of the GDR's doping program. She eventually received so much testosterone that she felt forced to seek out gender-reassignment surgery.

Heidi Krieger became a victim of the GDR’s doping program. She eventually received so much testosterone that she felt forced to seek out gender-reassignment surgery.

Katrin Krabbe was destined for glory in the 1992 Olympics. A top-notch sprinter from what was then East Germany (the German Democratic Republic), she had already won a gold medal in the 200 meter race in the 1988 World Junior Championships. When the Berlin Wall came down, West Germans were eager to adopt her as their own, and she became a star throughout the reunified country. But then one day, there was a problem with a urine sample — and a short time later, she failed the test for a banned substance. The finding signaled her downfall.

The story of Katrin Krabbe is in many ways emblematic of the reunification of German sports. It was hoped that the merging of the sports systems would play a special role in the process of reunification because it was virtually the only area where East Germany had a lead on its western neighbor. On paper, the East German athletics training program was one of the best in the world. For example, it could boast 102 medals in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, as opposed to the mere 40 medals won by the much larger West Germany. The prospect of reunification triggered euphoria on both sides. The East Germans were proud of their elite athletes, and the Westerners were looking forward to cheering on a slew of new champions.

But these dreams of glory quickly ran aground when revelations emerged about the sinister reality of East German sports. These included reports of the involvement of some athletes and trainers in the Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police, and a systematic doping campaign organized by the state.

Today, the world of German sports is still struggling to overcome this East German legacy. The victims of state-sanctioned doping are fighting a battle in court to obtain compensation, while some of their former coaches are still involved in training today’s generation of athletes. Shortly before the start of the World Championships in Athletics, which is currently being held in Berlin, there was a rush to officially exonerate five trainers with histories of being involved in doping.

Developing ‘Masculine Traits’

However, official exoneration can do little to change the impact that doping had on the lives of some athletes. Heidi Krieger, who won the gold medal for shot put in the 1986 Stuttgart European Championships in Athletics, is a case in point. Today, she has changed her name to Andreas. Krieger is one of the 193 officially recognized victims of doping. Having been force-fed steroids in her teens, Krieger developed so many masculine traits that she eventually felt she had no option but to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. In giving evidence about her experience, she emphasized the role of coaches: “The East German trainers and sports doctors felt they could play God.”

One of the key people that enabled them to do that was Dr. Manfred Höppner. Now officially retired, Höppner does all he can to avoid attention from the media, the public and the possibility of a chance encounter with Heidi Krieger. As vice-director of the East German sports-medicine service, he was one of the architects of the doping system in the GDR, which distributed performance-enhancing hormones — in particular, the infamous blue Oral Turinabol pills — to approximately 100,000 athletes between 1974 and 1989.

In the course of 11 Olympics, East German athletes won 519 medals, 192 of which were gold. At the height of the country’s reign, then-General Secretary of the Socialist Unity party (SED) Walter Ulbricht referred to its athletes as our “diplomats in tracksuits.” Still, “soldiers in sportswear” might have been a more appropriate description.

Around 8,000 trainers, who benefited from annual spending budgets of 400 million marks in 1989, worked tirelessly to elicit superhuman performances from this elite division. Part of the generous sports budget was earmarked for “State Plan 14.25,” which was the code name for a secret cross-disciplinary program to develop new and more efficient doping techniques and brought together coaches and scientists from a wide range of fields.

The Sinister Truth Slowly Emerges

When the Wall came down on November 9, 1989, hardly anyone was aware of the sinister side of East German sports. Reunification brought with it a need to combine two competing sports administrations: the East German performance-oriented system and West Germany’s more leisure-oriented system.

Despite the fact that both organizations had radically different approaches, the merger went ahead quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced that he was in favor “of maintaining a high level” of sports in the ex-GDR. While Bonn (which was the German capital at the time) dreamed of becoming a new sporting superpower, the race was on in Berlin between those who wished to establish the truth and the East German sports medicine service, which attempted to cover up evidence of the widespread distribution of anabolic steroids.

Unification also led to the gradual dissolution of a hard line on doping. In the aftermath of the fall of the Wall, sporting associations were faced with a choice between two policies: to let sleeping dogs lie or to prosecute those who were responsible.

In 1991, the main committee of the German Sport Federation (DSB) recommended the dismissal of all coaches who “could not provide proof of their non-participation in organized doping” in the former GDR. But who was to take charge of checking up on trainers?

In reality, the DSB had no real interest in pursuing the matter. Nor did the bodies responsible for individual sports, who were pleased to take advantage of qualified personnel from the East. As for the state, it simply opted to leave the clean-up to responsible organizations in the world of sports. As a result, coaches who had been incriminated were allowed to hold down jobs in a wide variety of swimming, skiing and athletics clubs.

The question of secret police involvement was also an issue. In 1993, it was decided that officials in sports federations and other major figures would have to submit to background checks. One such check revealed that Heike Drechsler, who had become a darling of Germany after winning a double gold at the Stuttgart World Championships, had been the Stasi collaborator code-named “Jump.” On this basis, it was alleged that she had been paid to spy on one of her club mates — a charge that Drechsler has always denied.

Doping Documentation

The major shift in the popular understanding of the history of German sports came with the publication of the book “Doping-Dokumente” (“Doping Documents”) in 1991. At the time, former shot putter Heidi Krieger, who had retired from sports, was living in Berlin, and her life had taken a difficult turn. In particular, she was troubled by “a feeling that she was a man.”

In the pages of Doping-Dokumente, Krieger learned for the first time about the use of Oral Turinabol, the doping system, “Plan 14.25” and the special regimen reserved for the athlete who had been nicknamed “hormone Heidi.” As part of an overall plan to fatten her up, on one occasion her trainers had fed her twice the amount of testosterone that a man would normally produce over a period of 29 weeks.

The book swept away any certainties about East Germany’s sporting prowess and led many to wonder whether the GDR’s success in sports was nothing more than a lie. In the related court cases that began in 1998, trainers, doctors and scientists were found guilty and given suspended sentences.

However, after an initial wave of convictions, the bid to bring the perpetrators of the doping system to justice ran out of steam. Manfred Höppner, for example, was given a conditional suspended sentence for complicity in causing bodily harm.

The Steiner Commission, which was delegated to take charge of the clean-up in 2008, has succeeded in resolving a large number of problems. For example, it has exonerated heptathlon coach Klaus Baarck for his role in doping in the GDR. Baarck had submitted a statement to the German Olympic committee claiming that he had never distributed doping products so that he could take part in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Now he has changed his tune and admitted that he was involved in doping, expressed remorse to the commission and signed a letter of apology — so that he can be properly forgiven just in time for the World Championships in Berlin.

source: – August 2009

Left: East German shot-putter Heidi Krieger; right: Andreas Krieger with a photo of Heidi Krieger. All of them are the same person.

Clean Athletes, and Olympic Glory Lost in the Doping Era

Shirley Babashoff won four individual silver medals for the United States at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. She lost each of those races to a swimmer from East Germany, which was running a doping program.

Communism athletes, Kornelia Ender and Roland Matthes in 1976 demonstrating their medals.