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September 15, 2000
East German dope still leaves tracksErik Kirschbaum
Heidi Krieger was a champion shot putter for communist East Germany, winning the gold medal at the 1986 European athletics championships with powerful "man-like muscles" in a body pumped up with steroids supplied by her coach.
Krieger was so distraught about her enormous size and strength that she changed her sex -- and name -- in 1997 and is now known as Andreas Krieger.
"I wasn't able to identify with my own body anymore," said Krieger, who suffered crippling ailments, a mental breakdown and became a tragic symbol of East Germany's systematic state-operated doping system.
Although the East German government, which used sport as a vehicle to bring the tiny nation acclaim, collapsed in 1989 and the country was absorbed by West Germany a year later, the effects of its mass doping programme still linger.
In the run-up to the Olympics in Sydney, China axed 27 athletes from its Olympic team amid suspicions of doping. China's sports officials dropped those who had produced "suspicious" blood test results or were sick or injured.
Germany has spent the last decade trying to unravel the doping system with the help of the extensive records which the defunct East German state left behind, reports of medical ailments and a steady trickle of confessions from both functionaries and the sportsmen and women themselves.
A number of top East German athletes have long denied any knowledge of performance-enhancing drugs. But many have admitted they were forced by their coaches to take them.
Some top East German sporting functionaries have been convicted of causing "bodily harm" and given sentences ranging from moderate fines to suspended jail terms.
Kristin Otto, who won six gold medals at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, has denied repeatedly that she was "knowingly" doped. But last week her former coach, Stefan Hetzer, was convicted by a court in Leipzig of causing bodily harm and fined 15,000 marks ($7,500).
Otto, now a 34-year-old sports reporter for Germany's state ZDF broadcaster, stood steadfastly by her assertion that she was not aware of any doping even though the court found coded East German documents indicating otherwise. She has in the past admitted taking pills given to her by her trainers.
"I did not knowingly take any banned substances," Otto said in a statement through a ZDF spokesman. "I have no knowledge of having taken any such substances."
In an interview with N-TV television, Otto said that she had been the "most-tested" swimmer in the world.
"No one has come forward to claim that they gave me a banned substance," Otto said.
Other top East German swimmers, including Joerg Hoffmann and Karen Koenig, have acknowledged that they were forced to take drugs while competing for the communist state.
Hoffmann said he accepted steroids from his coach for three weeks in 1988 before he discovered what they were and demanded an end to the practice.
"The regime wasn't as strong then," said Hoffmann, explaining how he was able to refuse the pills after the 1988 season. He now lives on a houseboat in Potsdam near Berlin and tried unsuccessfully to make his fourth Olympics team this year. He's studying forestry.
Koenig, who set a world record with the East German 4x100 metres freestyle relay team in 1984, has said taking the pills was commonplace.
"It was a ritual activity like brushing your teeth," she said.
Many East German coaches have admitted that doping played an important part in the state's remarkable achievements in the 1970s and 1980s for a country of just 17 million.
Tens of thousands of East German swimmers and athletes were subjected to doping between the 1970s and 1990 when the state imploded.
Manfred Ewald, the leader of the East German sports federation responsible for the systematic doping, was convicted of causing bodily harm at a trial in Berlin two months ago and given a 22-month suspended sentence.
More than 30 former swimmers and athletes testified at his trial, telling the court how the performance-enhancing drugs had led to a range of problems from excessive body hair to masculine voices, gynaecological problems and birth defects in offspring.
"I had muscles like a man," Krieger told the court, adding that as a woman he was once able to put a shot 21 metres (68 feet 10 inches). "To achieve distances like that without supportive means is simply not possible biologically for a woman."
Katrin Krabbe, who won two sprint gold medals at the 1991 world athletics championships, was later banned along with fellow eastern German Grit Breuer after they admitted taking the forbidden drug clenbuterol.
The ban ended Krabbe's once-promising career. She fought her ban in courts without success and is now a mother. She has also operated a sporting goods store in a small town north of Berlin. Breuer returned to the track in the late 1990s but with only modest success.
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