Girlz II Men

by Steve Kettmann | July 3, 2000

Andreas Krieger could have testified without words. He could have stood there in the small, boxy Berlin courtroom in cowboy boots, jeans, and a black t-shirt and let everyone stare. In the trial of 74-year-old Manfred Ewald, the former head of East Germany's Olympic program, and Dr. Manfred Hoppner, the program's former medical director, Krieger's maleness was testimony enough.

As a 21-year-old woman named Heidi Krieger, Andreas Krieger told the court, he competed in the shot put for the East German Olympic team. Able to lift 260 kilograms (573 pounds), he recalled, Heidi once punched out a boxer who had gotten on her nerves. "Arnold Schwarzenegger was a Waisenknabe"--an innocent orphan--"compared to me," Krieger said. But, over time, Heidi's strength became a weakness. "I was no longer Heidi Krieger," the former shot-putter testified one morning in late May. "I didn't know anymore who I was.... The pills accelerated any transsexual tendencies I may already have had. I wasn't able to identify with my body anymore, and that led me to undergo a sex change in 1997."

For two months now, on Tuesdays and Fridays, the damaged female products of East Germany's sports machine--142 named plaintiffs in all--have come to this Berlin courtroom to offer the German public a gripping, at times horrifying look at what that machine wrought. Many of the women have told of growing excessive body hair; 40 developed deeper voices; 15 experienced gynecological problems, including infertility or miscarriage; and the breasts of six disappeared. Some gave birth to children with various defects, like clubfeet. All said they wished they had known more about the "vitamins" they were given in the form of injections or little blue pills. Those "vitamins," they now know, were steroids.

As Wolf Biermann, the Bob Dylan of Germany, once put it, the East German Olympic program was "a large-scale animal experiment on living people." "There is not a single day without pain," testified former discus-thrower Brigitte Michel. "We looked like men and talked like men," former shot-put champion Simone Machalett told the court. Said former world-record-holding swimmer Carola Beraktschjan: "It's terrifying, what they did to us.... I took up to thirty pills a day. They always told us they were vitamins. There was no question you would not take them. You had to play by the rules.... We were vehicles chosen to prove that socialism was better than capitalism. What happened to our bodies was entirely secondary to that political mission led by Ewald."

Manfred Ewald learned political fanaticism early, first as a member of the Hitler Youth and later as a National Socialist. He became a member of the East German Communist Party's central committee in 1963, took over the country's Olympic program the following year, and conceived and oversaw the national doping program that flourished in the 1970s and '80s. A close associate of German Democratic Republic leader Erich Honecker, Ewald saw his sports machine as a vehicle for convincing the world of East Germany's greatness. During the 27 years he headed its sports program, the GDR, a country of just 17 million people, won an incredible 160 gold medals. It wracked up an astounding 40 at the 1976 Montreal Games alone, double its total four years earlier, which prompted American swimmer Shirley Babashoff to comment to the East German coach on his swimmers' deep, husky voices. The coach famously replied, "We have come to swim, not to sing."

Stasi files opened after the fall of the Berlin Wall confirmed Babashoff's and others' worst suspicions. In the case against Ewald and Hoppner--which, given a soon-to-expire statute of limitations, will likely be one of the last cases to arise from the human rights abuses chronicled in those files--the two men are accused of giving steroids to girls as young as eleven. Prosecutors say Ewald reprimanded for "cowardice" scientists who worried about the drugs' potential side effects. Ewald allegedly told the hundreds of people working for him that "everything is allowed" in order to boost performance.

That mindset, as much as Ewald himself--who, if guilty, could face up to eight years in prison--is what's on trial here. While all decent people condemn what he did, his influence remains powerful, and not only in the former GDR. Ewald's disciples, whether they know it or not, include a large portion of the world's top athletes.

Just this month, Dr. Wade Exum, the United States Olympic Committee's top drug-testing official, resigned in protest, charging that the USOC, in the run-up to this summer's Olympic Games in Sydney, was "deliberately encouraging the doping of athletes without considering the consequences to the health." Even much-admired St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire is something of an Ewald disciple: Androstenedione, the testosterone booster he took the year he broke Roger Maris's home-run record (he has since stopped taking it), was first isolated by European scientists in the 1930s. But it took Ewald's sports machine to put "Andro" on the map, developing it in the late '80s as a so-called bridging drug to tide over East German athletes when they had to stop taking steroids prior to being tested at competitions.

"It's not important that you can say Ewald or Hoppner must go to jail for a month or whatever," said Michel. "What's important is that there is a process that will make this public. For me that's very personal. It is important to teach people how to think about steroids and their dangers. In all the disciplines of sports, you need power and energy. But steroids are a time bomb. They are always dangerous. I would tell athletes around the world, `Keep yourself off steroids.' I hope they pay attention." 

Steve Kettmann is co-author of the forthcoming Thinking Forward: The Igor Larionov Story, an autobiography of the Russian ice-hockey star.

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