"Supporting means" was how East German sports officials referred to the little blue pills that were carefully meted out through the 1970s and '80s to their most promising athletes, some as young as 11. Oral-Turinabol was its scientific name, an anabolic steroid. When the athletes were told anything at all, they were told the pills were vitamins. The top-secret program was overseen by GDR Olympic head Manfred Ewald and administered by Dr. Manfred Hoeppner. In their efforts to win medals that could be turned into political gain, they experimented on, lied to and eventually ruined the health of many of their country's sports stars.
That shameful chapter in Olympic history was reopened on March 31. That's when 197 former East German athletes suffering from a wide variety of ailments met a deadline to file claims for a share of the $2.2 million compensation fund that was set up to help pay for their medical treatment.
Government officials had expected many more to come forward. Of the roughly 10,000 athletes who were given Oral-Turinabol and other steroids by their sports club doctors and coaches, usually without the athletes' knowledge or consent, as many as 1,000 now have severe health problems. "Many remain silent out of shame," says Birgit Boese, a claimant who was East Germany's junior shot put champion and now runs an advice center called Doping-Victim-Help. "Others don't want to risk their careers. We were just a mass of bodies in an inhuman system. We all suffered severe bodily harm."
For men the health problems caused by prolonged steroid use ranged from sterility and impotence to damaged hearts and failing kidneys. There are cases of male athletes who developed womanly breasts that had to be surgically reduced. Several top hammer throwers, who were subjected to intense dosages and would now be in their 40s and 50s, are dead.
For women the little blue pills led in the short term to an increase in body hair, a deepening of the voice, severe acne and an increased sex drive. Rica Reinisch, a backstroker who won three gold medals in the 1980 Olympics, says she and her teammates called the pill "the sex pill." The long-term side effects were much worse. Reinisch, who gave up competitive swimming in '81 at age 16, suffered ovarian infections for many years and had a miscarriage. Gynecological problems such as ovarian cysts, infertility and uterine shrinkage were common among the claimants. In at least 20 cases, according to Werner Franke, the molecular biologist who uncovered the secret doping program in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former athletes gave birth to children with defects such as clubfeet. One claimant, '86 European shot put champ Heidi Krieger, cruelly nicknamed Hormone Heidi by her coaches, has testified to the German government that she was so physically and psychologically damaged by the doping that she underwent a sex-change operation after her competitive career and is now Andreas Krieger, a man. "They weren't just strengthening women," says Franke, the man most responsible for pursuing compensation for the athletes. "They were virilizing them."
Each claimant will receive only about $10,000 from the fund. But for the athletes, the awards are less about money than an acknowledgement of what was done to them. Says Boese, "The next generation has to know."