Heidi Krieger of East Germany reached the pinnacle of her career by winning the Gold medal with a putt of 21.1 meters at the European Championship at Stuttgart in 1986. She was one of the many child prodigies who were given the golden opportunity to pursue a career in athletics at the Berlin Dynamo Club. At the tender age of 13, she was introduced to a stringent training program along with some medical assistance to enhance her skills, more importantly the muscles to better her scores. Little did she or many others like her know that they were being given anabolic steroids which were sure to improve their sporting statistics but also destroy their lives in the process.
In East Germany over 10,000 athletes were given similar steroids over twenty years to ensure its claim as the sporting superpower in the World. In the 1972 Munich Olympics, a nation with a population of just 17 million had forced its way to the third spot behind Russia and USA. They even surpassed USA in the following Olympics, though at the cost of many lives. But for the government, the results justified the means, health of athletes be damned. Unfortunately, Heidi too became a victim of this unscrupulous trap. The result - Well, she is now known as Andreas Krieger. She opted for a sex-change operation to get out of the female body, which had become more of a façade. Over the course of her career she was injected with so many steroids that she lost almost everything feminine about her identity including the anatomy. A severe hormonal imbalance occurred and it became increasingly difficult for her to deal with the onslaught. Heidi also quit sports in 1990.
Andreas Krieger, who was former German shot putter Heidi Krieger
This is only one of the many sad stories of athletes who are caught in
the web of doping. While Heidi was innocent and duped into the dark
world, many willfully jump off the cliff without a parachute. The
burning ambition to reach the top blurs their vision. And when someone
happily puts his life on the line, it's rather naïve to believe that he
would spare a thought about ethics and morals.
There are strict rules in place and even stricter ways of detecting malpractice, yet it hasn't stopped athletes from taking the plunge. For they know that the dual isn't between them and the authorities but between sciences- the science of detecting drug abuse against the science of masking its presence in the body.
But, can we allow such offences to go on forever and lose innocent lives in the process? Yes, the stakes are high and there's a temptation to be the best irrespective of the means but would the athletes cheat if they knew the consequences could be as radical as for Heidi Krieger? The reason an athlete craves for top honors is to find an identity, become a name to remember but if he loses that very identity in the bargain, will he take that risk? Wouldn't it be a good idea to bring athletes like Krieger on board to spread awareness?
The worst bit about doping is that it's not always about the athlete, for usually he's too young to comprehend the repercussions when his coach or a senior pro introduces him to it. The lack of knowledge is not an excuse but definitely a reason in many cases. It's imperative for the authorities to inform every single athlete of the effects of doping right at the beginning. It may not stop the practice completely but will definitely reduce the numbers.
The list of banned substances is not only exhaustive but also frequently changing with new drugs making an appearance every year. Hence it's imperative to spread awareness and educate athletes. How else would a player know that certain cough syrups and painkillers are on the banned list? Also, it's important to make the coaches accountable, for any drug abuse is impossible to go unnoticed by them. If educating is the first step towards taming this monster, accountability is the second step.
Watch this space for 'The effects of doping on cricket' in part II.