Wednesday 16 March 2016

Olympic Alphabet : K is for ...

Kłobukowska and Krieger.

These names may not be familiar to most people but each is significant in the world of Olympic sport in their own way, and they are both key figures in two of the biggest issues affecting sport today – gender verification and drugs.

The issue of gender verification at the Olympics was covered briefly in my “Olympic Countdown”article in 2012. An update of the situation will be given in a few months under the letter “X” of my “Olympic Alphabet”.

The two athletes are Ewa Kłobukowska and Andreas Krieger. They never competed in the same years, in fact twenty years separate their careers, but both are inextricably linked.

Ewa Klobukowska may be a name familiar to some people of a certain age. She was a sprint world record holder, European women’s 100m champion and Olympic gold medallist in the women’s 4x100m relay. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced a new gender test for athletes Ewa was the first to be forced to return all her Olympics medals.

Gender testing by scientific and medical means was in its infancy in the 1960s and many of the tests were unreliable as accurate indicators of gender. Ewa Kłobukowska’s case is an example of this. The first tests undertaken were at the 1966 European Athletics Championships in Budapest. These were the games in which Ewa became European 100m champion and 200, silver medallist. She also won the 4x100m relay gold medal with the same team who won the Tokyo 1964 Olympic title.

In one of those quirks of history those European Championships in 1966 were held one month after the birth of a future athlete who was an unwitting victim of the very reason why athletes like Ewa were subjected to gender testing in the first place.

[NOTE: I will refer to Andreas Krieger as “Heidi” and refer to him as female in relation to events prior to 1997 because that was the name by which he was known when a competitive athlete. I do not intend to cause any offense and apologise to anyone who might object to this.]

Heidi Krieger was born in July 1966 in East Berlin. East German athletics at that time was heavily based on a programme called State Plan 14.25. During the Cold War era of the 1960s East and West were constantly trying to out-do each other on the international stage, the Space Race being a prime example. In sport this rivalry was also strongly felt. East Germany had no significantly successful athletes compared to West Germany. That’s when State Plan 14.25 came into action in the mid-1960s.

With the use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs the state-run sports organisation Deutscher Sportausschuss sanctioned the deliberate administration of these drugs to athletes, many of whom were unaware of what they were actually being given.

The use of steroids in sport was widely used in the Communist states and the USSR in particular, and Eastern European states followed suit. The result of the steroids being pumped into athletes led to some commentators to wonder about the gender of many successful female athletes. Many were beginning to look like men and international sporting bodies began to develop the first scientific gender tests. The object of those tests was to determine the chromosomes in an athlete’s cell. An XX result meant two X chromosomes were present and the athlete was female, while and XY result meant the athlete was male.

Ewa Kłobukowska was one of the first victims of those early tests. She had passed all previous gender verification requirements, which was to stand naked in front of a group of women physicians who then decided whether an athlete was female or not. The new test looked at the athlete’s chromosomes and the presence of male hormones (which includes steroids). Two of the most famous and successful female athletes, however, refused to take part in the new scientific tests and never competed again. These were the Soviet sisters Irina and Tamara Press. Rumours had gone around for years that they were actually men, but the true story may never be learnt. Were they intersexed? Had they been pumped full of steroids so that they developed male physical characteristics?

The new test showed that Ewa had “one chromosome too many”, as it has been described. Her chromosomes were XXY. All human cells contain X chromosomes. Women have two, but one folds in on itself and becomes inactive. This chromosome is called a Barr Body. In these early tests the presence of a Y chromosome was enough to have the athlete declared male. However, in Ewa’s situation the Y chromosome was also inactive. In scientific terms Ewa had Klinefelter Syndrome. Even though in normal circumstances that would indicate she was male, in biological fact she was female because she has two X chromosomes, one of which was a Barr Body. Ewa Kłobukowska was the first Olympic champion to be banned and stripped of her medals. Ironically, had she taken the test a year later she would have taken the new Barr Body test which would have declared her female.

It was in the run-up to the Grenoble 1968 Winter Olympics that the IOC introduced the Barr Body test. The first athlete to fail this new test was a skiing champion Erika Schinegger who was training for her first Olympic appearance. She too was banned from competition.

Meanwhile, back in East Germany athletes were still being pumped with drugs, either by injection or pill, and the debate over the gender of very masculine-looking female athletes continued. East Germany’s improved Olympic success was very noticeable and after 1968 they rarely appeared below third in the gold medal table.

East German officials scouted the nation’s schools for potential champions, and one of these was Heidi Krieger. In 1982 she was selected to attend a youth sports academy and the regime of drug administration began. This was the norm for East German athletes.

By 1984 Heidi was developing male characteristics due to the male hormones and steroids. She was scheduled to be part of the East German team for the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics but in the end she became victim to more political machinations by being forced to join the East German boycott of those games. Even though she never became a true Olympian her place on the selected team for 1984 still qualifies her for inclusion in Olympic history.

Heidi was not selected for the following Seoul 1988 Olympics, though she had become European women’s shot put champion in 1986. A hip injury forced her retirement in 1990. The previous year the Berlin Wall came down and the Communist states of eastern Europe collapsed. The administration of drugs and steroids stopped, but it was another three years before records of the doping programme became known.

The resulting scandal revealed the full extent of the corruption in East German sport. Heidi Krieger was just one of an estimated 10,000 athletes who received performance-enhancing drugs, some of them as young as 10. Nearly 300 former athletes, coaches and doctors gave evidence at the subsequent investigation and trials, including Heidi.

Apart from the many medical and psychological effects of the drugs Heidi was also effected by her own questions concerning her gender. It would be appropriate now to use Krieger’s present name, Andreas. Even today, 37 years after transitioning, Andreas is bitter about not being allowed to discover his gender naturally and believes that the steroids and male hormones that were pumped into him had a negative effect on him psychologically.

But some good has come from the experience. At the investigations and trials he met his present wife Uwe, also a victim of state doping. Today Andreas Krieger is a leading advocate in Germany against drugs in sports.

The stories of both Ewa Kłobukowska and Andreas Krieger have been the subject of many documentaries over the years. And for Andreas at least the legacy remains an important part of the fight against doping. In 2000 the Heidi Krieger Prize was instituted by Berlin’s Doping-Opfer-Hilfe en Verein which was set up in 1999 to support the victims of State Plan 14.25. The prize is awarded almost annually to a person who has championed anti-doping in sport. The award is pictured below. At its centre is the very gold medal Andreas Krieger won in 1986 at the European Championships.
And here we are in 2016, in the 50th and 30th anniversary years respectively of Ewa Kłobukowska and Andreas Krieger becoming European champions and world athletics is still facing challenges that changed the lives of them both.

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