Wolfgang Schmidt: Throwing From Both Sides

Associated Press

Wolfgang Schmidt doesn't want to see differences between East and West Germany.

"I am a German. When I win it is for all Germany, not just one half of it," said the former world record holder in the discus.

But for 15 months the 1976 Olympic silver medalist was a political prisoner in East Germany.

Now he's back throwing on the track circuit again wearing West German colors. And winning.

But he probably will not be in Seoul for any Germany. He was allowed to leave his native East Germany in November, 1987.

Under international rules, an athlete who has represented one country cannot compete for another until after three years.

East Germany strongly objected to a West German decision to include Schmidt in its team that competed against East Germany at a June dual meet in Duesseldorf.

The East Germans have threatened to pull out of the Grand Prix finals in West Berlin Aug. 26 in protest over Schmidt's participation in the June meet.

In 1978 Schmidt set the world record of 233 feet, 5 inches.

"In 1981 I wanted to leave East Germany but since I was the best, they didn't let me leave," Schmidt said at a recent track meet in Monte Carlo where he added another victory.

Ten years after his world record, he is still among the 10 best in the world. He threw more than 223 feet in June at a meet in Iceland, sixth best in the world this year.

He is consistently above 200 feet this season.

However from 1981 to 1988 there were no competitions for Schmidt since he was being held in East Germany.

In 1981, after falling out of favor with the East Germany hierarchy because of his political views, he was suddenly a man without a discus. He was not allowed to compete anymore and had difficulty even finding places to practice.

"I wanted out of the country," Schmidt said. He said he told the East German authorities "If I can't do this (throw the discus) here, then somewhere else."

In 1982 he was suddenly seized and eventually was convicted of political crimes such as trying to leave East Germany.

He was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Finally, after numerous inquiries from many people on the outside such as American discus thrower Mac Wilkins, he was released.

Wilkins had established a friendship with Schmidt back in 1976 on the basis of a simple gesture that got Wilkins in trouble.

After Schmidt had made his throw to gain second at the Montreal Olympics behind Wilkins, the American gave the East German a bear hug to congratulate him, although the throw knocked American teammate and rival John Powell out of second place.

People have criticized Wilkins for his spirit, misunderstanding one discus thrower's response to another thrower's medal-winning effort.

But Schmidt also felt the weight of that embrace.

He was kept under close supervision until finally, after finishing only fourth at the Moscow Olympics, he was on the disfavored list.

He was told to retire, even though he still held the world record and was considered young for a discus thrower, barely 28 in 1981.

"In 1987 I was finally allowed to leave because by that time they had a good discus thrower and they set it up," Schmidt said.

"But that was in June and only in November I was able to go to the West."

Jurgen Schult had gained the world championship and world record by that time, finally erasing Schmidt's name at the head of the East German list.

Schmidt headed to California to meet up with Wilkins and train together in a better climate--both politically and weatherwise.

Schmidt is enjoying his freedom. In California he bought his own used car. In Monte Carlo, he found his way to the roulette tables.

He relishes the opportunity to send cards back to former East German teammates and friends who turned their back on him.

Now 35, Schmidt is bitter with the East Germans who took away some of the best years of his throwing life.

"I wasn't allowed to train or practice," Schmidt said. "I think that was unsportly and unfair."

"But I think that shows the right face of the organization of East Germany," Schmidt added with a look of bitterness on his face.

But Schmidt is looking to get even. He wants to throw the discus in the Barcelona Olympics for West Germany even though he will be close to 40 years old.

"Now I feel I'm in good form and I want to get ready for '92 because I really regret what happened in '88. I was really wanting to go to Seoul."

"But it's too bad. I'll be ready in '92 to prove to people who kicked me out what I can do."

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