East Germans May Be Hearing Swan Song : Swimming: Not only is their system changing, but U.S. women appear to be gaining ground.


It was a scene all too familiar to the opponents of East German women swimmers for 15 years.

Having won the gold and bronze medals in a race, two East Germans stood on the victory stand Tuesday night during the Goodwill Games at the King County Aquatics Center and listened to their national anthem.

As practiced early during their training in East Germany's elaborate system of sports schools, they stood at attention, forbidden to sing the words in public, appearing emotionless. But that is all it was, an appearance.

"I have to say that when I heard the national anthem, it did make me feel sad," said Heike Friedrich, who finished third in the 200-meter freestyle, behind gold medalist teammate Manuella Stellmach and silver medalist Nicole Haislett of the United States.

"I know that it is one of the last times I will hear it. Even though there were things wrong with our system, there were things that worked for us."

Whether it was ultimately important, and many in the country argue today that it was not, one thing that worked extremely well was East Germany's sports system. In no sport did the so-called "Miracle Machine" achieve more success than in women's swimming.

After emerging as a power in the 1974 World Championships, East German women won gold medals in 11 of 13 events at the 1976 Olympics. Twelve years later, after two Olympics tainted by boycotts, East German women won gold medals in 10 of 15 events at Seoul.

In the Goodwill Games swimming competition, which ended Tuesday night, East German women won gold medals in only three of 17 events. Stellmach's victory in the 200 freestyle was their only individual gold. They won two relays, but, for the first time since 1978, they also lost one, finishing second to the U.S. Monday night in the 400-meter medley relay.

"The Goodwill Games is not the most important competition for us," Friedrich said. "We are goal-oriented toward the World Championships in January."

But, in the next breath, Friedrich admitted that she fears the East Germans will not fare much better at the World Championships in Perth, Australia.

That could be their last major international competition as a separate team, although, considering the speed with which East and West Germany are merging their political systems, it is possible that the Goodwill Games was the last.

"The political changes have affected us," Friedrich said. "It will definitely be worse in the next six months. It will be worse than it has been in the last six months."

Friedrich, 20, was a heroine in her country after she returned from Seoul, where she won a gold medal in the 200-meter freestyle.

But when the Berlin Wall began coming down, the veil of secrecy surrounding the sports system followed. Resentful when they learned of the privileges successful athletes received, many East Germans blamed the athletes. Friedrich's West German car reportedly was vandalized last December.

Midway through a six-week trip to the United States to train and compete here, Friedrich's coach, Joachim Rother, learned that he had lost his job.

His sports club in Chemnitz, known as Karl Marx Stadt until earlier this year, lost much of its funding and decided to retain only four swimming coaches.

"He has been gone for six weeks and wasn't there to defend his position," Friedrich said. "While he was gone, others grabbed up all of the spots."

Waiting to be swallowed by the more financially stable West German system, East Germany's sports committee has withdrawn support from most of the sports schools and clubs. Only those that have managed to enlist corporate sponsors are thriving. East German coaches and athletes are faced with finding jobs outside athletics in order to support their training.

"When we go home, we don't know if we will have any training opportunities at all," Stellmach said. "Up to now, training has been made available to anyone who qualified. Now we have to go out and find sponsors."

Their rivals from the United States have been taking it all in, although not so gleefully as might be expected considering the beatings they've taken in recent years.

"Their coaches and swimmers are really worried about what will happen when they get back home," U.S. freestyler Stacy Cassiday said. "They're sort of in a panic. They call home almost every day to see what has changed."

Considering their youth, talent and depth, the young Americans--"The New Kids on the Block"--might have been ready to overtake the East Germans regardless.

The U.S. women won 11 gold medals and nine silvers in 17 Goodwill Games events. Janet Evans, still only 18, won three gold medals and two silvers. In the 200-meter butterfly Tuesday night, Summer Sanders, 17, won her third gold medal.

"The East Germans are down a little bit in this meet," U.S. women's Coach Richard Quick of Stanford said last weekend. "Anyone can understand why from a political point of view.

"But I don't know that it's over for the East Germans. They may not be called East Germans, but they'll be back. They're just great athletes."

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