Wall Still Divides German Athletes : Track and field: Those from the East feel superior to their teammates from the West, who accuse them of using banned drugs.
On the fourth day of competition in track and field’s World Championships, East Germans won two gold medals. It seemed like old times, except that when they stood at attention on the victory stand at the National Stadium, the national anthem that was played and the flag that was raised were West German.
Since reunification, athletes from East and West have been identified only as German, but few, if any, have relinquished their identities. “It’s still two teams in one,” Jos Hermens said Tuesday night.
Hermens, a former Dutch distance runner and a representative of Nike, manages athletes from Neubrandenburg, one of the most successful clubs in the East German sports system before the Berlin Wall fell. One of his athletes, Katrin Krabbe, won the women’s 100 meters, and another, Grit Breuer, finished second in the women’s 400 meters.
Krabbe was superb in the 10.99 seconds it took her to run the 100, a race in which Merlene Ottey of Jamaica saw her winning streak in the event end at 56 races. Ottey finished third in 11.06; Gwen Torrence of Decatur, Ga., was second in 11.03.
The winning time was no threat to Florence Griffith-Joyner’s world record of 10.49, but considering that the race was run into a 3.0 meters-per-second head wind, it deserves more than a footnote among the all-time bests.
Track and field statisticians calculated that the time would have been 10.76 on a still night, and if she had benefited from the 2.3-m.p.s. wind at Ottey’s back when she ran a meet-record 10.78 in the semifinals, Krabbe would have run 10.58. As it was, she ran her semifinal race into an 0.1-m.p.s. head wind in 10.94.
Although hers was the first gold medal here for Germany, discus thrower Lars Riedel soon followed her to the top of the victory stand. A West German, Sabine Braun, won the gold medal in the heptathlon. It was the sort of day that was anticipated when the two countries reunified last year.
But whether there will be many more like it in track and field has become a subject for debate among the sport’s followers. About two-thirds of Germany’s athletes here are from the East--they have won five of the country’s seven medals--but about two-thirds of the coaches and officials are from the West, which was never as committed to producing champions.
Even though they receive substantially less support, financial and otherwise, than they did under their former system, most athletes from the East contend that they will remain competitive at least through the 1992 Olympic Games at Barcelona, Spain. Young athletes such as Krabbe, 21, and Breuer, 19, could remain at a world-class level for the remainder of the decade. But after that?
“They are the last, Krabbe and Breuer and perhaps two or three others,” said Volker Kluge, a German sportswriter from the East. “Maybe we will win some more medals here, maybe the same number in Barcelona. But then it is finished.
“Many coaches have lost their jobs. Some athletes have had to find work to support themselves, others lost incentive and quit. Young people are not being encouraged to begin sports. The system has been destroyed.”
One athlete who persevered is Riedel, 24. Riedel was forced to find a job to make enough money to pay for living expenses that formerly were provided by his club. He began working eight hours a day as a carpenter.
Riedel said Tuesday that he had almost given up hope of winning a medal at the World Championships until he received a call from a coach in Mainz, in the West, who asked him to move there. He was given a job with the district’s sports administration, which allows him to train as much as necessary.
Krabbe’s adjustment was no less traumatic. When East Germany, in anticipation of reunification, opened for business, Nike paid $800,000 to become a sponsor of the club in Neubrandenburg, about two hours north of Berlin. This guaranteed that the club could continue supporting elite athletes, such as Krabbe, as well as developing new ones.
But when Krabbe won three gold medals in last year’s European Championships, she began making so much money, she could have supported the club.
German newspapers called the 6-foot-1 blonde the “Grace Kelly of track and field.” Endorsement opportunities arrived by the dozen.
Besides a private arrangement with Nike, she signed contracts with a cosmetics company, a clothing manufacturer and a newspaper. A German magazine, Der Spiegel, estimated that she earns $480,000 per year.
Hermens said Tuesday that Krabbe’s earning potential was enhanced considerably because her 100-meter victory at the World Championships occurred in Japan, the world’s most lucrative endorsement market for track and field athletes.
But her fame also has brought aggravation. She acknowledged Tuesday night that she almost quit the sport earlier this year. Resented by many people in her hometown who have not thrived since reunification, she has received one death threat.
Every move she makes is scrutinized by the German press. When she had a brief affair last year with a man other than her fiance, former East German canoeist Torsten Krenz, details were well-publicized. Her wedding to Krenz, scheduled for last October, was canceled, but they are together again.
More damaging to her reputation have been insinuations in the German media about her alleged use of banned performance-enhancing substances. When she went to the Bahamas in January and to San Diego in May for training, rumors spread that she left the country to evade random drug tests.
But Hermens said German officials arranged to have her tested in both the Bahamas and San Diego. She said that she has been tested 15 times this year, including twice within a month before Tokyo.
It is not uncommon to hear accusing remarks from West German athletes about their new teammates, referring to the drug use that is believed to have been rampant in the East. East German athletes speak of the West Germans as the second team. In track and field, the wallremains.
“I don’t think this is a good situation,” Kluge said. “Maybe in the future, it will change. But now, in sports, there are still two Germanys.”