German Team Looks to Ex-East Germans for Many Medals
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ Germany is expected to be the dominant nation at the Winter Olympics, and much of the credit is likely to go to former East German athletes.
The Albertville Games will be the first Olympics since Germany united in 1990, merging two of the world’s sports powerhouses.
At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, the East Germans won 25 medals, second only to the Soviet Union’s 29. They had nine golds, 10 silvers and six bronze medals. West Germany won eight medals, two of them gold.
The Germans, who last competed as a united team at the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, will be sending at least 109 athletes to Albertville. Another 15 slots will be kept open until just before the Games.
In Albertville, the united German team will be boosted by the traditionally strong East German athletes in such events as speedskating and bobsledding.
Apart from cross-country skiing, figure skating and ice hockey, there are few major events where the Germans won’t be among medal contenders.
The retirement of Katarina Witt has left a void in German figure skating, and the ice hockey team is still far from challenging the established powers.
Alpine skiing was the only area in which the east Germans had nothing to contribute to the united team. But the west Germans seem to be peaking just in time for the Olympics and several of their Alpine stars will be in contention.
Unification has given tremendous depth in many events and made competition for places on the Olympic team tougher than ever before. It’s probably easier to win the Olympic title than to earn a place on the German bobsled team.
″No other nation has so many good pilots as Germany and we are absolute favorites for the gold medals,″ said bobsled team director Heinrich Ruff.
After bitter Olympic trials, coach Raimund Bethge opted for experience in picking the four pilots, leaving out some younger drivers who did better in practice than some of the older aces.
″This was the toughest decision of my career,″ Bethge said.
Two-time Olympic champion Wolfgang Hoppe, 34, was chosen although he missed some of the trials with a hamstring strain. Hoppe, a former East German, could become the first bobsledder to win four Olympic gold medals.
Other drivers on the team are Harald Czudaj, another ex-East German, and two pilots from the west - Rudi Lochner and Christoph Langen.
In Alpine skiing, the Germans have something of a recent history of shocking the favored Swiss and Austrians.
In 1985, Markus Wasmeier came from nowhere to win the world title in the giant slalom. In 1989, Hansjoerg Tauscher was the surprise winner of the downhill title.
Wasmeier, 28, could be a factor again at the Olympics in both the downhill and the super-giant slalom, along with Tauscher.
Wasmeier won the classic World Cup downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in January.
″This has given me new confidence and new courage,″ he said.
Wasmeier followed that with a second place on the demanding Wengen downhill course. ″Now I can go to Albertville without any worries. This good series is just what I needed before the Olympics.″
Armin Bittner, 27, remains a dark horse in the slalom.
Among the women, Katja Seizinger has emerged as a leading contender after winning three World Cup events - two downhills and a super-giant slalom.
Seizinger, 19, thinks the pressure could be too great at her first Olympics. ″The problem is that now everyone expects me to win a medal in the downhill and the Super-G.″
But her coach Alois Glaner is confident. ″What makes her an exceptional skier is that she is always ready to take risks,″ Glaner said.
The ski jumping team is led by Jens Weissflog, an ex-East German who was an Olympic champion in 1984, and Dieter Thoma, a west German.
Normally, they would be among the top jumpers, but both have been caught by surprise by the rapid progress of V-style jumpers and have not had success this season. They are going through a crash course before the Olympics in an effort to adapt to the new style which gives longer distances.
German unification has given an especially strong boost to the nation’s speedskating team, which was always an East German specialty.
Uwe-Jens May set a world record in the 500 meters of 36.43 seconds in mid- January. He said he expected American Dan Jansen to be his top rival. ″He can also go below the world record and the gold medal will be decided between us.″
Jansen proved May right one week later by lowering the record to 36.41, promising for an exciting gold-medal clash.
May’s teammate on the former East German team, Gunda Niemann, was a world champion while she still carried her maiden name Kleemann. She has been bothered by a foot injury but will be among top contenders at the Olympics.
Germany’s luge team also is expected to produce a few winners. ″Three medals are almost a must,″ said team director Sepp Fendt.
Among the favorites are two world champions from former East Germany, Jan Behrendt and Susi Erdmann, and Georg Hackl, a west German who also has two world titles.
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