And yet in the Olympic Village, the athletes from Yugoslavia and its former republics have been cither friendly or, at worst, noncommittal. "We are not responsible for this——, the politicians are," says Slovenia's Alpine-skiing director, Tone Vogrinec.
When Yugoslavia was divided, Slovenia, which had accounted for all four of Yugoslavia's medals in past Winter Olympics, retained virtually all of the top skiers, ski coaches and ski equipment. With the partitioning of the country, the Yugoslavs were left with almost nothing in the way of Olympic resources but still felt compelled to mount a team for Albertville. Vogrinec, in a gesture worthy of Olympic ideals, gave his former countrymen last year's downhill uniforms and has occasionally lent advice to the Yugoslavian team of inexperienced teenagers, who suffered some horrors on the downhill runs. Yugoslavia's Arijana Boras, 15, was the first woman down Le Roc de Fer in the women's combined event and crashed on the first turn, suffering a concussion. "I was part of that country for 50 years," Vogrinec says. "I have friendships. I don't understand how we break the connection in one week."
If Vogrinec sees Yugoslavia's ski coach Pasovic Ajdin in a restaurant, he sits with him. Natasa Bokal of Slovenia, a medal hopeful in the women's slalom, spent three years in the same club as several members of the Yugoslavian team. "I talk to them because I know them," Bokal says with a shrug. "I talk to them like before. They've never seen the Olympics either. We are friends." And yet the Slovenian skiers flatly refused to share a locker room with the Yugoslavian team.
Slovenia is so determined to express its national and cultural identity that it has already joined Italy and Austria in a three-nation bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics in which the Games would be cohosted by three villages: Villach, Austria; Tarvisio, Italy; and Jesenice, Slovenia. "This [division of Yugoslavia] is the future," Vogrinec says. "Some think this is just temporary, but they don't understand. For us it's forever."
For German athletes remarriage with their former adversaries is only slightly less painful. They are discovering that, in spite of a common language and a sense of national identity that was never entirely destroyed by concrete and barbed wire, hidebound political differences and divergent training philosophies are not easily reconciled. Former East Germans have been accused of rampant steroid use and, far more chilling, of spying. Four-man-bobsled driver Harald Czudaj confessed shortly before the Games that he had informed on his teammates for the East German secret police organization Stasi, which he claimed had forced him to cooperate by threatening to convict him for drunken driving. His three sledmates wrote a letter to the unified German bobsled federation supporting Czudaj's contention that he had never harmed anyone, and the federation agreed that Czudaj's role as an informant was irrelevant. But federation president Willi Daume says, "Any more suspicions could have a paralyzing effect on the team."
According to speed skater Uwe-Jens Mey, who won the 500-meter race for East Germany in Calgary and the 500 for Germany in Albertville, his status as a favorite afforded him ample funds and assistance in training, but he could not say the same for most of his former East German teammates. "No one wants to give sponsor money to East German athletes, because of fear that they are taking dope and may have worked for Stasi," he says. East German women reigned over speed skating for a decade but now find themselves struggling financially. Christa Luding, the gold medalist in the 1,000 meters in Calgary and the bronze medalist in the 500 two weeks ago, once had all the perquisites of a world champion, but her husband, Ernst, lost his job as a coach on New Year's Eve because of a lack of funding and went to Albertville in his camper. Skater Angela Hauck, an East German who was the 1990 world sprint champion, has been forced to take a job in a bank since reunification and has slipped in the standings. "After I do other things, practice is too much," she says.
The lives of these European athletes, like those of their countrymen at home, are changing drastically. The Olympic Games cannot cure poverty or stop war. But the athletes in Albertville can provide a lesson in harmony to the rest of the Continent. "The Olympics is a window," Vogrinec says. "Billions of people see it." Daume might have spoken for all the Albertville athletes when he said, "We must try to make sport the forefront."