Now there suddenly was no East Germany. Her parents and her brother went to the Brandenburg Gate to watch the excitement, the wall coming down, East and West suddenly reunited. She stayed home. Her parents said she was too young to venture out into the large crowd. She didn't understand what it all meant. She watched the pictures on television and cut out the Soviet-related logo from the middle of the old GDR flag that she had. That seemed to be the thing to do. Everybody was doing it.
Her mother, Jutta, said that for the first time in her life she felt she could breathe, but Franzi felt none of that. Hadn't she already been breathing fine? She was happy. Maybe lines at the stores would disappear, but what other changes could come? She soon found out.
One of the first of the country's dirty little secrets to be exposed, almost as soon as the wall disappeared, involved her sport. The longtime allegations by the West were true. The use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs had been rampant in East Germany, especially in women's sports (in which they have a bigger effect on performance than in men's), and most especially in women's swimming. Even glorious GDR champions like Kristin Otto and Kornelia Ender were touched by scandal. The wet footsteps on the tile floor, the ones Franzi had been following, would have led her to...this?
"It was all a shock," she says. "These were my idols. I was too young to be involved, but I think now, What would have happened if all of this never had come out? What would have happened to me? I probably would have followed right along."
The thought scares her.
When she showed up at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, she was 14. No one beyond the reconstructed borders of her country really knew her. She had been too young to compete in either the European championships or the world junior championships. This was her first major international competition. Her father, Bernd, had given her brother a slicker four years earlier that said BARCELONA '92, but it was Franzi who stuck it on her bedroom window and announced that she would be there. Sure. Here she was.
The situation had changed for swimmers from the former East Germany. Many of the coaches had been fired. There were no more special sports schools. Even the big pool at the Dynamo sports complex in East Berlin no longer was the championship swimmers' private workplace. Recreational swimmers used the pool too.
Franzi had persevered, stuck with her sport. Her coach, Dieter Lindemann, liked her natural talent, first of all, but he also liked her attitude. She was not one of those swimmers who sat in the corner, accepted everything he said, then went into the pool and worked at an obedient, metronomic pace. She asked questions. She challenged. She knew when to work hard, when to move slower. "The quiet ones are never the champions," Lindemann says. "I like the one who always has something to say."
Her first race was the 100-meter freestyle on the opening day of competition at the Games. The big buzz at the finish was that China's Zhuang Yong had upset world-record holder Jenny Thompson of the United States, starting a Chinese rush of gold medals in women's swimming. But the buzz for Franzi was her own third-place finish. Bronze. She had an Olympic medal.
The next day, she had silver. Swimming in her favorite event, the 200, she finished a tenth of a second behind gold medal winner Nicole Haislett of the U.S. Haislett's time was 1:57.9. Franzi's time was 1:58.0. For a moment she was overwhelmed by what she had done. Silver. The Olympics! Then she started thinking about how close she had come to gold. She watched a replay of the race and saw places where she could have made up that extra tenth of a second and more. She had stayed too close to the rope separating the lanes. She had been sloppy on her turns. She could have had gold so easily.