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Behold The Shining Star Of The G.D.R.
Rick Reilly
January 20, 1986
Lovely Katarina Witt, the world and Olympic figure skating champion, is a luminary in her hometown of Karl-Marx-Stadt
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January 20, 1986

Behold The Shining Star Of The G.d.r.

Lovely Katarina Witt, the world and Olympic figure skating champion, is a luminary in her hometown of Karl-Marx-Stadt

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"When I'm on the ice, I'm thinking about my program and about the championship," she says. "I don't have to skate well for my country. It's simply an athletic effort. You think, 'You've trained all these years, now it's time to show what you have learned.' But once you stand on the podium and the anthem is played, then you are very proud. You see the flag of your country, and you know a million people are watching on television. People see the G.D.R. has again a good athlete."

She is a sweat-suit diplomat for the East German way of sport. "Our system is good," she says. "Every child has a chance. Parents don't have to have a lot of money. Our coaches don't have to be paid like in other countries." Adds Müller: "If he [Katarina's father] had a million marks, he could not have afforded what Katarina has been given. From what I hear, in the U.S. coaches charge as much as $25 for 20 minutes. Then there's ice space, a ballet instructor. I've heard it could cost a million dollars in the U.S."

At any rate, Witt is not likely to defect. For she lives, comparatively, like a queen, travels the world, is lavished with attention ("and she relishes that," says her brother, Axel, 23, once a talented soccer player, now a student at the College of Physical Culture in Leipzig), and, most of all, because, she says, "this is my home." In December, on her 20th birthday, she applied for membership in the elite Socialist Unity Party, to which only 13% of G.D.R. citizenry are invited.

And so Madison Avenue will just have to drool. "If she were an American her face would be everywhere," says Fleming. "I mean, look at her."

But how long will Witt continue to compete? Already, distractions are popping up everywhere. "If I had a day off?" she says. "Oooooh, I would sleep late in the morning, walk around town, drive somewhere just for the fun of it, go skiing, read in bed all day, go dancing and just be lazy."

When she kids with sister-in-law and fellow gold medalist Pötzsch (Anett and Axel married in 1984), Witt insists she must keep skating: "Anett has won seven medals—four European, two worlds and an Olympic. I only have six. I can't let her have one more than me!" When pressed, she says she will skate to the end of the spring and then make a decision. But the '88 Olympics?

It's doubtful. In the G.D.R. there is no Ice Capades waiting with big marks. Yet there is no pressure to go on as an amateur, either. Witt could become a model, though modeling would be a step down for an ice princess. She could attend any school in the Eastern bloc and study any subject she chooses (she prefers languages). She could go to school in Leipzig with her brother and sister-in-law ("but I would never be a coach," she says). Decisions, decisions.

Advice from Pötzsch: "It's a much better feeling if you are leaving as a world champion or a gold medalist than to leave having lost. But then, it is very hard to give away the moment of victory. You like to relive it again and again."

All indications are we won't see Witt in Calgary. She would be 22 by then, and this is a girl's sport. Too, the Müller Machine has an understudy waiting in the foyer, 16-year-old Constanze Gensel, a pert blonde who can jump out of the rink.

Men around the world will sit down in '88, ostensibly in the name of sport—Honey, did I tell you how much I like figure skating—only to find their Katarina gone. What? No Katarina Witt, the warmest thing to hit the cold war since vodka? Now that's a sobering thought.

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