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At the world swimming championships last summer in West Berlin, the Americans overwhelmed the heretofore powerful East German women, winning nine of 14 events, while the GDR won but one. With this debacle still fresh in their minds, the East Germans were looking forward to the U.S.A. Women's International Competition last weekend at Harvard as an opportunity to see whether recent changes in their training methods had improved their performances. But that was not to be.
First, many of America's leading swimmers were not there, some of whom—including Tracy Caulkins, the 16-year-old sensation who won five gold medals at the world championships as a 15-year-old—are serving short suspensions for curfew violations during a meet last year. Thus, even though the East Germans posted victories in seven of 14 events at the meet in Cambridge, it was not that stern a test.
"It was inevitable that bigger countries like the U.S. and the Soviet Union would catch us." Eberhard Mothes, one of the East German coaches, said before the meet. "We aren't so arrogant as to think that a small country like ours can win everything." But the coaches are doing what they can to assure that the GDR will win its share of medals.
For one, East Germany is concentrating on finding prospects built more along the lines of the tall, skinny Caulkins. "We've begun to realize that big, muscular girls develop quickly but don't last very long," said Horst Kleefeld, another GDR coach. "The thinner girls tend to survive. Ulrike Tauber has managed to stick around as long as she has because she is fairly thin. And Caulkins will last, too."
In their rush back to the drawing boards, GDR coaches have been particularly concerned that few of their women swam as well at the world championships as they had at their own nationals six weeks earlier. In hopes that it will help sustain top performance over a longer span, they have increased daily workloads in the case of medley specialists Tauber and Petra Schneider, for example, from 10,000 to 13,000 meters. More important, training has also become more intense.
One change that the coaches insist is not related to the poor showing at the world championships is the demotion of Rudolf Schramme, the national swim coach through three Olympic Games. Schramme masterminded East Germany's climb to the top of women's swimming and the official line is that after last summer's world championships, he "volunteered" to step down. Be that as it may, it is intriguing that Schramme's successor. Dieter Schulze, is a onetime GDR horse show-jumping champion who knows so little about swimming he didn't even bother to come to Boston. Schulze's forte is research in endurance training. The fact that somebody of his background has been named national swim coach suggests that further changes are afoot.
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