None of this was true, but as Schmidt recalled, "That was all it took—telling them a couple of lies they wanted to hear. In five weeks, I was out—2½ months ahead of schedule."
He departed from the prison in Frankfurt an der Oder on Oct. 14,1983, exactly 469 days since the summer afternoon he was arrested. The ironies were cruel. Warden Shultz, the man who had flung him into solitary, said goodbye with tears in his eyes and insisted that a guard take a picture of Schmidt for him. Wiedemann was there in a chauffeured Lada to drive Schmidt back to Berlin. Once there, Schmidt was taken directly to the Sport-hotel at SC Dynamo. "There, waiting to greet me, were the last two men on earth a former jailbird would expect: Manfred Ewald, the president of the DTSB himself, and Major General Heinz Pommer, not only a vice-president of SC Dynamo but also major general of the Stasi. They inquired eagerly after my health and asked me about my plans for the future. I replied without hesitation, I would like to compete in sports again.' Sweet as sugar, Ewald said, 'Oh, please, Wolfgang, do go ahead and try. We are behind you.' " Soon after that, Schmidt's Lada 1600 was returned to him freshly washed and polished, and he learned that while he was in prison the Stasi had seen to it that his house in the country was finished by skilled Czech carpenters and furnished exactly the way Schmidt had wished.
But all was not forgiven—by any means. The sugary assurances of Ewald and the bizarre generosity of the Stasi turned out to mean nothing: Schmidt's death sentence as an athlete still stood. The tyrants of the G.D.R. were determined not to throw him free until they had destroyed him as a world-class discus thrower.
Wolfgang Schmidt never again was allowed to compete for the G.D.R. or to train there for high-performance sport. He remained trapped in East Germany—and in Sportverbot—for four more years, coaching soldiers and children. He often wandered in the vicinity of the Berlin Wall, yearning for wings so he could fly across to freedom and world-class competition again. Several times he got involved in plots to escape, but all failed for one reason or another. The last attempt, in September 1986, was foiled when the Stasi eavesdropped on conversations about the scheme with a bug they had installed while finishing Schmidt's country house. Inexplicably, Schmidt was not jailed. Instead, Wiedemann told him to stop trying to escape illegally and to make another formal application for an exit visa. This one would "go its winding way" through the bureaucracy, the Stasi said.
It took more than a year, but Wiedemann proved to be right. On Nov. 2,1987, Schmidt crossed the border from East to West Germany at Marienborn on a train filled with old people—the only citizens the G.D.R. allowed to visit the West freely. Schmidt had relatives in Hamburg, and he began light training in a city park the day after he arrived. Soon he moved to Stuttgart, because a sport club there offered him good facilities, a small stipend for food, a free apartment and a $l,000-a-month job with Mercedes-Benz that allowed him time to train whenever he wished. He began intense high-performance training soon after he settled in Stuttgart.
But Schmidt turned 34 years old on Jan. 16,1988. That alone would not necessarily have made him a has-been, for men in the throwing events tend to compete longer than most other athletes. But the fact that for six years he had not competed in a single meet and had not been allowed anything remotely resembling high-performance training were serious obstacles to reaching the top again.
Schmidt remained grimly optimistic. He visited his American throwing friend Mac Wilkins in San Jose in the late winter of '88 and trained with him for three grueling months. He attended the Summer Olympics in Seoul as a spectator. He was a bona fide citizen of West Germany, but he could not compete in South Korea because of the Olympics' mandatory one-year waiting period following a change of citizenship.
This did not prevent Schmidt from competing in other world-class meets. In 1989, at the age of 35, he entered 30 meets, won 22, finished second in seven and third in one, and produced the longest throw of the year—232'8", less than a foot short of the former world record he had set in 1978 when he was 24. In 1990, he competed in 23 meets, won 20, finished second in two and third in one, and at the end of the year Track & Field News, the authority in the sport, paid him the ultimate tribute by ranking him No. 1 among all discus throwers in the world.
By that time, the world as Schmidt once knew it had undergone explosive change. The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, and the cruel and paranoid men who had tried to ruin his life had them selves been overthrown. The Stasi was soon dismantled, and most of its 85,000 full-time members, such as Wiedemann and Repulsive Red, disappeared in the chaos of the revolution. Neither Schmidt nor his parents know what became of his Stasi nemeses, although Erich Mielke, the chief of the secret police who had given Schmidt his Lada 1600 so many years earlier, was jailed early in 1990 on charges of treason.
The two Germanies became one in October 1990, with unified national teams. The mighty sports machine of the G.D.R. ceased to exist, never again to run rampant over all but the biggest superpowers. In the 35 years the East German sports system flourished, this dreary country with only 16.7 million citizens had won no fewer than 572 Olympic medals. Only the U.S.S.R., with 250 million people and 1,133 medals, and the U.S., with 200 million people and 872 medals, had done better. West Germany, the despised capitalist brother across the border, had won only 335 medals, even though it was far wealthier and more populous than the G.D.R. The East German system had pampered its champions at a monumental cost of $700 million a year. It seems likely that no country will ever again spend so much for sport.