SI's Anita Verschoth reports from last week's European Track and Field Championships in Split, Yugoslavia, at which the long-powerful East German team made its farewell appearance:
A single, West German-published media guide covered both the East and West German teams in Split, and the cover illustration was unwittingly symbolic. It showed a frail East German runner handing off the baton to a strapping West German. West Germany is about to take the baton from the East Germans in a larger sense: After the two Germanys officially reunite on Oct. 3, the state-supported East German sports machine, with its elite sports schools and thousands of full-time coaches, will essentially disappear, and the West German system of private enterprise will govern sports.
That reality was not lost on the East German athletes in Split. "The issue is no longer political prestige," said Olympic shot put champion Ulf Timmermann after winning his event. "This is the beginning, where you have to establish your worth on the market."
Spurred by both the need to attract club sponsorship and the emotion of competing for East Germany for the final time—"I hope we go down with a flourish of trumpets to prove one more time who has the strong performers in German sports," said East German sprint coach Thomas Springstein—the East Germans took home more medals (34) and more gold (12) than any other team, including West Germany (7 medals, 3 of them gold). The East German women were superb, led by Katrin Krabbe, a tall Grace Kelly look-alike who won the 100-and 200-meter dashes.
Krabbe will be among the last stars produced by the East German sports system, which is already being dismantled. Without that system, the new Germany may not be as dominant an Olympic force as many people expect. "Not everything we had [in the sports system] was bad," said long jump winner Heike Drechsler. "Now so much is falling apart. Germany will have a good team in 1992, but after that I fear for the worst."
TEEING IT UP
Among the 195 women who tried to earn their LPGA playing cards last week at a qualifying-school tournament in Venice, Fla., was 63-year-old former tennis great Althea Gibson, who is attempting a comeback on the links. "She loves golf," says her manager, Ron Freeman. "She accomplished all her goals in tennis [she won five Grand Slam singles titles from 1956 to '58], but feels there's some unfinished business in golf." Freeman is referring to Gibson's rather undistinguished career on the women's pro golf circuit in the 1960s, during which she never won a tournament and took home little prize money.
Over the last two decades Gibson has kept busy conducting tennis clinics, lecturing on fitness and working with New Jersey state sports bodies. She has also honed her golf game, sometimes shooting in the low 70s. Her play was disappointing last week: She shot rounds of 86 and 86 and failed to make the cut. In fact, she finished dead last. "I don't want to talk about it," Gibson said afterward. "I'm mad at my game."
Gibson intends to play another LPGA qualifying-school event, in Rancho Mirage, Calif., in late September, and remains hopeful that she will earn both her card and a share of the prize and sponsorship money that's so much more abundant these days. Realistically, that appears to be a long shot at best, but it would be hard to find anybody who isn't pulling for her.