For 21 years the East Germans made Olympic athletic success the surpassing triumph of their political system by winning medals out of all proportion to their population. Indeed, sport was a constitutional right in the Democratic Republic-Article 25, Section 3; you could look it up. But the old sports machine is barely recognizable in the merged Federal Republic. Prospective gymnasts and figure skaters are no longer culled from classes of first- and second-graders and packed off to special sports schools, often hundreds of miles from their homes. Many of the coaches, doctors, physiotherapists and lab technicians formerly at the disposal of the elite athlete are unemployed or will be soon. A chance to travel abroad, once a powerful motivator, is no longer special in a land where rubble from the Berlin Wall is being used to build new highways.
The world-renowned Institute for Physical Culture in Leipzig was the cornerstone of the East German sports system. Today it still exists only because the reunification treaty guaranteed it. The staff has been cut by more than two thirds, enrollment is down an equal amount, and one of the school's playing fields is now a sales lot for a car dealership. "I had studied at the Leipzig institute before the change, but I dropped out because I could see there was no secure future in coaching or sports," says Uwe Dassler, 24, who won a gold medal in the men's 400-meter freestyle swim at the Seoul Olympics but has struggled since. "I'm hoping to get a job at a bank so I can become a clerk. As a successful athlete in the G.D.R., all doors would have been open to me. Sport was Number One. Now it's in last place."
To be sure, athletes from East Germany haven't been completely abandoned. They are eligible for Sporthilfe, or "sports aid," the stipends that West Germany has been paying its athletes, based on performance, since 1968. In addition, government-funded advisory boards are doing their best to match athletes with sponsors and jobs. But to the Ossis, or "easties," Sporthilfe is thin gruel. "In the G.D.R., the state spent money so you could become a champion," says Kluge of Junge Welt. "With Sporthilfe, you first have to be one before you can get any money. That's the big problem. When you're a champion, you have money anyhow. The task should be to get you there, and now it's left to chance."
Ossi athletes labor under a further handicap. There isn't much sympathy for them on either side of the old divide. Wessis are jealous, fearful that their eastern counterparts will take precious spots on unified national teams. They're cynical, too, as a result of evidence that East German athletes were reared in a drug culture so pervasive that they were reportedly given steroids in their teens, often without their knowledge. (For her part, Krabbe denies that she ever used performance-enhancing drugs.)
In the East, meanwhile, there's an antiathlete backlash. The state of Saxony recently voted not to spend a Pfennig on elite sports. Nonetheless, many of the athletes in the east of Germany, never much beloved because of the perks they received, are still comparatively privileged—well-positioned to do such things as open sporting-goods stores, as virtually every athlete with a name seems to have done. As a result, many can relate experiences similar to those of Krabbe arid Krentz. Dreschler's sporting-goods store in Jena was burglarized; someone broke into the country house of ice-skating diva Katarina Witt, making off with jewelry, clothing and several bottles of wine.
One of the distinguishing features of the East German system was that no sport outranked any other. The state held the superb yachtsman or rower in as high regard as the champion hurdler or swimmer, and supported all accordingly. Now the free market is blessing some sports at the expense of others, and Krabbe, for one, can't understand why. "My boyfriend is a two-time world champion." she says. "I know Torsten trains just as hard as other athletes. Only there's no reward. The athletes in many sports hardly have what they need to live on. I think it's sad. It's said they don't lend themselves well to marketing. But I don't see why not."
The marketplace has been as generous to Krabbe as it has been grudging to Krentz. With an outlay of more than $1 million this year, Nike sponsors not only her but also the entire Neubrandenburg Sports Club. Since Grau and Breuer are also members of Neubrandenburg, it is arguably the finest women's Hack club in the world. Neubrandenburgettes got five individual golds at the 1990 European Championships, finishing first in every sprint event, plus the 800 and the shot put. Few countries did so well.
Nike is mildly surprised that a long-stemmed Valkyrie like Krabbe has turned out to be such a good saleswoman. "It's been our experience that if you're a German athlete, no one cares about you elsewhere in Europe," says Campbell. "But Katrin carries no baggage. You'll find her in The Times of London, in L'Equipe, in the media everywhere. I don't think there's been anyone quite like her. Chris Evert was sort of the girl next door. Katrin is different. She's glamorous. It's a difficult thing for her, living up not just to expectations on the track but also to being the Grace Kelly of the sport too. It's brought pressure she's not prepared to deal with. To take any athlete, least of all one from the East bloc, and shove her on the cover of every magazine isn't easy."
Perhaps most difficult has been the process of acclimating herself to the predatory ways of the western media. In Split, Krabbe had told reporters that she and Krentz were to be married a few weeks later. But when she soon snuck off to a holiday camp in Turkey with Michael Hill, who was Nike's liaison to the Neubrandenburg club, the newly vigorous German press—in Berlin alone, 14 dailies are fighting a circulation war—tracked her down. Heinz Sünder, a reporter for the Swiss-Bavarian magazine Monaco, confronted the couple while they were eating and cut a deal: $4,400 in exchange for an interview and photo shoot.
"Now I know why they call Krabbe 'the Golden Girl,' " Sünder wrote in his account of their meeting. "For those $4,400 I got nothing but 'I don't know,' 'I can't talk about it' and 'It doesn't interest me.' Moses was able to draw water from stone; I couldn't get anything usable out of Krabbe.... According to her bio she was actually a student once, and wanted to become a teacher. She must have had an epiphany one day, because she doesn't want to be a teacher anymore. 'It's not possible,' she says. 'To be an elite athlete and a college student, that's too much.' Thank god—generations of future students are safe."