In the living room of his apartment in the decaying industrial city of Halle, Thomas Lange has placed his Olympic gold medal, won in the single sculls in Seoul, in a glass-and-wood display case alongside vest-pocket-sized editions of Marx, Engels and Lenin. The events of the past two years had a more profound effect on him than on most other athletes in the east. Lange's father, who had been a higher-up in the Stasi, East Germany's notorious secret police, committed suicide shortly after the Berlin Wall fell.
If not for a businessman in western Germany who has helped sponsor him, Lange would be having a tough go of it. Subsidies from his club stopped in April. Meanwhile, the 27-year-old Lange, a medical student who hadn't progressed much toward his degree because the government had rewarded him so handsomely to row, realizes he must set about becoming a doctor with more urgency.
Lange and his wife, Heike, have two young boys to support. So as much as such a thing is possible, Lange has become a rowing mercenary. He recently took part in a bit of Eurotrash sport—an ergometer contest broadcast on Austrian TV—because of the generous appearance money. (He won it.) And although he would have loved to take his first trip to Henley, the mecca of rowing, in July, the famous regatta conflicted with the German championships. Lange's dilemma: He had to win the German title to qualify for the world championships in Vienna, and if he didn't distinguish himself at the worlds, he could forget about a good chunk of the $720 a month in Sporthilfe that he currently counts on. (After winning the German single sculls title, Lange beat Vaclav Chalupa of Czechoslovakia to win the worlds.) "In the old days the East German sports federation could make an exception in a case like that, and I might have done both," he says.
Thus the changes in Germany haven't yet been an entirely liberating experience for Lange, who sandwiches training around an afternoon shift at a hospital. "Sport is the least of my life," he says. "Family, studies, rowing—I simply have too much to do and not enough time."