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Germany - a marathon country?

THE WEDNESDAY COLUMN

2001-03-08

Financial support weakens in the year after the Olympics, Federation turns a cold shoulder on the runners - and events are booming.

What is going to happen to the marathon in Germany? At any rate, the results of the best runners in the last season (2000) are modest. As federal trainer, Wolfgang Heinig does not have an easy job. For the last 6 months he has been responsible not only for the women, but also for the mens team, and this is proving to be a real challenge. Not so much the women, though even here, the results in the Olympic season were not at all satisfying. "Im starting right at the bottom" - this was his devastating estimation of the situation among the men. The times when Cierpinski, Peter, Heilmann and Co from the East section were worldwide right up the front and Freigang won the Olympic bronze in Barcelona are over, just the same as when Herle, Salzmann, Steffny and Dobler from the West section were among the worlds best. At the beginning of the 21st century, the truth is that our best runners were miles below top international standards in Sydney - Carsten Eich finished in 54th place and Michael Fietz as 37th. And even the women, who up until now were always successful, didn do any better down under. Katrin Dörre-Heinig - usually a guarantee for success - was forced to call off at an early stage after a foot operation. Claudia Dreher had to do the same in Sydney due to a cold. Only Sonja Oberem, sixth in the world championships, remained, but to cap it all, she had a bad day and muscular problems. "A very unfortunate year", as Heinig recalls. If it hadn been for Melanie Kraus who made a fantastic debut of 2:27:58 on the Berlin capital course a few days before the Olympics, which unfortunately got completely overlooked in the run-up to the Games. It is a fact that todays success-oriented society, which almost considers second place a defeat, hardly pays any attention when someone comes in fifth. So Heinigs summary of the womens results appeared just as harsh. After all, compared to Atlanta, Athens, Budapest and Sevilla, the womens marathon runners were without a top placing for the first time. "We have lost ground."

And what are the prospects? Heinigs hopes are based on the European championships in 2002 on home ground, which ought to be enough to combine all forces. But who are the big promisers? Heinigs wife, Katrin Dörre, will be 41 by then and Kathrin Weßel who has changed/returned to marathon running and is considered one of the best, will be 35. As opposed to them, Sonja Oberem (29 years of age), Claudia Dreher (31) and possibly the double Olympic starter Petra Wassiluk (32) who is also under discussion, should stand up to the pressure of expectations and at least be in line for a medal in the team event. It is a different story with the men, where only Eich and Fietz after their disappointing performance in Sydney should be in a position to make up for it. Behind them there is a big gap, particularly as others such as Sebastian Bürklein had a bad year in 2000. Among the men, things can only look up.

"We have little young talent", confesses Jürgen Stephan, who has been handed notice as coach to the trainees "If the association doesn`t do something about it very soon, there will be nothing at all happening in a years time." But so long as the association continues to fall right into the lap of multitalents like Wolfram Müller, little will happen, because counting medals is presumed to prove success. It seems that only track athletics are considered promising by the German Athletic Association (DLV). This is the only way to explain the cancellation of the long-distance sections (both mens and womens) after the traditional international road meeting had already been sacrificed in 1999 for budget reasons. Within the federation, cross and road have long lost the battle against the throwing, jumping and perhaps even sprint disciplines, at least as far as funding and support is concerned. Perhaps the DLV (German Athletic Federation), as administrator of the individual associations, should remember which discipline has most members. If athletics are still alive, then mainly due to the numerous activities organised by volunteers for track, cross-country and primarily road. Sport for everyone. It is wrong to consider the large number of running competitions just as a way to improve the income in the associations budget. There must be give and take in a healthy ratio.

In comparison to the meagre results, the German events excel in organisation. Above all, the real,- BERLIN-MARATHON, which together with Boston, Chicago, London and New York forms the Golden League of Marathons. The Mildes, Richters and Co. are particularly creative and innovative in many ways, and an end to the boom in the number of participants in the German capital is not yet in sight, even though it has already reached 35,000. Hamburg, with its 20,000 starters and a touch of international flair is on the way to being fully accepted internationally, whereas Cologne which has the same number seems to celebrate the beginning of carnival early. The bank metropole, Frankfurt, is gaining a lot of ground with a new organising committee and the Euro, so that it can at least show internationally respectable results. Munich, Mainz, Regensburg...., the series of good class events in this country goes on and on. And more and more events are becoming points on the marathon map. Proof again that there is a movement in Germany which is less interested in the "under-three-hour result" than the fun factor and the marathon event itself.

Wilfried Raatz


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