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Germany - a marathon country?

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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