By Steven V. Selthoffer
KASSEL, Germany, May 10. ATHLETIC, intelligent, beautiful and clean… Madsen's Madchens are a new breed. Many of the women who competed on the German national team in Melbourne and in other competitions are real 10s. Britta Kamrau-Corestein, open water gold medalist, won her fourth world title with a 5h 37minutes, 11 second victory in the 25 km brute event of the World Championships in tough conditions. Annika Lurz, Britta Steffen, Daniela Gortz… Good natured… Good looks and fast… The list goes on.
While the swimming results were extraordinary for Team USA with Phelps & Company, it hasn't been easy for Madsen or the women. Orjan Madsen, the new Sport Director and national swimming coach for Germany has a global and historical size PR problem on his hands with overcoming and moving out from under the shadow of the former DDR doping scandals. The present Team Telekom cycling crisis isn't helping either. The recent press conferences and European news articles dominating the headlines are a testament to the fact. In swimming, it seems as if the "new Germany" has been unfairly tainted with "old East Germany's" reputation.
The Cycling Doping Crisis and the Beijing Morning Finals for Swimming
The current migraine is cycling. The investigative magazine, Der Spiegel, (see link below), has just exposed and illuminated the darkest doping scandal among professional cycling teams and individuals in the history of the sport. In a series of articles in the latest issue, combined with a "tell-all" intervew by Belgian, cycling team masseur, Jef D' Hont, the articles, saturated with facts and statistics, trace the use of EPO, reveal the sport administration of banned substances, name-names, and implicates the Freiburg University Clinic.
Hein Verbruggen, NED, is Vice-President of the Union Cycliste Internationale, (UCI) and BOCOG Vice-Chairman. He is the public face of the IOC, who (finding time to meddle in other sports) is one of the paramount supporters of the NBC and IOC decision to move swimming finals from evenings to mornings in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Cycling has the worst reputation for doping in sports. Verbruggen, split among his various IOC, BOCOG, and UCI duties, has tried to counter the doping problems. The UCI is now up to their handle bars in crocodiles and embroiled in the worst professional doping scandal with Team Telekom, et al., since the dark DDR days. The consequences of the revelations and constant suspicion among the athletes, is spilling over into other sports like swimming and the new, young athletes, such as the German men and women's teams.
However, the German women swimmers are taking matters into their own hands. They are on a world-class charm offensive to match their swimming prowess. Actually, they are some of the most-liked athletes in the EU. Marleen Veldhuis, NED, Britta Steffen, GER, Theresa Alshammar, SWE, all know each other. Among the top finalists there is a tremendous amount of good will and good sportsmanship in swimming in Europe. The individual women and relay teams are first-class. It's a good time to be in the sport of swimming. The women don't deserve to be forced to carry the heavy baggage of the past. Young, likeable with killer smiles… the days of any team having deep low voices, excessive facial hair, and having more muscles than Arnold Schwarzenegger are over. Yes, there always will be individuals or groups in any sport, trying to beat the system, but, the days of large scale industrial cheating and government sponsored, and systematic doping in East Germany are over.
Madsen Can't Turn the Program Around Alone
Madsen is doing things right. It will take time to turn the program around after inheriting the situation from former national coach, Ralf Beckmann. Team spirit was virtually dead. To counter the doping suspicions, sources say, Madsen is employing every stringent regime and cutting edge effort to ensure clean athletes and clean competition. He is taking no chances. Many do not understand the scope of the project and what he has already done. Madsen is voluntarily taking blood and urine samples, regularly, from his team and storing them at the University of Münich so that if any future testing program is developed that might detect banned substances or masking agents, he'll have the samples available immediately and ready to go. Anti-doping managers have applauded his move and point to it as a major improvement and the necessary step to getting closer to building "data blood profiles" of the athletes as the world moves into a 3rd generation testing system. "You need historical data. You need long term blood profiles, blood is a biological fluid, it differs daily. It's a big step in the right direction."
However, Madsen needs help. He can't overcome the past alone. His problems are public relations, (not of his making) and not a lack of talent. He's found plenty of talent in the juniors as the new national coach. Results will take time.
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
Multiple, Olympic and World Championship medalist, Franziska van Almsick is more than speed and beauty. Brains and clear vision equally play and balance the intricate composite of her make up. Van Almsick is one of the few athletes who has demonstrated courage. Having come back from injury on numerous occasions, surviving public failure, hardship and the public's unfulfilled expectations, she fought back after a seven year drought, to step onto the top podium with a world record in the 200 freestyle and 800 free relay at the European Championships. Swimming World Magazine, named her "European Swimmer of the Year" in 2002, and she was nominated for the Laureus Award's "Comeback of the Year." She deserved them both.
Van Almsick has offered help to the DSV, the Deutscher Schwimm-Verbaund e.V., (the governing body of German swimming). She has voluntarily made herself available as a consultant on issues to improve the organization and swimming. No one would know better than Franzi. But, she is often not called upon.
Making changes, righting wrongs, no-nonsense straight talk, and representing the athletes' interests, is "too much" for the DSV to take all at once. The DSV and DOSB are as politically sensitive as kittens. Franzi, inside the organization would "make waves." It is rightly so. With the right sport leadership from the DOSB (Deutscher Olympischer SportBund) mentoring her, she could begin by changing the swimming governing body's operational program, and elevate the sport of swimming to global best-methods, best-pratices. She could be one of the best sport executives Germany has and be a leading ambassador for sport. Currently athletes, once done with their sport careers are usually discarded. There is no real sport executive training program to move athletes into leadership positions in the DOSB or with their respective sport federations should they choose to follow that career path. That radically limits organizational improvement, in favor of the old-guard, slowing it to glacial speeds and hinders establishing best-of-breed standards.
Van Almsick is a package of executive capacity and athletic capabilities. She can out-think, out-produce and out-perform many staffers in the DOSB and other federations. She would make a better DSV Board Member and a better DOSB executive than most people. That goes against the grain of the older, male-dominated, politically orientated, sport governing body leadership. For Franzi, it will be just another event to enter and another podium to climb once she decides to enter the race. No one has understood the pressure, the continuous suspicion of doping, the hardships of testing, and the business analytics better than she has. However, she can't wait for an "invitation to the table." She'll have to decide for herself, then step up on the blocks and take her spot like she has in the past. She'll have a lot of support.
German Swimming Has An Image Problem
The highly visible, tall, blonde, Kristin Otto, is the ZDF television Commentator for Swimming. She is the most recognized, high profile, public face of German swimming. German media reports in 2000, and others, talk of the DDR doping program in swimming, during her tenure at the top from 1985-1989.
Otto claims she never doped. However, evidence reveals her teammates did. Thus, raising the spectre that Otto's relay medals are tainted, as many think, along with her own performances. Denial is the psychological weapon of choice in Germany. Her presence at the World Championships and Olympic Games is difficult for many in the Olympic and FINA family to understand.
Sometimes, when Otto interviews Madsen on ZDF, the abrasion is obvious. Otto may be taller, but, Madsen is head and shoulders above her. Madsen is standing on the moral high ground. Otto tries to corner Madsen on the athletes' performances and medal counts. Madsen disagrees with her analysis and deflects the questions. Madsen's answers are calculated and limited. It's a clear clash of values. Its not about medal counts, but, how you do things, under Madsen that's most important.
Profiles in Courage
Its not enough for this generation of women swimmers to perform brilliantly, be saturated with good looks, do pictoral layouts for men's magazines, and win the popularity contest nearly every time. They've done their job. They are the best generation of athletes, Germany has ever produced. However, the leadership needs to step up and begin to take solid steps in the right direction and do its part as well.
John F. Kennedy, wrote the Pulitzer prize winning book, "Profiles in Courage." Rarely has anyone been faced with the situation and opportunity where their given conduct and course of action would qualify them to be remembered among those who rose to the occasion and did what was right, no matter how difficult the task ahead might be.
Dr. Christa Thiel, President, Deutscher Schwimm-Verband e.V. has the opportunity to do what no one has had the courage or strength to do. Its time for her to show as much fortitude and saavy as Britta Kamrau-Corestein, Britta Steffen & Company have done, and do what has never been done before. Set a world record in leadership.
Declare the results of the East German swimming at the 1976 Olympics invalid and award the medals to the rightful winners in each of the individual and relay events.
The world is still waiting. The situation from the 1976 Olympics is still casting a long shadow over German athletics. West Germany and the new, united Germany do not deserve to suffer for it. It's still a question of fair play. Declare that the old East German regime cheated, wipe the records off the books and set up a medal ceremony in Beijing the week before the start of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. The global applause will be thunderous. The good will would last forever. The overwhelming rightness of the cause to amend the injustice far outweighs any excuses of inaction or hypothetical problem scenarios.
The Medal Count That Really Matters
It would be a great moment in sport history, with International Olympic Committee President, Dr. Jacque Rogge, DOSB President, Dr. Thomas Bach, standing with the athletes in a special ceremony reuniting them in Beijing. Swimmers and representatives from the Netherlands, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, (West) Germany, would finally receive the credit and medals they rightfully deserve and have been denied.
What a special moment and way to begin the 2008 Beijing Games with an awards medal ceremony celebrating sports, life, justice, and perseverance, the ideals the IOC promotes and claims to abide by. It would be an indelable moment for each athlete and country, when each swimmer rightfully receives his and her medals, one by one. The former DDR swimmers should also be invited for a reunion should they choose to come. Some were unknowingly the victims of the systematic doping also. The light would break through and the darkness vanquished.
Only a bold move from the German swimming leadership, combined with courage to right wrongs, will remove the injustice, the present suspicion and the dark clouds of the past.
Madsen's Madchens are marvelous darling. (That's maaarrr-vel-los darh-ling! ) They want to shine and deserve too. The men and women swimmers should be given a clean slate and be appreciated and evaluated for who they are, and what they have done, and not constantly compared to the past. The girls have done their part. Madsen has done his. Now it's up to the German swimming and Olympic sport leadership to do theirs. The world is waiting.
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For more information on this topic and related issues, look under the following Internet addresses:
The Deutscher Schwimm-Verband e.V
Deutscher Olympischer SportBund
T-Mobile Cycling Team
Union Cycliste Innternationale (UCI)
Der Spiegel Magazine- Dickes Blut, Cover Story May, 2007 The inside story of Team Telekom, Cycling masseur, Jef D'Hont, and the Freiburg University Clinic
For more articles on this issue, look in Swimming World Magazine, by leading authors Brent Rutemiller, Phil Whitten, John Lohn and others.