By Phillip Whitten
HAMBURG, Jan. 24. SWEDISH swim star, Therese Alshammar, 23, and her German coach, Dirk Lange, have called it quits after a contract dispute became rancorous.
Alshammar, a former University of Nebraska star who was voted Sweden’s "sexiest woman" in 1999, trained under Lange at the Hamburg Olympia Stutzpunkt (Olympic Training Center) last year when she achieved her greatest success: two incredible world records at the Short Course World Championships last March, and two individual silver medals at the Olympics–in the 50 and 100 meter freestyle, behind Holland’s Inge De Bruijn.
Tension had been building between the two for almost a year, ever since Sandra Volker—Lange’s star swimmer before Alshammar and the woman with whom he was romantically involved—told Lange she did not want to train with the Swede. "The result," said Alshammar, "was that I was training by myself, but at the same time as Sandra and the rest of the team."
Later, Volker told Lange she did not want to train at the same time as Alshammar. "So I wound up training by myself, at a different time from everyone else, and under an assistant coach." Alshammar said that Lange’s unwillingness to stand up to Volker contributed to her "disappointing" showing at the Olympic Games.
Ironically, Volker, too, performed well below expectations in Sydney. Secretly married (not to Lange) two weeks before Opening Ceremonies, Volker finished sixth in the 50 meter freestyle and fifteenth in both the 100m freestyle and 100m backstroke. In the crowning irony, Germany’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay—anchored by Volker—placed fourth, a mere one-hundredth of a second behind the bronze medal-winning team from Sweden.
When Alshammar returned to Hamburg late last year to resume her training for the 2001 World Championships, Lange presented the Swede with a contract which stipulated that she was to give him 20 percent of her winnings plus a percentage of her appearance fees and commercial endorsements. It also stipulated she had to agree not to use performance-enhancing drugs.
In November, Alshammar countered with a contract, written by her lawyer Gotz von Glasenapp, that gave her coach a smaller percentage of her winnings and stipulated that, while an assistant coach could supervise some workouts, he had to give her the same amount of coaching time as he gave the other members of the team. She agreed to the no-doping provision but added a reciprocal clause that Lange, too, had to agree not to use or provide performance-enhancing drugs. Incensed, Lange refused to sign the contract.
The clause was no mere casuistry: A decade earlier, when Lange was still competing, he refused to take a doping test and was suspended by FINA, swimming’s international governing body, for six months. Today such a refusal would bring an automatic four-year suspension.
As rumors of the dispute leaked out, Lange told the German press that Alshammar was jealous of the attention that Sandra Volker had received in training and wanted equal attention. "That’s not true," Alshammar told swiminfo. "Sandra is German and I knew I’d never get the attention from Dirk that she received. All I wanted was a bit more encouragement and support."
Before the European Short Course Championships in December, Lange predicted Alshammar would swim poorly. Though she did not break her world records, the Swede successfully defended her continental titles in both the 50 and 100m freestyle.
The matter came to a head at a swim and ski training camp in Norway, when Alshammar decided to leave the training center in Hamburg. Lange called the Swede and threatened her, allegedly saying "if you say anything negative you’ll regret it; it will be a declaration of war." Lange then went to the German press and issued a press release announcing he would no longer coach Alshammar because she refused to sign a contract with a no-drugs clause. Von Glasenapp, Alshammar’s lawyer, calls the charge "libel and defamation of character."
Nonetheless, Lange repeated his charge to the Swedish press last week, just before the World Cup meet in Berlin, where Alshammar won three events.
Since December, Alshammar has moved to London, where she is training with British sprinter, Mark Foster, who also prepared for the Sydney Games under Lange in Hamburg. "I don’t harbor any resentment toward Dirk," said Alshammar. "In many ways he’s a wonderful coach, but there are lacks in his coaching and I think I can get more from other coaches. I just think it’s time to move on."
In an interview with swiminfo, Alshammar said she is thinking of either continuing her training in Britain or in the America, under Mike Bottom, who coached Olympic sprint champions Gary Hall Jr. and Anthony Ervin, or Paul Bergen, who coached her chief rival, Inge De Bruijn.
On Monday, Alshammar was honored as Sweden’s female "Athlete of the Year" in a nationally-televised awards ceremony.