The complicated realities of life in a free market world, with its myriad decisions and possibilities, are hitting some Eastern European athletes hard.
When the Berlin Wall came down and much of what it symbolized was purged, athletes who had been incubated in a closed and, in many ways, safe environment suddenly were exposed to the brutality of capitalism.
With new freedom in the former Eastern Bloc, hundreds of the world's best athletes were suddenly on the block. And the world's sports agents came courting. Marketing was unreined; confusion reigned.
It seemed inevitable that some athletes, unsophisticated in the ways of big-time agentry, were caught in the middle.
Take the case of Christine Wachtel. Wachtel, the Olympic silver medalist at 800 meters, has been a member of the Neubrandenberg track club since she began in the sport. After the fall of the Wall, Nike signed the club to a contract that, naturally, required the members to wear Nike shoes and apparel. The club received the bulk of the payments, and the athletes received a smaller percentage.
Wachtel spoke with other athletes and discovered that her deal was not so great. She got rid of her agent and retained another. When Wachtel signed with another shoe company, her Neubrandenberg club kicked her out, cutting her off from her longtime coach.
The case was sent to arbitration and the upshot was that last week Wachtel was suspended from competing for a month. When her suspension is finished, she is free to join another club.
Curiously, the suspension is for invitational meets only--the meets in which athletes earn the money that will take them through the year. German authorities will allow Wachtel, who also was the silver medalist in the 1987 world championships, to compete in the world indoor championships next week. There, Wachtel will compete not for money, but for Germany.
An early, but helpful lesson in the new world order.
Who said the new Germany was going to lose its athletic punch, what with adjusting to a capitalist system and all? That may be happening in swimming, as the world meet indicated last month in Australia, but, so far, it hasn't happened in track and field.
Track and Field News' top 10 rankings for 1990 have been released and five of the 10 women are German: Ranked No. 2 discus thrower Ilke Wyludda, whose 20-meet winning streak last season was the longest in any event; No. 4 sprinter/jumper Heike Drechsler, 1990's best long jumper; No. 6 sprinter Katrin Krabbe, who lost only to top-ranked Merlene Ottey last season; No. 8 high jumper Heike Henkel, the European champion; and No. 9 javelin thrower Petra Felke, who had the longest throw in the world last season. PattiSue Plumer was the highest-ranked American woman at No. 7 and Jackie Joyner-Kersee was No. 10. The Caribbean has two in the top 10--No. 1 Ottey, a Jamaican; and No. 5 quarter-miler Ana Quirot of Cuba.
Ottey credits her season to a change of scene--she left Los Angeles, and the poor air quality that made her asthma unbearable, for a new coach and a new training program in Rome.
Ottey told Track and Field News' Jon Hendershott that Coach Plieno Castrucci radically changed her training philosophy. Ottey, who competed collegiately at Nebraska, said she found she had trained at distances far too long for a sprinter.
Castrucci had a different approach.
"His entire philosophy of training is based on speed, even in the weight room," Ottey said. "It was a shock when we put on spikes that very first session and sprinted."
Ottey proved her new coach correct last August in Zurich. There, Ottey ran what was considered the best one-day sprint double: 10.93 seconds in the 100 and 21.66 in the 200 into a wind.
Ottey, 30, says of last season: "My muscles woke up."
Track and Field News' top five for American women are: Plumer, who excelled at 3,000 and 5,000 last season; No. 2 Joyner-Kersee, who led the world in the heptathlon; No. 3 Lynn Jennings, who set an indoor world record at 5,000 meters; No. 4 Yolanda Henry, the national high jump champion, and No. 5 Carlette Guidry, who won the 100 at the Goodwill Games.
The American men were dominant in the men's rankings, taking five spots.
Sprinter Michael Johnson led the list. Randy Barnes was No. 2, Kenny Harrison was No. 5, Danny Harris No. 6 and Leroy Burrell No. 7.
Barnes' shotput world record was named the performance of the year, his drug suspension not withstanding.
Zola Budd-Pieterse may be on her way to approaching her form of years ago. Last week Budd ran a 4:12.89 mile at a meet in Johannesburg. The week before, she broke her own South African record at 3,000 meters with a 8:42.26.
Budd, 24, downplayed her times, saying she is still nowhere near her performances of the past.
"Give me a year and then I'll be running some really good times," she said. "Right now I'm running for sheer enjoyment."