Germany's East side still tough


ALBERTVILLE, France -- They may have been wearing red, black and yellow skin suits and saluting a different flag, but Gunda and Heike and their teammates knew what the last nine days were about. It was the last hurrah for the East German women's speed skating dynasty at Olympus.

When the five races ended yesterday with a German sweep of the 5,000 meters, former DDR skaters had won three golds and nine of a possible 15 medals. They may have shown up in the reunified German tally on the official count, but the medals were hanging around East German necks.

Gunda Niemann, who won the 3,000 and 5,000 and placed second in the 1,500, wore the DDR's baby-blue suit in Calgary. So did Christa Rothenburger Luding, who won a bronze in the 500 to run her career total to four medals. Jacqueline Boerner (1,500 gold), Heike Warnicke (silvers in 3,000 and 5,000), Monique Garbrecht (1,000 bronze) and Claudia Pechstein (5,000 bronze) all had East Side addresses, too.

They may have been subsidized by West German corporate sponsors for the past two years, but the Niemanns and Ludings were discovered and nurtured by East German socialism. These Games were, in all likelihood, their last.

Niemann is 25, and her husband is unemployed. Now that she's won three medals here, going to Lillehammer in 1994 seems less important. Luding is 32 with a child. These were her fourth Olympics. Boerner is 26, Warnicke 25.

The only teenybopper on the team was Pechstein, 19. "She'll be an example for the next generation," said Niemann. Except that the next generation won't be anything like the last generation. "For the young ones, it will be more difficult," conceded Niemann.

For the Americans, old and young, who got their doors blown off yet again, it will be difficult until at least 1998. Except for Bonnie Blair, who won both sprints, the U.S. women didn't do a thing here. Other than the Golden Girl, nobody placed in the top 10.

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