Sports Column: For aspiring German track stars, meeting former Olympians is a treat

In the world of politics Germany belongs to the group of the eight most powerful governments in the world, alongside the United States, Canada, Russia, France, Japan, Italy and the United Kingdom. In sport, however, Germany is lacking this power.

When Germany ended its 2012 London Olympic campaign it found itself sixth in the final medal count, having won 44 medals total – two less than the amount of gold medals won by the U.S.

Besides the lack of funding for sports in Germany, the major reason for not winning as many medals as the U.S. team lies in the number of athletes qualifying for the Olympic Games. The United States had 530 athletes qualify, while Germany only had 392. In track and field, Germany sent just 77 athletes.

The German track and field community is small compared to the United States. Whenever you go to a meet you always see and run against the same people. The level of junior nationals in Germany is equivalent to a high school state meet in Ohio. Every once in a while, an athlete is able to compete for medals at the Olympic Games. This excludes the German runners who almost never win any medals.

Yes, this is bad for international competition, but as much as I want Germany to be more successful, I would never want to change anything about this situation. With such a small number of track and field athletes, even the most mediocre runner is able to meet Olympians.

With my former running coach retiring, the wife of the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the 5000 meters took over my training group. During one warm-up session over winter break, the gold medalist winner himself, Dieter Baumann, joined us and ran a few miles with us. The now 47-year old was able to keep with us easily, though he mentioned he was not in shape – later on he just took off as if he were trying to qualify for another Olympic games.

Just days after, while practicing at an indoor facility, two members of the 4x100-meter relay at the Olympic Games in London had to make room whenever I came through with my teammates. Of course this encounter was only possible because we don’t have enough training facilities in Germany (I mentioned the lack of funding), but it was still amazing to practice alongside two athletes who have just run in front of 82,000 people just the year before.

Getting in touch and being able to see those athletes you see on TV is an amazing opportunity for every athlete. Sentences like a “Keep it up” from a former gold medalist winner help a lot when hitting a low point in your own sport career – and believe me, for German athletes there are, in general, a lot of low points.

I am sure that Germany’s runners won’t win any Olympic medals in 2016; they haven’t since 2000. Still, I won’t be disappointed. I will be cheering on the athletes I have just seen days before as if they were Usain Bolt.

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