Wed, Dec 24, 2008 - Page 19 News List

FEATURE : Germany missing likes of Schumacher and Becker

DEUTSCH DESPAIR A traditional powerhouse of sport, Germany’s runners, swimmers, soccer players and tennis players have been underachieving of late

DPA , HAMBURG, GERMANY

Germany may be hosting the world athletics championships next year but apart from the Berlin event the situation in the nation’s sports is as bleak as the economic forecasts.

The former sports power lacks stars in major sports ranging from soccer to athletics and swimming. In addition, there is an almost frightening disappearance of events from tennis to Formula One.

Berlin and Leipzig have suffered embarrassment in attempts to host Olympic Games in recent years.

Major events such as Wimbledon are no longer broadcast on free-to-air television channels and there is no footage at all of the elite Golden League athletics series.

Michael Ballack was the only German on the shortlist for the 2009 World Footballer award and the tennis glory days of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf are long gone.

Germany placed fifth in the medal table at the Beijing Olympics, but a report from a Leipzig-based training institute (IAT) said that was no reason to cheer.

“High-performance sport in Germany is in danger of losing contact to developments in world sports. Performances are on the decline in many sports,” the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) quoted an IAT report as saying earlier this month.

Had not Britta Steffen managed to win 50 and 100m freestyle gold medals in Beijing, Germany would have ended with no gold medal at all in the showcase sports of athletics and swimming.

The winter situation is similar, with Germany only a minor player in the popular sports of alpine skiing and figure-skating. Instead, German athletes win their medals in luge, biathlon or bobsleigh which are not popular in many countries.

According to the SZ, Germany is the only country from the world’s big six — the others being the US, China, Great Britain, Russia and Australia — which doesn’t focus on sports with the most medals on offer or those with a long tradition in the country.

The IAT criticism ranges from badly educated coaches to a lack of scientific support.

Only last week German soccer coach Joachim Loew and other officials went to France to look at the country’s famous academy in Clairefontaine. Germany has no such institute and lags behind in club and country competitions.

“We are world class as far as stadium atmosphere is concerned. But we must do more on the pitch,” former German coach Juergen Klinsmann said.

Germany came second at Euro 2008 but had its tactical deficits exposed by Spain. Their last title came at Euro 1996 and the World Cup has not been won since 1990.

Just one year later Krabbe claimed the last major sprint titles as athletes from former East Germany still ruled the scene shortly after the 1990 reunification.

Germany may be without a Formula One Grand Prix in 2010, even though it is a country which has two major team players in Mercedes and BMW and the most successful driver ever in seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.

Doping-infested cycling is on its way out and so is tennis, with the Hamburg Masters downgraded and the women’s Berlin tournament possibly moving elsewhere.

The main hopes for a better future lie in improved training schemes, a rise of new talent and hosting big events. Munich is setting up a promising bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics and officials have high hopes in the athletics worlds in Berlin as well.

“We can all make 2009 a historic year in German athletics,” pledged German athletics supremo Clemens Prokop.

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