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  1. #1

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    Whatever happened to German skating?

    German skaters in the 1980s and 1990s were everywhere. Of course, a lot were from the East, which had a legendary state funded sports machine. But what happened? Today Germany has a talented pairs coach, Ingo Steuer, and a brilliant pairs team, the star of which is imported from Ukraine. It has some other pairs teams who are good. It has a notable dance team, but its star is likewise imported directly from Russia. Who do they have in ladies and men's? Sarah Heichen is not on anybody's list to become a world contender.

    I am not saying there is anything wrong with Germany bringing together teams with talented skaters from outside Germany, but I am questioning whether this means Germany has insufficient participation or interest in its boundaries to field talent for top competitors.

    2004 Worlds in Dortmond were the last German Worlds. They were the last held in Germany and the last where Germans won medals in two skating disciplines, men's and dance. Incidentally both Stefan Lindemann and Winkler and Lohse, who won 2004 bronzes, had upbringing in the pre-unification East. How much that mattered I do not know. If I recall correctly, Jutta Mueller, the famous East German coach of Jan Hoffman and Katarina Witt, was working with Stefan Lindemann prior to 2004 worlds.

    So what is going on in Germany? The Nations Cup used to be a marquee event. Now is is still held? Have German singles competitors never gotten over the loss of the figures. Did their big, strong German bodies somehow give them an advantage in that discipline?

    What is Germany doing differently from what it used to do to 1) fund and support skaters for training, and 2) promote popularity of the sport among Germans and especially German youths.

  2. #2
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    About Nations Cup – this GP event has been moved to China. I think in 2003 for the first time. One of the reasons was the rise of China in figure skating, but it sure also was connected with the decline of German Figure Skating. Worlds in Dortmund in 2004 were the last time when Germans won medals in more than one discipline and it was kind of swansong to German figure skating. It looks like there is a vicious circle –> less success –> less popularity –> less events –> lesser funding for the fed –> less money –> less success.

    I think the main reasons for the decline are actually funding and popularity, as you mentioned it in your post. Figure Skating is an extremely expensive sport, when there is no government funding, it’s hard to afford for an average family. On the other hand German has a big tradition in other winter sports as well, like e.g. ski jumping, skiing, Nordic combination, bobsledding. So I guess those who could afford figure skating, more likely put their kids into other “exclusive” sport. In addition popularity of a sport – apart from sports which are popular “by nature” (like skiing in Germany, Switzerland or Austria) – is quite often connected with success.

    Interestingly Austria for quite some time also had a quite decent record in figure skating and as long as there was success, others followed (for example Ingrid Wendl once mentioned in an interview that she has been inspired to pick up skating by Eva Pawlik). But that time you could start skating simply on a frozen river and it was not as demanding and costly as it is today (at least not in the very early teenage years). When I watch which parents have their kids skating today in Vienna, many of them have some international background (i.e. from countries where FS is popular today, e.g. Russia) and they have the financial background to fund it. Even in a country like Russia, where the sport till today is still very popular, you can see the struggles they had once the government funding didn’t work like it did in former Soviet Union time.

    Coming back to Germany: I sometimes wonder if the fact, that figure skating was big tradition in East Germany actually might have a negative taste for some people, in particular for West Germany, which might lead to some kind of reluctance to enrol your kid in this sport. – E.g. headlines like Ingo Steuer collaborating with Stasi in the past certainly were not helpful in this regards.

    But that’s just two cent from a very distant perspective. This is an interesting topic and I’d be very interested how people from Germany which have deeper into the scene knowledge on this issue would assess the situation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Katarzyna View Post
    Coming back to Germany: I sometimes wonder if the fact, that figure skating was big tradition in East Germany actually might have a negative taste for some people, in particular for West Germany, which might lead to some kind of reluctance to enrol your kid in this sport. – E.g. headlines like Ingo Steuer collaborating with Stasi in the past certainly were not helpful in this regards.
    In West Germany there were many strong skaters like Kilius-Bäumler, Schnelldorfer, Buck-Buck, Cerne, Schramm, Fischer, Lurz, Leistner, Ruben,Kielmann, Neske, Daniel Weiss of course.

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    Based on what one East German friend of mine tells me, I am not sure if skating was even that popular in East Germany. She tells me that Katarina Witt was famous for being a beautiful woman athlete, but she suggests not many people in the GDR actually watched her skating or the competitions. Could this have anything to do with why the sport lost so much momentum when the state funding dried up? Perhaps, Eastern spectators were not of the mind to encourage their children to enter the sport without state incentives?

    West Germany has had to adjust its budgets and its overall economy to absorb the East, so I'm wondering if that didn't have an ongoing affect on sports budgets starting in the early 90s.

    There seems to be enough interest in Germany today to support some very good pair teams, so I hope the excitement for the sport continues to grow. It would be great if strong Germans start showing up in singles. Sarah Hecken is not a bad start, but she had a low finish last year at Worlds.
    Last edited by TheIronLady; 01-23-2013 at 05:48 PM.

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    I lived in Germany in the 80s and 90s. Figure skating was not popular then, even during Witt's heyday. I doubt that many people had any idea who Tanja Szewczenko was. And btw, it's Sarah Hecken, not "Heichen."
    My job requires me to be a juggler, but that does not mean that I enjoy working with clowns.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nomad View Post
    I lived in Germany in the 80s and 90s. Figure skating was not popular then, even during Witt's heyday. I doubt that many people had any idea who Tanja Szewczenko was..."
    Any reason for that? Does Germany have good Eurosport commentators like our favorite British chaps?

    Germany isn't the only European country that lost its edge, so to speak. Great Britain, really the motherland of the figures and ice dancing, is off the radar at almost every international event in every discipline. Every country has its own issues, but it seems like people in the UK retain an enthusiasm for skating and skaters.

    So what is the state of interest today in Germany?

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    Hmm, interesting question. After the fall of communism, a lot of countries struggled to get back to their former level. Russian women's gymnastics took a while to get back to being a top contender in the team event instead of 'grab a bronze medal if we get lucky'. And that only happened after some of the coaches who immigrated came back once the state started funding higher salaries for them in Russia. I don't think Germany has issues with not having enough good coaches left in the country, but once the funding was gone, skating is a very expensive sport. And a lot of parents would rather have their kids sign up for something like tennis where they could make more money and break fewer bones.

    Their pairs and dance teams seem to be on the right track again and might even get 3 spots in both disciplines at Euros. Peter Liebers is a very good skater in his own right and could legitimately do well (top 10 at Worlds) in the next few years as long as he stays injury free. Lindemann wasn't really that much better, but he put it together when it counted. Ladiezz is a whole different story. It seems to be cyclical in some countries. Look at Canada and the state of their ladies in the mid 90's. Weinzerl is actually going to Euros for Germany now (not Hecken) and should do reasonably well. I honestly don't follow their juniors enough, but maybe there are some up-and-comers who could do well in the future?

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    Germans or people who have lived in Germany, why do you think skating isn't popular in your homeland?
    Last edited by TheIronLady; 01-24-2013 at 04:32 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ioana View Post
    Peter Liebers is a very good skater in his own right and could legitimately do well (top 10 at Worlds) in the next few years as long as he stays injury free.
    I think Peter Liebers is actually not that good relative to the top 12 in the world. I don't see him moving up. He would place low at USA Nationals.

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    Pairs is obviously still strong. But the singles has collapsed. West Germany and east Germany both had contenders so you might have thought it would have remained stronger. But the pairs has been the one thing to continue to survive and that success was almost all east Germany! but if you go back pre ww2 the best pairs was German! So pairs has always been more where it's at.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheIronLady View Post
    I think Peter Liebers is actually not that good relative to the top 12 in the world. I don't see him moving up. He would place low at USA Nationals.
    I don't think it will happen this season, or even next year but based on how improved he was in the December galas, I think it's a good goal to have. He managed to fall on his quad and double his combo in the SP at Euros, so I'm not sure he's mentally back to where he should be just yet. We shall see in the long.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheIronLady View Post
    Germans or people who have lived in Germany, why do you think skating isn't popular in your homeland?
    There are only few ice rinks,few opportunities to do figure skating. ARD and ZDF do not show figure skating. When we talk about competitive sports so many parents (me too) from middle class are thinking that their kids should do only a little bit of sports 2 or 3 hours 3 times a week.That's not enough to become a world champion. It is important that a child is doing well in school and get das Abitur. There is no home schooling in Germany.

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    Quote Originally Posted by caseyedwards View Post
    Pairs is obviously still strong. But the singles has collapsed. West Germany and east Germany both had contenders so you might have thought it would have remained stronger. But the pairs has been the one thing to continue to survive and that success was almost all east Germany! but if you go back pre ww2 the best pairs was German! So pairs has always been more where it's at.
    Andreas Nischwitz-Christina Riegel in pairs from West Germany were very good at the beginning of the 80's.

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    There´s nearly no coverage of figure skating on TV anymore. It´s only shown on EuroSport. But there are only two Galas shown on German TV each year on local channels. That´s not enough. You can ask nearly every German about Aljona and Robin and nobody will know them because they are not shown on TV. Whenever I tell I´m a skating fan people often tell me that they used to watch it in former days, too. And then they wonder that they haven´t seen any skating since several years. I think more people would watch it if it would be shown on German channels, not only on EuroSport.
    As for the problems in skating in general I really think that school is a problem. In Germany home-schooling is forbidden, you have to go to school until you´re 16. There are sport school where the skaters for example get more time and are allowed to take two years for the stuff instead of one year. Hendryk Schamberger once said when he was commentating: Sarah Hecken goes to practice when she has enough time from school. Tuktamisheva goes to school when she has enough time from practice. And there´s nearly no financial support for the families and not many can afford it. So if you´re not really talented... I know it´s the same in other countries, too. Maybe there´s just no talented skater in germany right now. If she hits the puberty well I would give Annabelle Prölß a great future. If not she´s another talented girl which could had been great.

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