German Championships

Solid Swims By Volker And Rupprath


Karin Helmstaedt

Although this year's German Championships, held in the southeastern city of Leipzig, May 27-30, had a lot riding on them, a few people were slightly off the mark. The meet was the trials for this summer's European championships in Istanbul in late July, with the top two swimmers under a time standard in each event making the team. But as is increasingly the case with obligatory, routine-dampened national championships, it lacked the spark inherent in the German word Spitze, designating the country's elite.

Although she maintained that she was not at her fittest-a world record for big cash in Monte Carlo next month being the focus of her preparations-self-proclaimed "profi" sprinter Sandra Voelker of Hamburg was definitely the standout in the cramped and stuffy Leipzig University pool. The short-course world champion won four out of four events, with two of them (100 free, 50 back) in times that put her on top of this year's world rankings. Voelker's 100 freestyle (55.55) win over longtime rival Franziska van Almsick was just the beginning; she added golds in the 50 back (29.07), 100 back (1:01.63), and the 50 free (25.68). She had every reason to be satisfied, and stands to rake in a lot of prize money this summer if she keeps it up.

With false starts in both her freestyle events, Magdeburg's Antje Buschschulte was slightly off form but made the team to Istanbul with second-place finishes in the 50 and 100 back. Defending European champion in the 100, Buschschulte will also be a factor on the German relays. Cathleen Rund of Berlin posted the fastest time yet this year with her win in the 200 backstroke (2:13.73).

Despite her decidedly unremarkable performances since 1996, Berlin's one-time star van Almsick still holds a nearly incomprehensible sway over the German media. As is becoming customary, she announced shortly before the meet that she had been sick upon returning from an altitude training camp in Mexico, seemingly to temper expectations in Leipzig. She settled for third in the 100 freestyle (56.60) behind Voelker and Buschschulte, but a false start by Buschschulte gave her a lucky break and secured her a ticket to Istanbul. Just how lucky it was became clear on the final day of the championships, when van Almsick's apparent subscription to ninth place had her at the centre of criticisms yet again. The 21-year-old wound up ninth in the preliminaries of the 200 freestyle, her main event. While the first 150 metres were on track, van Almsick faltered on the home stretch, turning in a final 50 split of 32.50. Suppositions on the deck were that she panicked and lost confidence, and van Almsick herself was at a loss to explain what had happened, saying only that she had a "blackout," and that it was not the first time. Some of the coaches, including national women's trainer Achim Jedamsky, put it down to a psychological problem that was entirely up to van Almsick herself to change. The next day the German tabloids devoted much ink to the riddle, deciding that van Almsick needed to lose a few kilograms to regain her fighting form. Complete with unflattering photographs and snarky captions, the papers were testament to the fact that the multi-millionnaire Franzi, having been made into a media icon, is suffering the unfortunate fate of those who are all too visible. In that context, her negative attitude toward the press is understandable, and the existence of "psychological problems" is hardly surprising. After her destabilizing performances, her manager announced that van Almsick needed more competitions, and would therefore change tack and submit late entries to the Mare Nostrum meets in Canet and Monaco in mid-June.

Jens Kruppa won 100 and 200 breaststroke
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

In men's competition, veteran Mark Warnecke set a German record in the heats of the 50 breast (27.73). He won the event in the evening with a marginally slower time (27.92). Warnecke was also second in the 100 breast behind Jens Kruppa. His teammate Christian Keller won his specialty, the 200 IM, in 2:02.82, added a win in the 100 fly (53.90), and a silver in the 200 fly. Thomas Rupprath swam the second fastest German 200 fly time with his 1:57.53.

And it was middling luck for Germany's backstroke duo, perhaps the country's best hopes on the men's side for medals in Sydney. After a disappointing 200 back (where he finished 10th), Stev Theloke of Chemnitz came back from a bout of bronchitis to secure his spot for Istanbul. This year's World Cup winner was able to salvage the 100 back (56.06 for silver) and post the fastest time of the year in winning the 50 back (26.04). Berlin's Ralf Braun, however, found himself out of the running completely, with a second-place time in the 200 back (2:01.65) well over the qualifying standard of 2:00. A silver medallist in Perth in 1998, Braun also finished out of the medals in the 100, but was subsequently named to the team. He put his lack of form down to the fact that his demanding studies in Business & Communications, which he took up this year, are causing his training and recovery to suffer.

In the end, the German federation selected a team of 40 people to swim in Istanbul, poor performances in the men's events notwithstanding. That time standards became redundant when the chips were down says something about the country's depth, but a number are also being taken for the experience before 2000, according to officials. The women will no doubt once again be key in defending Germany's position as number one swimming nation in Europe.