‘Hey people, it’s bordering on the ridiculous how all the ‘Coach-Potatoes’ (sic) are tearing us to bits over the lack of medals! Get off your backsides!” tweeted the German sprinter and hurdler Carolin Nytra last week, helping to vent the frustrations of the almost 400-strong national Olympic team of which she is a part, over the negative publicity many German athletes have received back home for their apparent lack of performance.But Nytra will not be able to do much to alleviate the fact that, apart from a few shining exceptions, this is not a Games at which Germany will be remembered for its stunning triumphs. In fact, much of the criticism for the number of defeats – the latest was the horse jumpers’ surprise defeat in the first round of competition on Sunday – has come from athletes themselves.
“Shameful”, “inept”, “a complete lack of gumption” were some of the phrases used by the swimmer Roland Matthes, the four-times Olympic gold medallist, to sum up of Germany’s swimming team who were packing up to go home having won no medals for the first time in eight decades.
He went on to make the rather questionable suggestion, particularly from a German perspective, that the sport “needs a dictator” to drag it out of its “developing country” status.
“Are we too tired for the Olympics?” asked Die Zeit in a biting commentary this week (despite the fact that by Monday night the nation was ninth in the medals table with 22 medals. “Did the Germans simply train wrongly?” it asked, offering an array of possible reasons for the relatively poor performances, including a too-intensive school curriculum that offers little time for proper sport, or the lack of award money paid to athletes by the German government (in Germany a gold medal winner receives €15,000 compared to €40,000 in Brazil, 20% of which goes to the coach), and a problem with under-appreciated trainers. “Our performances are getting ever worse,” the fencer Imke Duplitzer told Bild, “because the system is in a shambles. We have a huge trainer problem. The trainers are deserting us because they can earn far, more in other countries under far better conditions.”
Thomas Bach, head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), has waded into the debate, arguing that German athletes are given too little support to help them make a living after their sporting careers are over, putting many off. “If someone starts off in a competitive sport thinking ‘If I get an Olympic medal I’ll be sorted for life’, I’d suggest to him he’d be better off playing the lottery,” he said. (Forget the fact that in some countries sporting prowess might seem to be the perfect ticket to earn a young person a job, and money rarely the main motivator to sporting prowess. In Germany it’s official qualifications that count.)
It’s not only the medal tally that has unsettled the Germans. There was a rather embarrassing incident last week when a member of the women’s rowing team was sent home after allegations that she was a member of the far-right scene in her native Rostock, northern Germany. Nadja Drygalla’s profile was rapidly removed from the DOSB website. Furthermore,the DOSB itself faces the uncomfortable claim that it had been aware of Drygalla’s alleged connections for some time.
But as representatives of the city of Munich are keen to show, there’s much to be said for picking up, brushing off and starting all over again. The Bavarian capital knows it still has a very steep hill to climb if it stands any chance of hosting a future Olympics, due to the massacre by Palestinian activists of members of the Israeli Olympic Team 40 years ago, 11 days into the Munich Games. That event, whose anniversary looms on 5 September, still overshadows the German and Israeli sporting worlds, though the IOC has for years refused requests from either country to mark it with a minute’s silence at any time during the contest.
Recent reconstructions of the disaster have come to the painful conclusion that hapless German authorities – under orders to present as peaceful a Games as possible and show a “new face” of Germany – were grossly ill-equipped to deal with the situation and that much more could have been done to save the athletes’ lives.
But still Munich is at great pains to move on, renting a space in London’s Docklands during the Games to present its values in a painfully delicate PR balancing act to recall the massacre and lobby for the 2022 Games.
Germany supporters who have not found comfort in the rowing, volleyball or other triumphs, might have found it in the various examples of Germany’s technical prowess on display at the Games, such as the overhead camera that gave us the bird’s eye views of the rowers, or the underwater camera work from the pool, which is operated by a German photographer.
Or failing that, a bit of national pride was surely provided by Sunday night’s 100m sprint. “Well, after all there was a bit of Germany in that race,” said a wistful German TV commentator after Usain Bolt had blazed his way to victory. Bolt later paid tribute himself to his Bavarian doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, or “Mull” for short, who treated him for back problems this year. “A piece of this medal goes to Germany,” Bolt said after his 9.63sec win. “He’s the best doctor in the world … a great, great man.”
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.