Germans win and yet find themselves in crisis

Richard Ringer wins marathon gold and thus opens the European Championships in Munich ideally for the hosts. A month ago, however, the World Cup in the USA showed that the Germans are no longer competitive on a global level

A tailor-made start to the European Championships: Richard Ringer wins gold in the marathon.

Adam Pretty/Getty

It wasn’t a gift to walk around in German dress at the World Cup a month ago. The results were mostly disappointing, the media wrote about “World Cup tourists”, and although at least two medals were won on the last two days of competition, the conclusion was quickly drawn: Never before had a German team done so poorly at the World Championships in Athletics. The “Tagesspiegel” demanded compensation for the EM in Munich.

And then the unbelievable happens on the first day of the continental title fights. Richard Ringer is representative of this: in fourth place on the last kilometer of the marathon, he seems to have nothing to do with the fight for medals, but then somewhere deep in his soul he still finds a remnant of will, fights his way back and oversprints in 2:10:21 the completely stunned Israeli Maru Teferi. Gold!

The final sprint by Richard Ringer.


It was the crazy culmination of a successful morning for German athletics. The women won gold in the team competition, the men led by Ringer silver. Three medals in less than an hour. It seems that Operation Restitution has got off to a good start.

Can the EM solve the problem?

But the question is whether even the most glamorous European championships actually solve the problem or rather conceal it. Because Germany was once one of the world’s elite in athletics and has been on a downward trend for years. In 1999 there were still 12 World Cup medals, Germany was number 3 in the world. Then the tip thinned out more and more, meanwhile the throwers are no longer powerful.

At the Summer Games in Tokyo and at the World Championships in Eugene, it was the exceptional athlete Malaika Mihambo who improved the balance a little with gold in the long jump. Hoping for exceptional talent, focusing on continental title fights: That was always the case for little Switzerland, but it did not correspond to the German self-image.

In fact, in recent months, the question has been raised repeatedly as to how the little neighbor managed to fight almost on an equal footing with the Germans. At the World Championships in Eugene, there were seven top 8 classifications for both associations. And there was also a tie among the exceptional performers: The jack of all trades Simon Ehammer, who quickly won bronze in the long jump as a decathlete, was admired at least as much as the flying Mihambo.

Swiss Athletics traveled to Eugene with 25 athletes and proudly referred to a record delegation. The German Athletics Association (DLV) took 80 women and men with them, and in the end the head coach Annett Stein summed up that 40 to 45 of them could not have called up their capabilities. It was striking how many of them said after the competitions that their main destination was Munich.

The head coach has set high goals for the European Championship, but she still said in Eugene: “We have to adapt to the world standard. So not everything is good when things are going well at the EM.” And DLV President Jürgen Kessing was also critical at the end of the World Cup. “Gold beautifies the balance sheet,” he said, “but it doesn’t solve our fundamental problem.” A ruthless analysis should show where it is after the season.

One of the questions seems to be how to show prospects to talented young people. Because they exist, the strong boys in Germany; there were eight medals at the U-20 World Championships in Cali earlier this month. Successes among the juniors flow into the potential analysis system (PotAS), which in turn is the basis for state subsidies.

This leads to the slightly absurd situation that no other association receives as much tax money as the DLV. In 2021 it was 9.7 million euros, for 2022 the Federal Ministry of the Interior predicted even 10.7 million. And that in the year in which the association is doing worse than ever on a global level.

Sharp criticism of the best sprinter

Junior medals can be deceptive. The athletes often draw heavily on their pure talent. It is the task of the associations to show them perspectives and to guide them through the tough years that sometimes come with the change to the active players. And that you enable them to train professionally.

Gina Lückenkemper, the best German sprinter, complained at the World Cup that German semi-professionals had to hold their own against competition that was fully focused on the sport. She said nobody asks “where our athletes come from and what else they do and how they have to work their ass off to compete against these full professionals.” The German sprinters were called up for a relay camp in early summer, but shelled out the travel expenses and part of the food out of their own pockets.

Ulrike Nasse-Meyfarth responded to the sprinter’s allegations just in time for the European Championships. In 1972, when she was only 16, she won Olympic gold in the high jump in Munich and is an icon of German athletics. In an interview with the “Tagesspiegel” she described the statements of Lückenkemper as populist nonsense.

She does not see what prevents German athletes from training twice a day and also going to physiotherapy, said the 66-year-old. However, she advises investing the rest of the day in studying or vocational training instead of frolicking in social networks.

It’s pretty emotional right now in German athletics. Is it enough to calm things down by winning a two-digit number of medals, as the DLV President Kessing formulated as a wish? Germany held the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and the 2018 European Championships at the same location, atmospheric events in front of full ranks and with 9 (WM) and 18 (EM) medals for the organizer.

The momentum was not used, instead it went steadily down. That doesn’t leave the fans cold either. On the first evening of the European Championship in 2022, at least two-thirds of the seats in the Olympic Stadium remained empty.

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