Over at Facebook, aisb23
reminded me of something odd
that Jerry and I caught briefly on the Canadian broadcast of the men's singles luge
at the ongoing Vancouver Olympics.
Silver medalist David Moeller from Germany, when he came to a stop, and they showed the crowd, there was an old East German flag being waved. For Loch, also German, and the gold medal winner the flags were all the regular German/West German flag. This was on CTV, the Canadian network covering the Olympics. No link yet.
I have no idea what it means, but there it was.
What did it mean? While I do own pieces of the Berlin Wall
, I was only 10 when Germany reunified and so barely noticed the fact that the two Germanies dominated luge.
Armin Zöggeler of Italy may be attempting to win his third consecutive luge gold medal and his fifth consecutive Winter Olympics medal; Canada may have made its mark in skeleton since the sport was welcomed back into the Olympic family in 2002; and the U.S. Bo-Dyn Bobsled Project, backed by NASCAR's Geoff Bodinev, is threatening German hegemony. But the numbers don't lie.
Germany has won 118 Winter Olympics gold medals, and 50 of them have come in luge and bobsleigh. They have won 11 medals in the sliding sports in each of the past two Olympics, including four gold in Turin and four in Salt Lake City. In luge, their women had a 99-race World Cup win streak ended in the final race of last season; this year, the German women were prevented from sweeping the podium in every World Cup race by three third-place finishes by competitors from other countries. Toss in the fact that Zoeggeler is a sweet, gentlemanly guy and that the men's overall World Cup champion and medal threat Steven Holcomb of the U.S. is almost equally popular among bobsledders, and it all comes back to the Germans.
"German sliders are developed the way hockey players are developed in Canada - which isn't surprising because for us, these sports are our version of hockey," says Wolfgang Staudingerv, the native of the Berchtesgaden region of Bavaria who is the Canadian luge coach and was a bronze medalist in doubles at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. "It's a mill system. You look at my sport and we've had a club system in place for 50-60 years. Where I'm from? Every child has gone down a track and every club or track or town wants its sliders to do well. It's a pride thing. The top three keep moving on and moving on and so forth and before you know it, only the best are left."
The well-chronicled internecine rivalries in bobsleigh and skeleton are exacerbated during the year leading up to the Olympics because of the battle for limited spots and resources. But Robert Storey, the Ottawa-based president of skeleton and bobsleigh's governing body (FIBT), says these rivalries dissipate during the Games. As Pierre Lueders, the veteran Canadian driver, said at Lake Placid when he grew frustrated at questions about his reputation as a difficult teammate: "Look, I'd rather have another Canadian on the podium ... than a German."
It's worth noting, by the way, that this is a theme of German-speaking Europe generally: Switzerland and Austria are also powers, while the prominent Italian lugers like Armin Zöggeler
all seem to be South Tyroleans. For that matter, isn't "Lueders" a very German name?
Regardless, luge was a major theme in East/West sports rivalries: "The "Germany versus the world" tone to the sport is a carryover from the days of rivalries between Communist and non-Communist countries, especially East Germany, West Germany and Switzerland. Staudinger, who raced for West Germany, remembers the East Germans forcing him and his teammates to stay in Dresden for races at the Stasi sports headquarters in Altenberg - a 160-mile round trip. Staudinger and his teammates would make the trip back and forth Dresden for practice, curtains pulled down over the windows and Stasi "handlers" riding with them. When Germany was reunified, the East German program quietly swallowed the West German in temperament, technology and success." Germany, including both of its component states, dominated luge
, but pre-war Germany's luge training facilities
ended up in East Germany, in the Thuringian community of Oberhof
. East Germany's famed devotion to sports
seems to have paid off, and to have continued to pay off, since gold medalist Felix Loch
and silver medalist David Möller
both seem to be East German by birth. Loch is even the son of Norbert Loch
, the East German luge coach and himself a luge competitor in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. It looks like, at least in luge, it's the East that swallowed up the West.
The East German flag
was waving, yes, but so was the Bavarian flag
and the flags of any number of other regions, German and likely otherwise, in the crowd huddled around the end of that luge track, and all those flags combined were easily outnumbered by the number of simple German flags being waved around. Still, it's interesting how a regionalism--perhaps this particular regionalism--insinuates itself everywhere, even into areas and times where one might have thought it wouldn't have had a chance. Whatever else the East German flag may represent, it still represents something decidedly positive for at least a few people.