While the unification of East and West Germany was a wonderful thing, it did seem to bring to a screeching halt the East German figure skating dynasty, especially as far as the women were concerned. For many years, East Germany produced a number of top-ranked woman figure skaters, and they emassed a very impressive number of World and Olympic titles and medals.
Going back to the mid-1960s, blonde and vivacious Gabriel Seyfert won three World silvers (66-68) and the 1968 Olympic silver medal behind Peggy Fleming of the United States. Gaby was a rather stocky young lady, with strong legs, and she could really jump high. After Peggy turned pro, Gaby remained in the amateur ranks for two more seasons and won the 1969 and 1970 World titles. It was a mystery to me why she retired after the 1970 season, as it seemed that Gaby would have been the odds-on favorite to win the 1972 Olympic gold medal, had she stayed in the game. Gaby became a member of the East German media and covered a number of future international figure skating competitions.
Christine Errath was another vivacious East German skater who starred in the mid-1970s, with the 1974 World title, bronze World medals in 73 and 75, the World silver medal in 76 and the Olympic bronze medal in 1976. Christine had an amusing way of standing at center ice following her program, with her hands on her hips, eyeing the judges as if to say, "OK, I've skated well, now let's have some good marks!"
Annet Poetzsch became the first East German woman to win the Olympic figure skating title with her victory in Lake Placid in 1980 over Linda Fratianne of the US. While Annet was hardly an inspiring skater - she was almost awkward on the ice, and her artistry, as it was, usually looked pretty stilted, she was a great school figures skater, and she usually emassed a large enough margin with the school figures to carry her onto the podium. At the Olympics, she won the school figures, was fourth in the short and third in the long, yet she scored enough overall points to win the gold medal. Annet won the World titles in 1978 and 1980 and the World silver medal in 1977 and 1979 behind Fratianne.
After the 1980 season, Annet returned to the GDR and faded from public view.
Of course, most of us remember Katarina Witt as the figure skating diva from Karl Marx-Stadt. Kat won the 1984 and 1988 Olympic titles, the 84, 85, 87, and 88 World titles, and the 82 and 86 World silver medals. She also won six European titles. While Witt may not have been the best skater of her era, she was without question the best competitor. She really had the "killer instinct" when she competed, and she seemed to thrive on pressure. I remember watching the 1987 Worlds from Cincinnati, in which Kat regained the World title she had lost to Debi Thomas the previous year. She skated a fantastic long program to "West Side Story" and landed five clean triple jumps. She later said that was her best competitive program ever, and it was the best of the field, without question. Of course, Kat's beautiful face and figure were favorably looked upon by the media and the judges. She was a saucy, flirtatious
"Carmen" and played that role to the hilt in Calgary, 1988.
I only remember one other East German woman figure skater who won an international medal was Simone Lang, who won the bronze at the 1989 Skate America competition - just a few weeks before the Berlin Wall fell.
Many of the above skaters competed to American music - "Funny Girl", "Gerswhin", "West Side Story", etc. I remember that Poetzsch skated an exhibition program to country western music. Clearly, they wanted to play to the western audiences, and they were successful in doing so.
All of the above skaters had the same coach - Frau Muller, who is Gaby Seyfert's mother. Muller was a stern disciplinarian, and she succeeded in producing a steady string of champions for two decades.
Undoubtedly, the East German sports machine suffered with the collapse of the GDR. All of the funding, "privileges", free training, etc., that was provided for the top GDR skaters disappeared when East Germany ceased to exist. I recall an interview Witt had on "The Larry King Show" in which she defended her receipt of those special privileges. She said, to paraphrase, "I think it was right for me to receive these things, because I trained very hard and brought honor to my country". In restrospect, I have to agree with Kat. What she did was remarkable
and she deserved those goodies. In contrast with today's millionarie skating stars, what she received was a mere pittance - two small apartments, some spending money, and one of those lemon Travant cars.
Anyway, I miss seeing those ladies from the GDR. I had hoped that we would be seeing more German ladies emerge as stars by now, but it hasn't happened yet. Of course, the Americans, Japanese, Russians, and others are very strong, but it would be nice to see Germany produce top skaters to get into the mix.