In an old East German city, this sports club was a factory BARCELONA '92

July 26, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

NEUBRANDENBURG GERMANY — NEUBRANDENBURG, Germany -- If the old East German government ran a giant sports industry, Sportclub Neubrandenburg was one of its most productive factories.

One of 25 "elite" sports training clubs in the former German Democratic Republic, Sportclub Neubrandenburg turned out more world-class gold-medal winners than most nations. SCN athletes have won seven Olympic gold medals and 48 in world and European master-class contests.

And somewhat incongruously at a club renowned for runners and jumpers, most of the gold was won by canoe and kayak racers.

Ruediger Helm, who won three gold medals for canoe racing, trained at SCN.

But the city of Neubrandenburg, population 88,000, is in the north German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in a lovely bucolic landscape of woods and fields and water that is known as "the land of a thousand lakes."

"Elite" is a very relative term when applied to SCN. The club has a nice little stadium, an indoor training track and a practical weight room with a small but modern array of fitness machines. But SCN facilities are no more grand than those at any small college or perhaps thousands of high schools in the United States.

Sportclub Neubrandenburg may be most famous these days as the training base for Katrin Krabbe, the world champion sprinter who opted out of the Barcelona Olympics in the wake of a doping investigation that cleared her but left her reputation clouded.

Krabbe, who is 23 now, moved into a dormitory at SCN when she was 13. She still trains there.

Heiner Jank, the current manager of the club, says that's an asset. He spends most of his time now scratching for money. He's into sports marketing. Among his projects is turning the old dormitories into a new "Sport Hotel."

OC He thinks lots of people would love to come and run on the same

track with Krabbe or work out in a weight room with Olympic medal winners Sigrun Grau Wodars or Christine Wachtel.

The rich subsidies the GDR are supposed to have lavished on sports have vanished with the border between East and West Germany.

Sportclub Neubrandenburg survives these days on a combination of federal and state support, membership fees and about $800,000 from Nike International. SCN has about three times more members now than it did before the end of the GDR, mostly ordinary people who work out for fun, not championships.

Both government and Nike funding run only until the end of the year. So Jank lobbies both very hard. He spent almost a day at the Neubrandenburg City Hall this week arguing his case.

It's a hard sell. The Burgermeister is young, sympathetic and a sports lover, but he runs a city where the unemployment rate is over 12 percent. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is one of the poorest German states.

Jank makes something like the big-league baseball pitch: "In this city sports and the economy go hand-in-hand. Because of sport a lot of investment has come to Neubrandenburg. Otherwise nobody really knows about the city. Because of Sportclub Neubrandenburg, it's been recognized.

And the Nike contract?

"It depends very much on how far our champion athletes get in Barcelona," Jank said.

Survival is tough and not at all assured here on this new free-enterprise frontier.

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