It's not easy being a German winter-sports star. There are so many of them. Take speed skater Anni Friesinger, a glamour girl who has posed ... um, er, provocatively for the popular press. She had to wait until the Games' second week before taking her first medal, a gold in the 1,500 m. In the first week she came in a disappointing fourth in the 3,000 m and fifth in the 1,000 m behind fellow Germans like bitter rival Claudia Pechstein and teammate Sabine Voel-ker, a triple medal winner.
When it comes to winning Winter Olympic medals, Norway is impressive because it's such a small nation, and the U.S. can't be missed because of its big-nation swagger and a medal total in Salt Lake that is nearly three times its previous high. But it is the Germans, always solid and steady, who were on top of the medal table with more than 30.
The Germans seem to be nearly everywhere. True, they are short on alpine skiers and figure skaters, and their hockey and curling teams folded early. But they are superpowers in biathlon and speed skating. And even in ski jumping, their K120 team managed to slip ahead of the Finns to snatch the gold by the slimmest of margins.
And when some non-German star unexpectedly soars, like America's women bobsledders Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers, German teams graciously smile at the winner and happily collect silver and bronze. "A medal is a medal," says Sandra Prokoff, who won the silver in the bobsled.
Some of the credit for Germany's showing goes to its efforts in modifying and cleaning up the very successful East German state training programs, which won the communist state buckets full of medals in
the 1960s, '70s and '80s. The Germans have also tapped private money and sponsorship to support
their athletes. Indeed, when Friesinger finally won her medal, her sponsor, the insurance company Deutscher Herold, laid on free beer in her hometown of Inzell in southern Germany.