A bright star for the GDR
THOUGH she competed in an era dominated by Nadia Comaneci and other big stars, Steffi Kräker of the German Democratic Republic still made a name for herself. Her strategy was to complement her impressive acrobatics with eye-catching
original elements. At the 1980 Olympics, her second and final games, she
won a silver on vault (layout Tsukahara, full-twisting tucked Tsukahara) and a
bronze for team and on uneven bars. At the worlds in 1978, ’79 and ’80,
she earned the same two bronzes at each: team and vault. Today, Kräker
works as a psychotherapist in her native Leipzig.
Who or what inspired you to start gymnastics? There was a program in Leipzig and they
were searching for little children who perhaps
could perform gymnastics. So it was more or less
a test. I took the test, and I think I was No. 23
What did you like about the sport? I think the
movement and the feeling. The performance with
the body and determining the body movements.
During your competitive time there were
many stars, yet you also stood out. Did you
take pride in that? I think it was great, and
Nadia was the main person during that time. I
knew that I was not the best, but really good.
Where did you get your athletic ability? From
your parents? Yes, I think from my mother. She
was a swimmer, and she wanted me also to be a
swimmer. But it was quite cold in the water, and
the gymnasium was much better for me.
Your balance beam routine was very original.
Who came up with the ideas? [My coach and I]
did it together. My coach (Helmut Gerschau) was a
person with many ideas, and we tested a lot.
Why did you sometimes wear socks when
you competed? [Laughs] It was more or less a
talisman for me. A symbol for getting luck.
“I think the (Berlin) wall
wasn’t normal for the
Germans on both sides, and
I often thought about the
breaking down of the wall.”
So you were lucky the first time you wore
socks, so you continued? Yes, I think so.
How did German gymnastics adapt or c hange
after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989? Oh,
it’s very difficult to explain because the whole system changed in Germany. And, therefore, gymnasts from Eastern Germany had some problems
to continue their level.
As an East German gymnast, do you wish the
wall had come down sooner? [Pauses, then
laughs] I felt quite good in the GDR. I think the
wall wasn’t normal for the Germans on both sides,
and I often thought about the breaking down of
EILEEN LANGSLEY/IG (BEAM); DARL DEVAULT (PORTRAIT)
As a gymnast, you got to travel outside East
Germany. Did you consider that a privilege?
Did everyone get to travel? Of course not.
There were some people who could travel, for
instance my father. For certain reasons he could
travel. But it was a privilege, of course.
Today, is there still a sense of East and West?
Yes, of course.
Does it have a negative effect on German
society? Yes, I think so. It would be better without prejudice.
Do you follow gymnastics today? Yes, but only
as a visitor. It’s very impressive what the young
girls and men are performing.
Would you have liked to vault on the new
apparatus they use now? Yes [laughs].
Do you have an opinion about the ne w open-
ended scoring? No, not really [laughs]. I think
it’s difficult for the judges, as well.
How did you feel when you were invited to be
inducted into the Hall of Fame? It was a great
surprise. I was a very good gymnast, but I wasn’t
at the top. … for the world championships and
Olympics I had never been the best.
But you were the best in East Germany. Yes,
but for a short time. —D.N.