What happened to the Germans? We used to be the top European sports nation, known, admired, feared around the world for knife-sharp gymnasts, precision horseback riders, torpedo-fast free-style swimmers, and various other bam-bam, gold-winning performers in a range of disciplines.
In fact, it was as if the word “discipline” had been created with us Germans in mind. Life-loving, pleasure-seeking, fast-footed players from Mediterranean countries might beat us at soccer, but at the Olympics we Germans could show the world – what’s more in a manner absolutely devoid of humor - what wood our champs were carved from: solid German oak. Okay, so there was some Russian birch and American redwood too, but our Germanic technique, tactics and sheer staying power put us right up there.
So what happened? At the 2012 London Olympics, we rank sixth in the medal table. At first blush that doesn’t seem so bad, but take a closer look: we’re behind the South Koreans, and even the British! And check out the disciplines we’re on top in: this is when it gets really bad – paddling, which is canoeing, kayaking and stuff. Let’s be honest about this: we’re no longer making the world tremble.
But is this a disaster? A lightning bolt striking down on the German nation? Do we need a no-nonsense Teutonic-style four-year plan so that in 2016 in Rio we can get in there and cream them? Maybe -- instead of letting our kids party and plump up in front of their screens – we need some no-nonsense leadership and new ideals to torture them through the best years of their lives. Or how about an efficient, nationwide recruiting system in primary or even pre-schools: God forbid we miss a major talent in rhythmic gymnastics, on the trampoline or BMX bike.
Anybody who thinks we need any of the above still hasn’t overcome that primeval German performance fetish. This is pure ego talking, because it hasn’t had anything to do with reality for quite a while now. And that’s good – it gives the rest of the world a break. But it’s also good for us. We should be ecstatic that from a young age kids with a potential for sports aren’t being pre-selected, stuffed with growth hormones and turned into soldier-athletes so that they can satisfy some sort of national victory fantasy on the horizontal bar or at an obstacle event.
Our European neighbors probably think it's kind of nice that for once we’re not first and fastest in fencing or at shooting moving targets – and speaking of shooting, we’re happy to leave that area of expertise up to others entirely. Isn’t it reassuring that with the exception of a couple of naturalized judoka we’re happy to leave the winning in most of the martial arts up to others?
It’s nice to see that the international cliché of Germany being a nation synonymous with grim determination and perfectionism at the Olympics is no longer, and that our image is now linked to our country’s artists, star conductors and musicians – in any case to individuals, and not impeccably functioning collectives.
So let’s for once just be proud to be losers. As national representatives and role models for young people, sportspersons are in any case far more appealing when they take time out for life -- to have kids or even to enjoy a beer now and then after training. Our athletes are looking good: no grotesque muscle-packs, no ascetics, no one doped to the gills. Most importantly: they know that participating is more important than winning.