In just nine months as a staff writer, Rick Reilly has become one of this magazine's most distinctive voices. Fresh insights and deft turns of phrase have enlivened his profiles of such subjects as baseball stars Dale Murphy (June 3, 1985) and Pete Rose (Aug. 19, 1985); Mike Ruth, the Boston College nose-guard torn between the pros and the priesthood (Aug. 26, 1985); and college football's winningest coach, Eddie Robinson (Oct. 14, 1985). Reilly's latest story, on East German figure skater Katarina Witt, begins on page 38.
"Rick's ability to make everything a fun story to read was evident right away," says Dan Creedon, the sports editor at the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera, where Reilly worked from 1979 to '81 before moving on to The Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times. "And he never shied away from controversial stories or any that required a lot of digging."
Creedon may well remember Reilly's touch and enthusiasm, but Rick remembers going to work each day afraid of being canned. "It would be just one minute past deadline, and Dan would throw a Pepsi can at me," says Reilly.
For the Witt story, Reilly, 27, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Linda, and 11-month-old son, Kellen, arrived in East Berlin on Thanksgiving Day. He soon discovered that he hadn't quite left the States behind. "I turn on the television, and there's the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade (on American Forces television), complete with the big Kermit balloon," says Reilly. "Great. All these East Germans must think Americans worship a frog."
January 20, 1986
Meeting him in Berlin were associate editor Anita Verschoth, who had been SI's contact with Witt and the G.D.R. Sports Federation, and photographer David Walberg. Because of Witt's immense popularity, they were at first limited in their access to her. But Reilly wanted more. "There comes a point in a story when you can see through to the heart of someone," he says.
Reilly's efforts were rewarded. One evening over cognac and coffee in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Witt's home city, he found himself alone with Witt and her sister-in-law, Anett P√∂tzsch. As he spoke to Witt, in English, he saw a side of her that had been hidden. "It was then that I decided she was another Gidget," he says. "She was just like an American teenager. She has her sports car and her girlfriend. She's bubbly, sharing inside jokes, giggling and blushing. She's a girl becoming a woman."
As we have already routinely come to expect of him, Reilly wound up getting a memorable story.