At his Coach's urging, Udo Beyer retired after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the shot put at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. "The problem was, inside I wasn't ready to retire," he says today. "I didn't feel old. Life got boring pretty quickly." Then Beyer turned to coaching. It didn't help. "I soon realized I was demanding too much of the athletes," he says. "I was missing the competition."
So a year later Beyer came back. To charges that he's a gold digger, someone who only dusted off his skills to cash in, he points out that he announced his comeback three months before the Wall fell. Besides, there isn't much gold to be dug by 36-year-old shot-putters these days.
For his part, Beyer, who won the gold medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and the bronze at Moscow in 1980, is greatful for a chance to travel without a state-supplied babysitter. But he doesn't receive more than $600 for a typical meet, and there are episodes like the one last summer in Crete, where he showed up only to discover that his event had been canceled. It took a few words with the promoter—at 6'4¾" and 297 pounds, Beyer can be pretty persuasive—to get reimbursed for his expenses. "I have no illusions about my status," he says. "I'm not a star, only an embellishment."
At home, things have been more difficult. Beyer had been a major in the Democratic Republic's National People's Army while he competed. Now he's a captain in the unified German army, which will pay him only 60% ($1,333) of his $2,222-a-month salary for the next two years so long as he remains a full-time athlete. Thus Beyer and two partners are thinking of opening a fitness center. Of more immediate concern is the duplex that he, his wife, Rosi, and their two daughters share with another family near Potsdam. A dozen years ago the Beyers paid $22,000 for their half of it. Now the original owners, who fled to the west in 1955, want their house back, and the matter could end up in court.
Beyer has been heard ruing the death of the system that made him a champion. "What we took 40 years to build, they tore down in four months," he recently told a German journalist. To an American reporter he also recently said, "If sponsors are crazy enough to pay Krabbe that kind of money, she'd be just as crazy not to take it." In both cases he sounded like a man eagerly exercising his new freedoms.