In 1986, Heike Drechsler let slip to a reporter that she and her soccer-player husband, Andreas, wanted to have a child. Her coach and a local club official upbraided her for even considering such a thing at the height of her career.
Two years later Drechsler was supposed to win three Olympic gold medals in Seoul, in the 100 meters, the 200 and the long jump. Instead she got two bronzes and a silver. "I was at the end, physically and psychologically," she told reporters recently. "After 13 years of constant stress to perform, I couldn't do any more." She and her husband formally petitioned the East German sports federation for permission to have a child. The authorities agreed with her argument that experiencing motherhood would have a tonic effect on her career. Their son, Toni, was born eight days before the Berlin Wall would come down.
Drechsler had been the Katrin Krabbe of the ancien règime, beloved by party mucka-mucks and elected by the people to parliament. Still, the stream of revelations about corruption among the ruling elite disillusioned her, and in December 1989 she handed in her party credentials.
Not everyone has forgiven her. "People like you and [deposed East German Communist party chief Erich] Honecker should be lined up against a wall and left to fry in the sun," went one of many letters she received. But she began training again in March 1990 for the long jump, the event in which she once established a world record of 24'5½".
Only 26, Drechsler figures to have at least five more years of top performances in her. She turned down more than $140,000 a year from a club in Leverkusen, in western Germany, to stay in her hometown of Jena, where her old club, with support from Puma and Subaru, still does well. An Austrian manager books her appearances and takes a 10% cut. And she and Andreas have opened a sporting-goods store.
"We were molded," Drechsler says. "Now we have to contribute much more to our own development. There are more demands on us, and sometimes other values dominate. Toughness. Money. I haven't adjusted to all that yet. But I am happy to be able to think and decide for myself."