Forgotten Olympic Winner Returns to the Limelight

1980 gold medalist `would rather skate than sit down'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WHEN Katarina Witt came to Boston recently for a figure skating extravaganza, the two-time Olympic champion was whisked into an exclusive media session by a professional handler. She was late, but no one left. After all, she is one of the biggest names in skating.

Meanwhile, Anett Potzsch (pronounced ``petch''), who dropped out of sight after preceding Witt as Olympic champion in 1980, met with a lone reporter in a hotel lobby, precisely at the arranged time, while her mother remained in their room.

Potzsch clearly doesn't possess the celebrity status of her former East German teammate and one-time sister-in-law. Even for many skating aficionados who attended the ``Skates of Gold'' performance at Boston Garden (to air Feb. 5 on ABC, check local listings) she probably needed an introduction when she joined three champions with virtual instant name recognition - Kristi Yamaguchi, Peggy Fleming, and Witt.

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The show, a unique event bringing together a raft of Olympic gold medalists, represented Potzsch's most significant skating appearance since retiring 13 years ago. ``I think I will be nervous, because I only skate for fun now,'' she said in a gentle voice on the eve of her return to the limelight.

Invited only to attend the event, she mulled over the situation before informing the organizers that she would ``rather skate than sit down.'' Thereupon she commenced three months of practice, most of it spent sharing ice time with recreational skaters at her boyfriend's sports club in Chemnitz, Germany.

The workouts had to fit around her duties as single mother (she has a nine-year-old daughter) and breadwinner. Potzsch has a bank job assessing the credit records of loan applicants. She is very pleased with her new career, which required her to spend about five months training in the former West Germany.

It is a welcome change, she says, from her work teaching skating theory and practice to future instructors at the College for Physical Culture and Sports Science in Leipzig, where she earned a degree in 1982.

With no professional opportunities available to her after winning the Olympic gold and world championship in 1980, Potzsch stopped skating. ``I was very happy,'' she says, ``because there was no competing, no practice, no travel. But when I saw the next competition on TV, I was not so happy, because if you have skated for many years, you love skating.''

Nevertheless for five years she quit, then got back into the sport in a very limited way, skating in small semiannual shows in her hometown.

Potzsch first stamped herself as a comer at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, by just missing a medal. ``I wasn't really disappointed,'' she says. ``I had the jumps to get a medal, but I was young, and fourth was a good place for me.''

Four years later, she outdueled California's Linda Fratianne for the gold at Lake Placid, N.Y., in a result that, for Americans at least, was forgotten in the euphoria surrounding the United States hockey victory over the Soviets and Eric Heiden's five speed-skating gold medals.

About three years ago, in her first trip back to the US, Potzsch met up with Fratianne in Sun Valley, Idaho, where the former silver medalist now lives. Potzsch and Witt traveled there to participate in an annual ice show. Though Fratianne didn't skate, the former rivals enjoyed catching up on one another's lives since the 1980 Winter Games. They had alternated as world champion for several years before the Olympics.

Potzsch had two triple jumps in her Olympic program that year and remembers ``doubling'' the first one. In the last minute of her program, however, she executed an unscheduled triple jump that made her the first East German figure skater to ever strike Olympic gold.

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