Even though Germany got off to a rather rough start in figure skating’s team competition at the Pyeongchang Olympics, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of its president and first lady.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Elke Budenbender spent time at the Gangneung Ice Arena with the German skaters this weekend, chatting up Bruno Massot, Nicole Schott and others on the team.
“It was really nice to have met the president of Germany and his wife, and it’s wonderful that they are supporting us like that,” Massot said, before sheepishly conceding: “I think it was mainly his wife that wanted to come here, because she likes figure skating.”
Germany has a proud skating tradition, even dating to the days when the nation was split. East Germany won three gold medals and 10 overall while West Germany won two medals, and a unified team in the 1950s and 60s also won three Olympic medals during three Winter Games.
The combined nation also has won eight Olympic medals, most recently at the 2014 Sochi Games, when Savchenko partnered with Robin Szolkowy to win her second of back-to-back bronze medals.
Of course, the great Katarina Witt became the second women’s figure skater to win back-to-back gold medals when she triumphed for East Germany at Sarajevo in 1984 and Calgary in 1988.
The president and his wife spent about an hour with the German skaters following practice Saturday, longer than they had planned. Schott called them “really down to earth.”
“I had the impression that they really love figure skating,” Schott said, “especially his wife. She said she is always watching skating on TV.”
The visit by Steinmeier and Budenbender was especially profound for men’s skater Paul Fentz, who along with being a world-class figure skater is also a member of the German military.
“It was an honor for me to meet our head of state,” he said. “I have met our chancellor, Angela Merkel, before, but it was only for five minutes and the president and his wife really took their time.”
Fentz struggled during his short program as part of the team competition, finishing ninth out of the 10 nations. Massot and Savchenko took third in the pairs free skate, but Germany was still in eighth place heading into Sunday’s competition and almost certain to miss the cut for the free skate.