German rower denies far-right ties
The Olympics would not be the Olympics if the personal lives of the athletes did not play a major role in the event. But the love life of one young athlete has become the focus of a nation - not as an inspirational story but as a cautionary tale.
The athlete, Nadja Drygalla, a rower on the German Olympic team, volunteered to leave the Olympic Village last week after a discussion with officials about her boyfriend's extreme right-wing political activities.
But instead of heading off a potential controversy through her quiet departure, Drygalla has become the focus of a national debate, her romantic choices dissected in leading newspapers and on television broadcasts.
Drygalla's boyfriend, Michael Fischer, himself a former competitive rower, was a candidate last year in a regional election for the far-right National Democratic Party and is part of an extremist group known as the Rostock National Socialists.
"I have no connection to his circle of friends and this scene, and I reject it completely," Drygalla (23) said in an interview with dpa, a German news agency.
She said that his politics were a burden on their relationship and that she had considered breaking up with him over it. She quit her career as a police officer last year after her superiors learned about the relationship.
Her premature departure from the Olympic Games came only after she had competed, but the attention has raised questions about her future participation in the national team. She left the Olympics, she said, because some of her teammates "were still competing and they should be able to concentrate on that."
Both Drygalla and Fischer say he quit the National Democrats in May. But questions remain as to how German Olympic officials could have been caught unaware on such a sensitive issue, especially after she left the police force.
So while the rest of the world talks about the sprinter Usain Bolt and the swimmer Michael Phelps, Germany debates the past and future of a single rower on the women's eight that did not even make the finals. The case is making "big waves," as German minister for the interior Hans-Peter Friedrich put it yesterday.
A parliamentary committee will discuss the controversy in a hearing next month, according to Dagmar Freitag, the sports committee chairwoman.
The daily Tagesspiegel newspaper said Drygalla must have been "either unbelievably naïve or dumb or herself infected with the brown demons," referring to the Nazi ideology. Even as many questioned the athlete's choice of a boyfriend, a backlash quickly formed over Drygalla's presumed guilt by association and the intensity of the news media scrutiny of her.
Thomas de Maiziere, Germany's minister for defence, said that while he welcomed Drygalla's statement distancing herself from right-wing views, he believed some people had "crossed the line" in screening the friends and associates of athletes.
Drygalla appeared shaken and vulnerable, fighting back tears as she tried to explain herself in the interview.
"I'm not doing well," she said, "the last few days have been pretty stressful and pretty surprising."
One young athlete's personal choices would seem to have little to do with the highest levels of politics, but when that young woman is representing Germany at the Olympics, and her choices involve extreme right-wing politics, it becomes difficult to separate the two.