Schumann steps up a gear to win luge gold
Margit Schumann is modest about her Olympic achievements. The former East German luger, now in her 60s, gifted race numbers and memorabilia from her sporting career to friends, and keeps her two medals in a drawer at home.
But Schumann, an army lieutenant, played a crucial role in the astounding success enjoyed by East Germany in the 1970s. It was the dominant force in the luge and bobsleigh, and the peak of its brilliance was arguably the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympics, where the GDR squad picked up where they left off in Sapporo in 1972.
They enjoyed a clean sweep of all the gold medals in both sports, winning all but three of the medals available – collecting 10 in one 24-hour spell. And the solidly built Schumann’s star performance on the white ice in Igls was the peak of her career.
The GDR’s luge and bobsleigh coaches prepared intensely for the Innsbruck Games in 1976. During testing of the run at the Sliding Centre the year before, the team set up cameras and timers to analyse the fastest routes through the straights and curves.
But all the sports science counts for nothing without talented, fearless athletes – and Schumann can justly claim to have had talent and bravery in abundance.
Born in Waltershausen, she took up tobogganing as a child at the progressive Schnepfenthal school, then was sponsored to train in the luge in the winter sports hub of Oberhof.
After winning the European Championship Junior title in the sport in 1971. Schumann won a place in the Olympic team that went to Sapporo in 1972, taking bronze in the women’s individual event behind her compatriots Anna-Maria Müller, who won gold, and second-placed Ute Rührold.
Four years later, Schumann had pulled off an unrivalled run of victories, racing to three World Championship golds and three European Championship triumphs. By the time of the Innsbruck Games, the 23-year-old had her eyes on Olympic glory.
As the women’s competition started on the cut-price track at Igls – which had attracted criticism for not being challenging enough – Schumann lay in fifth place after the first two runs, but stepped up a gear to record the fastest times on each of the last two runs to seal victory.
Handicapped by injuries including a fractured collarbone, she finished her career with a sixth place in the event in Lake Placid in 1980. As well as her two Olympic medals, her final tally was four world titles, along with three golds, a silver and a bronze in European competition.
Schumann rose to the rank of captain in the army, and after her retirement she became a luge coach, eventually taking over the East German national team prior to reunification. She later worked as a psychologist.
In 2004, Schumann was among the first three inductees into the International Luge Federation (FIL) Hall of Fame.
The legend of the ice track celebrated her 60th birthday by spending a few relaxing days with her husband in Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps – near the toboggan runs.