Annegret Richter (© IMAGO)
Among the artefacts to have entered the Museum of World Athletics (MOWA) when the new Olympic Athletics Collection room was opened on the eve of the Tokyo Olympic Games was a marvellous donation from the 1976 Olympic 100m champion Annegret Richter.
Richter, one of the most successful German sprinters of all time, was spoilt for choice. Standing in front of her wardrobe where she also keeps some historical items of clothing, the question was which piece of memorabilia she should bequeath to MOWA.
Over the course of her glittering career, she won two gold and two silver medals at the Olympic Games, was European champion three times and had two victories at the World Cup, so there were plenty of historical team uniforms to choose from. Finally, the now 70-year-old decided to donate her jacket from the European team of the first World Cup in Dusseldorf in 1977 to World Athletics Heritage.
"It is a great honour for me and a real acknowledgment of my achievements to be recognised among so many of the world's top athletes in the MOWA," said Richter, who, after a short period of consideration, parted with a smart tracksuit jacket featuring a big "E" on the front.
The World Cup, precursor to the World Championships held for the first time in Helsinki in 1983, was a resounding success in Dusseldorf's Rheinstadion in front of a total of 140,000 spectators. Richter ran in the 4x100m relay for the European team, which even defeated the GDR.
Two relay victories for Team Europe
She remembers: "There was a great atmosphere in the Rheinstadion on all three days. I had the great honour of successfully representing the European selection. With a German-British quartet we were able to beat the favoured relay team of the GDR and missed the world record of that time by only one hundredth of a second with 42.51. The spectators thanked us with a long round of applause. That was pretty impressive."
Two years later, the Dusseldorf relay sensation was repeated at the 1979 World Cup in Montreal. Once again the European team, for which Richter ran the second bend as she had done in Dusseldorf, defeated the GDR (42.32) in 42.19.
Next to the Olympic Games, the World Cup was the second largest athletics event in the world in the late 1970s. And so the return to Montreal was also an emotional journey back in time for Richter. Back to the Canadian city, where she had celebrated the greatest success of her career with gold and two silver at the 1976 Olympics.
World record in the Montreal semifinals
The 100m final on 25 July 1976, on what turned out to be golden Sunday for Richter, left spectators shaken. What drama! There had already been a sensation in the semifinals. Richter had previously equalled the old hand-timed world record in Gelsenkirchen from 1976 with 10.8, but in the Olympic semifinal she improved the world record set by her training mate Inge Helten a month earlier by three hundredths, clocking 11.01. Richter did not even run full out in the semifinal. If she had, she (and not Marlies Oelsner one year later with 10.88) would have been the first woman in the world to run sub-11.00 in the era of electronic timing. But at the time, this really did not matter.
Historic 100m gold
On the start line of the Olympic final – the big clash of the best sprinters in the world – Richter and Helten from the Federal Republic of Germany and Renate Stecher from the GDR, who had won the 100m gold medal in Munich 1972, was imminent. Almost all the sprinters were on edge. There were three false starts, but Richter remained calm.
"At the first attempt, the timing had failed. They shot us back very late. Then I had a picture-perfect start. That would probably have kept me under eleven seconds," she guesses. But only the fourth start was successful. Up to 50 metres the fight was still open, then step by step, Richter broke away from her opponents and won in 11.08 ahead of Stecher (11.13) and Helten (11.17).
The legendary German athletics journalist Heinz Vogel described the historic Olympic victory for the Federal Republic of Germany as a ‘revolutionary breakthrough’, which was of course also a success of the sprint coach Wolfgang Thiele. And indeed, there was even more success to come in Montreal.
Three days after the 100m gold, Richter won the silver medal in the 200m, beaten by only Barbel Eckert (GDR) by two hundredths in 22.39, but still ahead of Stecher (22.47) and clearly ahead of Carla Bodendorf (22.64) and Helten (22.68). Thus, the first five places went to German sprinters!
This German dominance also meant that the 4x100m final was settled, as everyone had expected, among the two teams. The GDR (Oelsner, Stecher, Bodendorf, Eckert) won in 42.55 ahead of the Federal Republic (Possekel, Helten, Richter, Kroniger) in 42.59. With gold and two silver medals, however, Richter was the sprint star of these Games.
Euphoria like in Munich 1972
At home in Germany, the then 25-year-old, who always remained quiet and modest even during her greatest success, sparked a wave of enthusiasm that was reminiscent of the athletics euphoria of Munich 1972. Although this was only her first Games, she was fifth in the 100m final and won gold with the German relay team (Krause, Mickler-Becker, Richter, Rosendahl) in an unforgettable final thriller in a world record time of 42.81 ahead of the GDR with anchor Stecher (42.95).
The sensational successes at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games were of course the highlights of her career, which she had begun at the age of 15. Until the end of 1969, she successfully split her time between sprints and long jump. After that, she met the hurdler Manfred Richter, with whom she occasionally trained and therefore developed a preference to sprinting. Her international career took off at lightning speed.
First European Championships gold in 1971
She won her first major title at the European Championships in Helsinki in 1971 with the German sprint relay team (she married Richter after this event). Two more gold medals followed at the European Indoor Championships in Rotterdam in 1973 over 60m and in the 4x180m relay. With such a sensational career, even the silver medal at the 1974 European Championships in Rome and the silver and bronze medals in the 60m at the 1971 and 1972 European Indoor Championships are relegated to second place.
A short overview like this is usually reduced to the big highlights and often does not do justice to the whole career. However, the numbers speak for themselves in this case and show great consistency. From 1970 to 1980, Richter won 28 titles at German championships, capturing the coveted triple over 100m, 200m and 4x100m five times. Annegret Richter is not only a legend of German athletics, but of German sport par excellence.
Family has long been the focus
But for a long time now, the focus has not been on sport for her, but on her family. She is proud of her two children, Daniela, and Marcus, and of course very proud of her two grandchildren, who now keep her on her toes – a sprint of a different kind.
The 100m Olympic champion of 1976 is living a happy life. She can't think of any more dreams because she has already experienced so many dreamlike things: "I'm happy with everything as it is now, and I hope it will stay that way for a long time."
Olaf Brockmann and Peter Middel for World Athletics