Katarina Witt: On an Olympic Mission

It took a couple of months to catch up with Katarina Witt. The two-time Olympic and four-time World champion has been traveling the world the past 18 months, headlining a campaign to bring the 2018 Olympic Winter Games to Munich, Germany.

“For months now, I have only been home for a few hours or overnight to unpack and repack my suitcase,” Witt said when I finally caught up with her in a rare moment at her Berlin home. “I can’t count all my flights and visits to the bid committee office in Munich anymore, they are too numerous.”

Munich is one of three cities bidding for the 2018 Games. A year ago, the favorite seemed to be Pyeongchang, Korea, which narrowly lost two prevous bids, one of them to Vancouver, Canada.

This time Munich has a good chance, whereas Annecy, France is considered to be a long shot.

As head of Munich’s bid committee, Witt’s job is to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members that Munich should be awarded the Games.

She made her position clear from the start. “The fact that Korea won gold medals in 2010 does not mean that they will win gold in 2018,” she said. “Munich is a better option. After Sochi in 2014 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the Games should come back to their origin in Central Europe.”

In 2010, Witt was constantly on the road. She covered the Olympic Games in Vancouver for German television, and while there spoke to many IOC members for the first time. Throughout the year, she traveled to Dubai, China, Mexico, Finland, Moscow and Australia. She went to Singapore for the Olympic Youth Games, attended the World Soccer Championships in South Africa and attended many events in Germany and Switzerland.

Witt has even been busier in 2011. In early January she was in Munich for the Parallel Slalom World Cup. Next stop, the Luge Cup in Königssee located in the Bavarian mountains where the Olympic luge and bobsled events would be held.

“Racing down the hill in a four-man bobsled behind experienced pilot Matthias Höpfner, I was quite relieved to finish in one piece and was dazed for a while afterwards,” Witt recalled with good humor.

Two days later she appeared on Germany’s most popular TV sports show. On January 10, she presented the 396-page Olympic bid to the IOC in Lausanne, Switzerland. A few days later, Witt met with officials from Germany’s men’s and women’s soccer league. “With soccer being the sport number one in this country, its community sent out a powerful support signal,” she said.

Witt also travelled to Astana, Kazakhstan for the Asian Winter Games to promote Munich with the Asian IOC members. Then it was on to Rio de Janeiro for the General Assembly of the South American Sports Organization, followed by a visit to the Winter Olympic Youth Festival in Liberec, Czech Republic.

“My trip reminded me of how thrilling it can be to educate youngsters about the ideals of sport and the Olympic movement,” said Witt, 45.

She also attended the Alpine World Ski Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The resort, located in the Bavarian Alps, is where the alpine events would be held in 2018. “During the two days, we used the beautiful weather, the majestic mountain backdrops and the cheerful crowd to shoot material for our Munich 2018 promotion video,” Witt said.

There are some ecology-minded residents in Garmisch who are against Germany holding the Games. Some even wrote protest letters to the IOC. In May there was a referendum in Garmisch that resulted in a slight majority of 58 percent favoring the bid.

“This was an important hurdle which had to be overcome,” Witt said. “There were critical voices before the World Cup (in soccer) in 2006 in Germany as well, but when the event started, Germany celebrated a fairy tale. The same will happen in 2018.”

After Garmisch the evaluation commission went to Munich to review the application thoroughly. “Surely I will never get lost at the airport in Munich again since I now know even the most hidden gates,” Witt said after picking up commission members at the airport.

In a matter of days in March, Witt attended the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona, shot a television commercial in Prague and attended the African International Sports Convention in Morocco.

She traveled halfway around the world to pitch Munich’s bid at the Oceania National Olympic Committees General Assembly in New Caledonia. “A nasty stomach virus put me out of action while I was still in Germany,” Witt recalled. “But 24 hours later I was able to travel. I had to fly to Nouméa via Hong Kong and Sydney, a total of 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles). Three days of flying, two days on land and a 15-minute presentation …. We have left nothing undone to reach our goal.”

In April, she was at the SportAccord international convention in London, the largest sports trade fair in the world, speaking with IOC members once again. “We try to bring across how cheerful, passionate and impartial the German sports audiences would be. They support all athletes,” Witt said.

A few days in May might have been a milestone for Witt when all three cities promoted their bids in a technical presentation to IOC members at the Lausanne headquarters.

While there, Witt made a special visit to the Olympic museum. “As a former athlete it was fantastic to be in Lausanne, the birthplace of the modern Olympic Movement,” she said. “Signing the legendary Golden Book was a real honor for me, but even more important was the opportunity we had to make a real impact on the IOC.”

In 1993, she donated her famous Carmen costume from the 1988 Calgary Olympic Games to the museum.

Witt felt that Munich’s 45-minute presentation to the IOC was a big success. “We are more and more a real alternative to the Korean bid,” she said. “We have the best venues, the best atmosphere and the most positive ecological concept. However, all the congratulations really do not mean any solid votes.”

At the end of June, Witt will have one last chance to sell Munich’s bid to the African IOC members before heading to Durban, South Africa where the IOC will announce the winner on July 6. “Until that day I will not rest at all,” Witt said. “Afterwards I might go on a vacation, but not for very long, because then preparation for Munich 2018 will begin.”

Her commitment to the Munich bid has left her no time to pursue any of her other projects for the past 18 months.

In 2005 she created the “Katarina Witt Foundation,” which supports children and teenagers with disabilities. “I am happy to be healthy, but I know the hard life that young people may endure,” she said. “Through donations and the generous participation of helpful people, I can make it possible to provide a little relief and happiness in their lives.”

Witt is also involved in the “Laureus Sport for Good Foundation,” which makes participation in sports possible for underprivileged children.

In 2006 she wrote a book, “Healthy and Fit With Kati Witt,” and took part in television shows that hosted competitions among overweight people who wanted to slim down.

She published an autobiography, “Only With Passion,” in 2007.

Witt celebrated her retirement from skating in 2008 with a small farewell tour in Germany.

A year later she took on a new challenge, performing on stage in a classical theater presentation. Witt played the role of “Buhlschaft (Love)” in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s “Everyman.”

“I hesitated at first, but Brigitte, the lady who staged the number, reminded me of my longtime skating coach Frau Müller,” Witt said. “I saw the same passion and the same desire in her to teach me something. I had missed performing for an audience and the adrenaline rush that brings. I wanted to perform again, and Brigitte coached me.

“The rehearsals reminded me of my training on the ice. Before the premiere, I was more nervous than before any skating event, but everything went well. All of the newspapers except one wrote positive critiques. Each day I grew more comfortable.”

No matter the outcome of the IOC decision for the 2018 Winter Games, there is no doubt Witt will have many projects to keep her busy in the future.

Originally published in August 2011