The screaming spectators inside the East Berlin Sports Forum swimming pool rose to their feet. “Klasse, Kornelia [Great, Kornelia]” they chanted over and over. The ox-shouldered, 5’11” Kornelia Ender stood proudly on the victor’s stand, her close-cropped, blonde hair dripping water. Suddenly she blew a kiss to her admirers, who roared back in delight. At 17 the Junoesque Kornelia is the fastest woman swimmer in history and a national hero in the German Democratic Republic. She is expected to dominate her sport at the Olympic Games in Montreal in July.
Earlier this month, Kornelia astonished the swimming world by breaking five world records in five days. As a 14-year-old, she won three silver medals at the ’72 Games in Munich. (“I want a gold medal badly,” she admits. “It’s the only thing missing in my collection.”) Her fiancé, Roland Matthes, 25, a world record-holder himself in the backstroke, says of Kornelia: “She is a natural water athlete. She always seems to have something in reserve.”
Ender is a prize example of East Germany’s intense program to manufacture athletic champions. Plucked out of preschool swimming class in her hometown of Bitterfeld, she was enrolled at the age of 6 in a special sports school in nearby Halle. “I was thrilled, but a little dubious at the prospect,” she says, “but I soon adapted.”
Since then, Kornelia has chained herself to a lung-popping regimen. She rises six days a week at the crack of dawn, swims for two hours and then studies until noon. She devotes the rest of the day to training—always with a doctor at poolside. “You have to have the courage to put very hard pressure on the athlete,” explains her coach, Rudolf Schramme. “On many days the athlete is stretched to the limit of her abilities. To keep control on this, the doctor’s collaboration is necessary.”
Despite long separations from home, Kornelia has remained close to her parents. Stopwatch in hand, her father, an officer in the People’s State Army, and her mother, have always attended her important races. During meets, father lunches on beer and sausage from the pool bar, not wanting to leave even to eat. “We are so very proud of all she has accomplished,” says Mrs. Ender, “but we recognize that sometimes the pressures on her can lead to strain, so we like to be near her as much as possible.”
After the Olympics Kornelia plans to retire from competition and study to be a pediatrician. “I think it would be downhill for her after Montreal,” says Matthes, who also will quit and follow a career in sports research. They hope to marry early next year.
A versatile swimmer, Kornelia probably will enter the 100-and 200-meter freestyle, the butterfly events, the 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter backstroke at Montreal. “World records in themselves are no guarantee of Olympic medals,” she says. “I will not make the mistake of relaxing at this stage.”
And what does she think of the scheduling of finals in two of her events—the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter freestyle—on the same day? “Not to worry,” she says confidently, “not to worry.”