Germans live American dream

By Kari Brackett

Imagine deciding your whole life in two days. West Germany’s Jens Furst did it, with the help of his complement Thomas Koll.

Furst, from Ludwigshafen, West Germany, and Koll, of Bergisch, are members of the NIU men’s gymnastics squad. Not only are the two competing here, but both also are trying for positions on the Olympic team in West Germany. In fact, Koll is back in his homeland this week finishing up a segment of the qualification process, which means he will not be in DeKalb to compete in the National Independent Gymnastics Championships on Saturday.

Furst did not know it, but the day he met Koll was the day that changed his life. They met at a gathering held for gymnasts who were vying for spots on the Olympic team. Koll mentioned to Furst that he was going to train for gymnastics in the U.S. and receive an education at the same time. Furst was interested and asked Koll to get more information for him.

“When Koll called me and said there was a spot for me at NIU, he told me I had two days to decide,” Furst said. “I had a big family meeting and they were very supportive. I knew Thomas liked it here, but I didn’t know what to expect.”

The blue-eyed blond opted to venture towards the unknown, because he liked the structure of the school system. He said it is complicated to bring sports and education together in Germany.

“There are between 600 and 700 students in classes at Germany and it is really difficult to concentrate there,” the 22-year-old said. “No one cares if you are in a sport there. If you had a test and competition on the same day, the teachers didn’t care.

“I think the instructors here really care. They have supported me and have helped to try and work with the gymnastics schedule.”

That gymnastics schedule is a busy one. Both Furst and Koll have had to adjust to a new country, a new language and a new way of competing. They also have had to take time away from books and competition by going back to Germany for qualification processes. While NIU coach Chuck Ehrlich was disappointed in losing both tumblers during key meets, he recognized the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I didn’t want them to be deprived of the chance,” Ehrlich said. “Whether they make it or not, it’s the effort.”

The Huskie gymmen use their talents as all-arounders for NIU. In the last regular meet against California-Santa Barbara, Furst claimed the No. 1 spot on parallel bars (9.55), while Koll grabbed first place on the pommel horse and horizontal bar, scoring 9.45 and 9.75, respectively. Furst finished second in all-around with a 56.05 mark, and Koll’s 55.60 score gave him the No. 4 spot.

“They are very good to work with,” Ehrlich said. “They are very disciplined and get things done.”

Furst admitted he had trouble getting used to the American way of training. Practices are longer, the concentration is harder and the expectations are higher.

“In Germany we would only practice three events and be through,” Furst said. “On my first day of practice I thought I was through, but coach told me I had three more events to go. I was surprised. I really have to work on my strength here.”

Furst said he misses home at times, but he looks to his parents as leaders and they, as well as his older brother, are the backbone to his accomplishments. Both his mother and father were gymnasts. His father, Philipp Furst, competed in the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and coached until 1985 for the national team.

The dream for Furst and Koll will continue through early summer. In June, both will work during final qualifications which lead to first cuts. The team is dwindled until the top 12 gymnasts are chosen to travel to Seoul, Korea, as part of the German Olympic team.

“The top 20 are very near each other,” Furst said. “A gymnast really can’t afford to make a mistake. It’s hard to make the Olympic games, but I just want to show that I have made improvement.”