East Germany’s First Super Star Ingrid Engel-Krämer Part 1: The Dresden Doll Who Took Rome by Storm

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Paula Jean Myers, Ingrid Kraemer and Elizabeth Ferris in Rome springboard finalists

She started diving off a low board at the age of five, even before she knew how to swim. Starting from the age of eleven, she would join her friends at the Dresden diving club a few times a week and stay there until the early evening. Those were the early days of young Ingrid Engel-Krämer, who would unexpectedly become one of the stars of the 1960 Rome Olympics, winning gold in both the women’s 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform diving competitions.

David Maraniss, in his seminal book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, profiled Engel-Krämer, explaining that at the time, Americans were the dominant force in diving. In fact, until Engel-Krämer broke the streaks, women from Team USA had taken both gold and silver in the previous seven summer Olympics in the 10-meter platform, and gold in the previous 8 Olympiads in the 3-meter springboard.

In the springboard, Engel-Krämer was a runaway train, showing off a precision in her technique that she would become renown for. As Maraniss noted in a Die Welt article, she was so far ahead in the springboard that “she could have jumped into the water with only a little grace in the last round, and she would have won the gold medal.”

Could this wunderkind repeat in the 10-meter platform? Paula Jean Myers-Pope was confident that she would win back American glory in diving. And while the springboard event was a cakewalk for Engel-Krämer, the platform competition was a gritty end-to-end battle. As Maraniss explained, it came down to the final dives for both.

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Enjoying Rome.

Both Engel-Krämer’s and Myers-Pope’s dives were, as I understand it, similar – a backward flip followed by two-and-a-half somersaults. Myers-Pope apparently hit the water with more splash than Engel-Krämer, who entered the water, as Maraniss describes, with a “quiet snap into the blue pool”. Additionally, the judges felt that Engel-Krämer’s dive had a higher degree of difficulty, which brought protests from the US. But in the end, Engel-Krämer earned her second gold medal, and not by a small margin.

There was a time when little Ingrid was scared to ascend the tower, fearful of the fall and the pain. In fact, her skin was considered somewhat sensitive to the impact on the water. Her father crafted special vests made of rubber foam to protect her back and stomach. “I wasn’t courageous at all,” she was quoted as saying. “I had to work hard on it and only bit by bit managed to overcome it.” Even in Rome, according to Maraniss, it was the fear of pain that drove her to focus her thoughts on how to dive perfectly to minimize the impact of the water on her skin.

But in Rome in 1960, Engel-Krämer was the blonde sensation, the teenager who broke the American stranglehold on diving, and as the Western press referred to her as, the Dresden Doll.

 

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Could you stare into the abyss from 10 meters above, and leap? This video from the New York Times shows that the average person could not. (Click on the image.)