Not Forgetting the Others—An Interview with Fencer Imke Duplitzer

By Matthias Kehrein
Matthias Kehrein
Matthias Kehrein
August 22, 2008 Updated: October 2, 2015

The Beijing Olympics are Imke Duplitzer’s fourth Olympic Games, with the first in 1996, followed by 2000 and 2004. She chose not to participate in the opening ceremonies for this year’s Games. This epee fencer [an epee fencer is not restricted to hit any body part of the opponent with the tip.] spoke about human rights and her point of view as an athlete of the human rights situation in China during an interview with Epoch Times Germany (ETD), which was conducted before Duplitzer left for the Games.

Imke Duplitzer won the silver medal in the epee competition with her teammates in 2004; Runner-up in the single 2002; European Champion 1999; Military Champion 97/99; German Champion 1999–2002/2004/2006); won multiple medals with her team when competing at world and Europe championships.

Imke Duplitzer (Matthias Kerein/Epoch Times Germany)
Imke Duplitzer (Matthias Kerein/Epoch Times Germany)
ETD: Ms. Duplitzer, how do you feel about your fourth participation in the games?

Imke: I have mixed feelings. I am looking forward to the competition … The rest of the time I will probably meet with one or the other I still know from before and chat, but for me, a burning joy does not accompany the many things connected with the Olympics.

ETD: You had demanded a TV boycott of the opening ceremonies. You also voiced criticisms regarding treatment of the Tibetans. What reaction did you encounter?

Imke: I encountered resistance. I did not actually call for a direct boycott, but had instead suggested that those who protest the games simply stay away from television. A few people want to demonstrate that the Games as they have been manipulated all along—awarding specific cities—cannot continue like this, and one needs to return to the original Olympic Spirit. I encounter positive feedback as well as negative. Some said, "You are a sports figure—do sports." Others said not to deal with internal matters.

ETD: Where have the criticisms originated?

Imke: I got much mail from Chinese ex pats, telling me not to interfere with China's internal affairs. But other ex pats applauded my resolve to boycott the opening ceremony. I got much backlash from sports-political camps and from economic interests who did not like my blunt views, and that I openly criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) by telling them that the games seem to be nothing more than a huge marketing ploy where the athletes no longer matter. It is unavoidable to draw flak from all sides when speaking this frankly, but that does not bother me in the least. I can rest easy knowing I have not insulted anyone.

ETD: How do you view it when someone tells you to stay out of "internal matters?"

Imke: As an example—I would never meddle in China's one-child policy; it is up to the Chinese to do what they want in this regard. It becomes altogether another matter, and not necessarily one of politics, to draw attention to human rights and the Tibetan question. Because those of us in the Western world have—or should have by now—agreed to resolve human rights issues and cultural autonomy in a transparent manner. And that is simply not happening in China.

The IOC had awarded the games to a nation and system that considers transparency a minor issue—something that does not speak well for the Committee. The Committee has lately seen the limelight again and made headlines. On the other hand, this could be therapeutic, because the IOC lacks transparency, too. Both systems—that in China and that of the IOC—operate along similar lines. I must confess this to be a dubious piece of ground that makes me, an athlete, uncomfortable. The games no longer have nothing to do with sports, but with sports politics and politico/economic advantages.

ETD: Since you are leaving for China with these things on your mind, do you sense something amiss?

Imke: Well, I am enough of a professional and no longer so anxious. This is the fourth time I participate in the Games. I had three other experiences that told me that life goes on after the Games. Of course, for any athlete to be there makes them express, "that is super." We were permitted to view the competition area. It is a nicely designed architectural marvel. Each group of athletes is housed in a designated village, and most of it is reachable on foot.

But, delving deeper and pondering under which conditions these venues came to be, one has to admit that ill feelings emerge. I will probably have discussions here and there about human rights … but my priority is athletics, because that is my job. It is likewise my job to leave everything else behind then [when competing].

ETD: Will you remain in China following the competition?

Imke: I will fly directly home. I had planned it this way initially. I really don't want to remain, because the games are no longer fun, as they had been before.

ETD: Will these games be your last?

Imke: Probably not. I am 33 years old, and the German Fencing Association and the national coach had told me to take it a bit easier, which makes sense. But the next four years will probably be enough time for me to qualify for the German team at the next games, provided I remain healthy and everything else falls into place.

ETD: What expectations do you have of the Chinese as fellow human beings?

Imke: I have many dear Chinese friends, even in Mainland China with whom I can have marvelous discussions—about anything and everything. The Chinese people have certainly deserved the staging of the games. It becomes obvious that China's people are looking forward to the event. On the other hand, the Chinese regime was for certain awarded the games prematurely.

The games will be perfect—too perfect. Here is the analogy: when you look at a beautiful woman who is too perfect, her beauty detracts and vanishes. The Olympics thrive on small mishaps and unavoidable imperfections. These games will be so perfect, so highly glossy, that they are almost clinically sterile. That begs the question: will the athletes have the opportunity to develop spirit? Security during the events concerns everyone; but if everything is overly regimented and controlled the Olympic spirit will die before it had a chance to emerge.

ETD: What is behind this clinical atmosphere?

Imke: It should preclude any of those voicing their opinions who are not one hundred percent in line with communist ideology and its systems. People and nations advance through dialogue. The IOC is faced with the dilemma that the Chinese political system undermines any kind of dialogue, any it cannot control.

ETD: Do you see this as a form of fear?

Imke: This is for certain! Should 1,3 billion Chinese begin to entertain thoughts of creativity, or should a new democratic movement emerge, the Chinese leadership would be faced with an unbelievable problem.

The Chinese have this incongruous zealotry to demonstrate how perfect they are. Who is perfect? That is something the Chinese leadership must learn to wrestle with—that nothing in this world is perfect! And by acknowledging weaknesses one can develop strength and greatness. Always hiding weaknesses and hiding them in a box, and simply living as there were nothing amiss can never lead to greatness.

ETD: You had participated in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung's event "All of us are Chinese." What had you hoped to accomplish?

Imke Duplitzer holding the German translation of Gao Zhisheng's recently published autobiography. Gao, who championed the rule of law in China, has been detained at for over a year and tortured. (Matthias Kerein/Epoch Times Germany)
Imke Duplitzer holding the German translation of Gao Zhisheng's recently published autobiography. Gao, who championed the rule of law in China, has been detained at for over a year and tortured. (Matthias Kerein/Epoch Times Germany)
Imke: This event was to raise awareness that there are athletes who are concerned about topics outside the world of sports and are not merely running on a wheel in a hamster cage.

As the world looks toward China and sees Beijing's glitzy facades, that above-mentioned event is the athletes' statement not to forget the others during this time—others like attorney Gao Zhisheng; to remember those who are prevented to participate in this event because they were incarcerated for having spoken their views, for having interceded for justice, for having voiced their thoughts and opened their private realm.

ETD: I thank you, and much good luck!

Matthias Kehrein
Matthias Kehrein