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When Germany's Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler, the pairs figure-skating champions of the world, stand at center ice in Innsbruck, ready to perform, they will seem as calm and confident as champions should be. But, according to their own description of past competitions, they will be as tense as novices. "I am thinking we will never make it," says Bäumler. "If we get to the halfway point I will admit to myself that perhaps we have a chance. It is only toward the end that I begin to think we will get through, and this gives me strength."

Marika is terrified, too. "I am more nervous than Jürgen," she admits. "But I know we simply must make it and so I whisper, 'Come on, Jürgen,' and off we go."

Indeed they do. To the opening notes of Tschaikovsky's Pathetique, Kilius and Bäumler whirl into their five-minute performance, executing cartwheels, split lifts and, for a finale, a death spiral. The routine is extremely difficult; it includes many maneuvers others avoid, and this is exactly why Kilius and Bäumler are figure skating's outstanding pair.

For that matter, they are the most skillful performers in the entire sport. In singles competition, the gold medalists of 1960 have retired and those Americans who promised to take their places were killed in the 1961 plane crash in Belgium. Sjoukje Dijkstra of Holland should win the girls' title, but she lacks the flair of an outstanding champion. In the men's division, Alain Calmat of France is the favorite but, again, an ordinary favorite. Only in the pairs division, where Kilius and Bäumler meet the Protopopovs of Russia, will the competition be of Olympic class.

Marika Kilius is 20, with ash-blonde hair and an eye-catching figure. Bäumler is 21, dark and slender but, as the picture at left shows, powerful enough to perform the spectacular lifts for which they are noted. Both of them owe their careers to their mothers, who have at least firmly guided, if not pushed, their children toward the winners' platform. Frau Leni Kilius gave her daughter her first pair of skates when she was 5. Three years later Marika won the German junior pairs with her first partner, a 14-year-old named Franz Ningel. She has been winning ever since.

B√§umler got his first pair of skates in a CARE package. When his mother, a divorcée, got a job with an ice show in Garmisch, Hans-J√ºrgen had a place to practice. Erich Zeller, the star of the show, noticed the boy's flair for skating and started giving him lessons from 5 until 7:30 each morning. After only three weeks of Zeller coaching, B√§umler placed third in the German junior championships.

Kilius and B√§umler became a team in 1957. Marika had grown taller than Franz Ningel—"Why don't you pick him up, Marika?" people shouted—and it was apparent the partnership could go no further. When Frau Kilius suggested to the B√§umlers that they join forces, Coach Zeller endorsed the idea. "J√ºrgen is a marvelous free skater," he said, "but because he does not care for school figures, he will never become a singles champion." Reluctantly, B√§umler agreed. Two years later the new team won the European championships, and they have won it every year since.

Success has brought the two skaters little more than fame. Jürgen and his mother live in two small, modestly furnished rooms in Garmisch. For half of each year, October to March, Marika and her mother also live in Garmisch, staying in one cramped room and sharing a double bed. The rest of the year they live in the family apartment in Frankfurt.

Although Marika and Jürgen are young and attractive, their relationship is strictly business. Off the ice they go their separate ways. Marika is rumored to be engaged to the son of a wealthy German manufacturer. Bäumler plays the field. "I'd rather have a good girl friend in every city than one wife at home," he says.

Marika gives the impression of being a cold, hard girl. "It is a fact that she cannot cry," says her mother. "She settles things deep inside herself." But there is also a wild side to Marika. She drives her mother to despair by indulging in dangerous sports like bobsledding and horseback jumping.

Bäumler also has the daredevil in him, driving his red Fiat 600 D at breakneck speeds. "Apparently he's trying to crack the sound barrier," says Zeller. Bäumler loves it. "When the tires whistle," he says, "that's when it's right."

Assuming Zeller can keep his youngsters away from bobsleds, horses and Fiats until after the Olympics, Kilius and Bäumler should win a gold medal for Germany. "If we make it without a mistake, we will win it," Marika says flatly. The chances are good that, nervous though they may be, Kilius and Bäumler will make no mistakes in Innsbruck.