Changing China

Giant on the move

Steffen conquers fear of winning

August 17, 2008

Steffen celebrates sprint doubleBritta Steffen had hardly dried off after completing the freestyle sprint double when she started thanking her psychologist, Frederike Janofsky.

“I’m happy that hard work in training and working with the mental trainer paid off,” she said. “It was all in the mind. I didn’t expect it. To win here again is fantastic.”

I had the chance to talk to Steffen in Berlin in June about how Janofsky had turned her from an also-ran into a winner. After a disappointing Athens Games she quit the sport for a while, saying she couldn’t stand it, and focused on her studies — and food.

She gained about eight kilos during her six months away from the sport.  “I’d look forward to lunch all morning,” she said. “And then I’d look forward to afternoon pies and coffee. And then dinner.”

After finally leaping back into the pool she also spent time getting her head straight. Her sessions with Janofsky — who had helped her friend Franziska van Almsick before — proved enlightening.
 
“I would say, ‘I want to win’. But after this test she asked: ‘Britta, why don’t you want to win?’” Steffen recalled. “I spontaneously blurted out, ‘Because someone else would lose!’ It sounded so absurd when that came out of me … (but) I had got used to losing. Deep inside I hated to see others lose because they’d cry. She helped me erase my own mind’s objections to winning.”
 
After that, she won four gold medals at the 2006 European championships and broke the 100 metres freestyle world record. And now she’s won two Olympic gold medals.

So if you’ve ever wondered why so many athletes these days use sports psychologists, now you know.

PHOTO: Britta Steffen of Germany celebrates after winning the women’s 50m freestyle swimming final during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, August 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

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