Changing China

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Steffen conquers fear of winning


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.”

Britta talks candidly



“Go ahead – ask me anything you want,” said German swimmer Britta Steffen at the start of a recent interview in Berlin. I had spent the last two hours watching her swim further (and three times faster) than I had swum in the last two months and was planning to ask her, among other things, a few questions about the doping innuendos that hit her in mid 2006 right after she broke the world record in the 100 metres freestyle. But I didn’t expect Steffen, who is regularly tested and never suspected of any wrongdoing, to so openly tackle the issue.

“Really, go ahead and ask,” she said again. So I jumped right in without even any warmup and started asking about those who have doubts on her world record time at the European championships in Budapest (53.30) in 2006 that was nearly a full second faster than her previous best (and lowered Australia’s Libby Lenton’s record of 53.42). What she would say those find such steep improvements hard to believe. “I’d be sceptical too,” she said. “I can totally understand that. If it weren’t me, I’d also have doubts. But the coaches took the pressure off my shoulder by pointing out that a Libby Lenton and other world record holders had also made improvements of a full-second before getting their world records.”