"The most exciting experience of my sporting career so far"
Just twelve months later, Germany will be hosting another major sporting event. The FISU World University Games 2025 between the rivers Rhine and Ruhr will be the biggest sporting event to take place in Germany since the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. 10,000 athletes and officials, 18 sports in five cities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. An international stage, above all for the very young generation in German competitive sport, which is largely made up of students. And a ray of hope for German sport.
For many, it will be the first major competition of their sporting careers and their first encounter with top international athletes from other sports. "It is a competition of the highest sporting quality. You don't get anything for nothing there. In 2007 I even caused a little scandal. Against the advice of the German federation, I travelled to Bangkok for the Universiade instead of the World Athletics Championships. But my coach was more interested in my long-term career plans. The Universiade fit in perfectly. A year later I jumped two metres for the first time," said Ariane Friedrich. The German high jump record holder has won a complete set of medals at the World University Games: Bronze in 2005, silver in 2007 and gold in 2009. Her personal best of 2.06 metres is still unmatched in Germany and would have been enough to win gold at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest a few weeks ago. In 2023, there was not a single medal for German athletics as a whole. For the first time in the history of the World Championships.
Kristin Pudenz was one of the few German medal hopes in Budapest. In the end, she missed the podium in the discus final by 2.24 metres. Her international career also began at the World University Games, where she won the discus final in 2017: "That was my first big international event. The first gold, the first anthem. That was the start of everything for me," says Pudenz. Four years later, she won Olympic silver in Tokyo, and now she has her sights set on the next Games in Paris: "Now I have to see how I can get to this new international level through my training".
Together with Louise Wieland, the discus thrower was part of the German team in Budapest. Wieland belongs to the new generation of female athletes. Shortly before the World Championships, she was in China for the FISU World University Games. The 100m final in Chengdu prepared her perfectly for the relay at the World Championships in Hungary, she says. She also finds it difficult to understand the subsequent criticism of the German athletes: "When you see all the work we do to combine sport and studies, it's extremely unfair." More than 80 per cent of the German senior athletics squad are or were enrolled at a university or college. Nevertheless, she believes that the current discussion is a good thing. "It is positive that society is talking about it. That's the only way we can improve things together". Wieland studies psychology in Hamburg and only recently joined the national team. Until then, she says, it was relatively difficult for her as a "noname" to rearrange her timetable and exams. "You have to rely on the goodwill of your professors."
Louise Wieland ©Arndt Falter
At the moment, there are still plenty of talented people who could make it in spite of having a dual career. Especially in athletics. At this year's European U20 Championships, the German Athletics Federation had by far the most medal winners. But very few of them make the transition to the world's top adult athletes. Other nations are simply better at the moment. The FISU World University Games in our country could be a real encouragement, increasing acceptance, appreciation and fun in the sport.
Alexandra Föster can only confirm this for the former German realm of rowing. The 21-year-old is an exemplary German athlete: a three-time junior world champion, she has already made the transition to the adult level with a bronze medal at the European Championships in Munich. Germany's best rower in the single sculls has already qualified for next year's Olympic Games. And after a possible medal in Paris, she would like to compete at the FISU World University Games in her home state of North Rhine-Westphalia: "I would love to be there. Many people have told me about the atmosphere. So I don't want to miss this chance."
Föster also has an impressive academic record. She graduated from high school with a 1.0 grade point average. Last December, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. She is currently completing a distance learning programme to become a mathematical-technical software developer. "Three training sessions a day, six hours of sport. Shower, laptop, lecture. There's only time to eat and sleep. You can't really expect that of yourself in the long run," says the young lady from Meschede.
Finn Wolter (on the right) © International University Sports Federation (FISU)
For some, however, the constant stress actually helps them perform better. Finn Wolter, is a full-time student of philosophy, politics and economics. While studying, he became Junior World Champion in the lightweight double sculls together with Nikita Mohr. "In between I also slowed down a bit with my studies. But it wasn't that good for me. When you are rowing well and studying hard, it is very productive. It gives you a great feeling," says Wolter. In Chengdu, he and his rowing partner Mohr narrowly missed out on the World University Games title. Nevertheless, it was "the coolest experience in my sporting career so far", says the 22-year-old. So while German rowing still has some talented youngsters, it has fewer and fewer international medal winners.
And this is exactly where a lot of the smaller aid projects are coming into play at the moment. North Rhine-Westphalia supports young athletes through the NRW Sports Foundation (Sportstiftung NRW). Alexandra Föster has already benefited from this, as has Falk Petersilka. The judoka won gold at the World University Games in China. He will probably not be a candidate for the Olympic Games next year. That's why the medical student will soon be completing his year of practical training and will then try again - with Los Angeles 2028 as his goal. At the age of 26, he will already be too old for the World University Games in Germany in 2025. "But I'm still looking forward to it and will definitely be there as a spectator," he says, adding: "You can experience the great, wonderful diversity of sport at the full range".
Falk Petersilka ©International University Sports Federation (FISU)
German sport has recently reacted to the current situation. The federal states, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, and the German Olympic Sports Confederation believe that the funding structures need to be reformed. An independent sports agency is to ensure better pay for coaches and a more efficient allocation of funds. This is to happen by the end of 2025.
A few months before that, however, Germany can show how much it wants to do with top-level sport and how much it supports its athletes, who have to juggle sport and education. Perhaps it will be a "summer cum laude" ("Summer With Distinction") on the Rhine and Ruhr.
And basketball will also be played in 2025 at the Rhine-Ruhr 2025 FISU World University Games.