His mother says the only thing that's different about him is that he has changed from 16 to 17 years old. Fabian Hambüchen may be a down-to-earth young man but he's just become a European gymnastic champion.
At 16, Hambüchen went for Olympic glory. A year later, he got Euro gold
The down-to-earth young man looked around the cheering hall in Debrecen and hardly batted an eyelid that the crowds which were on their feet were cheering for him. Fabian Hambüchen had just become Germany's newest sporting hero as the new European horizontal bar champion. For him, it was job done and the culmination of years of hard work.
The 17-year-old gymnast from Wetzlar caused a major shock at the European championships in Hungary on Sunday when he beat Olympic champion Igor Cassina from Italy to take gold in the final round of the horizontal bar discipline. Showing nerves of steel, Hambüchen took his final chance and scored a perfect 9,750 points to win the title, forcing Cassina into second with 9,737.
"It's crazy," said Fabian's father Wolfgang. "I couldn't have hoped for anything more. It was always Fabian's wish just to compete in finals like this and we have achieved this but we would be bad sportsman to have been satisfied with that."
At the age of 16, Fabian Hambüchen was Germany's youngest Olympic athlete at the 2004 Athens games.
Hambüchen had appeared as Germany's gymnastic prodigy at the 2004 Athens Olympics but the then 16-year old, Germany's youngest competitor, finished way off the pace. But he had shown the quality which suggested he had days of glory in his future and the motivation and enthusiasm to see his dreams through to fruition.
"I can't get enough of the Olympics," said Hambüchen in an interview with DW-WORLD at the games last year. "If I could, I'd like to compete every day. At my age, others are already world champions. I'd definitely like to be an Olympic champion."
A year later, he's now European champion, a good step on the way to fulfilling his goal.
Despite becoming the poster boy for German gymnastics, and with it the attention from the media and fans, Hambüchen outwardly remains calm and grounded. While there was increasing calls for him to do promotional work in the wake of his Olympic appearance, and there will undoubtedly be more pressure now he's European champion, Fabian still puts school and practice ahead of cultivating his public persona.
Competition is the priority
Even so, there was never any question that he was going to miss the European Championships to attend three weeks of class in the 11th grade. And he is equally determined not to be in attendance for four weeks in late fall. Hitting the bars in preparation for the World Championships in Australia will take precedence over hitting the books.
"I'm definitely not going to miss Melbourne,” Hambüchen said. "Even if I have to repeat a year in school."
Conscientious to the last, the gymnastic star stays in contact with most of his teachers via e-mail and tries to take care of the most important stuff. Other areas of his education do, however, have to take a back seat.
"I just have to neglect a couple of subjects," he added sheepishly in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
While his plans focus on the Olympic Games in 2008 and 2012 and his goals revolve around medals rather than grades, it is unlikely that with such a strong family connection and support network, Hambüchen will go astray.
While his feet may be far from the earth in a literal sense while competing, Fabian Hambüchen will undoubtedly remain a well-rooted and grounded champion.