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Olympic gold medalist Fabian Hambüchen: 'Nine months ago, this was unthinkable'

Fabian Hambüchen won gold at the Rio Games - and then retired. Now he has been named Germany's sportsman of the year. He spoke to DW about a successful 2016 and his future plans.

DW: It's been four months since you won gold in Rio. Has it sunk in yet?

Fabian Hambüchen:Not yet, to be honest. I have had such a busy schedule that I simply haven't found the time. That's why I'm now looking forward to Christmas, when I will have a bit of time off, because 2016 was a very turbulent, emotional and intense year for me.

Your gold-winning performance, which was the last of your career, was perfect. You must have seen it on video dozens of times by now. How does it make you feel when you see it?

It takes me right back to that moment in time. It still stirs my emotions. When I look at the video, I'm right back in Rio, on the horizontal bar, and I relive exactly what I was thinking and doing in that moment.

If someone had told you half a year ago that you would win gold in Rio and go on to be named Germany's sportsman of the year, what would your response have been?

I would have told them they were crazy. Six or nine months ago, this was unthinkable. I had no use of my injured shoulder - even in everyday life. It was impossible to think about gymnastics at all.

For many athletes role models are important factors in their own careers. After winning gold, you said how important a role model your father has been for you. But is there also a particular athlete you have always looked up to?

As a child and as a teenager I always looked up to the best gymnasts, of course. But my biggest hero in sports has always been Muhammad Ali, who recently died. I always admired Ali - for the way he conducted himself, for his commitment, and all he stood for.

Deutschland Fabian Hambüchen mit seinem Vater (picture alliance/dpa/T. Zenkovich)

Hambüchen's father Wolfgang (above right) has always been his biggest role model

Let's talk about your future - you are currently studying at the German Sport University Cologne. What are your plans beyond that?

The course will take two to three semesters to complete, and during this time I will also think about what career path I should take in the future. I am curious and pretty much open to everything. I tend to think that I will get into coaching, but I could also see myself getting into management. Beyond that, I could also see myself winding up working in the media.

You are well liked, not just among sports fans, and there is hardly anyone in Germany who wasn't happy to see you win the gold medal in Rio. How have you managed to maintain such a flawless image?

It was always important to me to stay true to myself and be honest and authentic, to just be myself. No matter what has happened, I have never changed and that probably goes down well. I am happy that people see the real me.

After having won the bronze medal at the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and silver at the 2012 London Games, Fabian Hambüchen crowned his Olympic career by winning gold on the horizontal bar in Rio de Janeiro this past summer. The 29-year-old, who was the youngest male member of the German gymnastics team at the 2004 Games in Athens, called time on his career after winning Olympic gold. He retired with a total of 27 medals in international competition.

The interview was conducted by Jan-Hendrik Raffler.

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