Before the last Olympic Games German gymnast Fabian Hambüchen was a hot favorite. But a disappointing performance in Beijing and a string of injuries nearly derailed his career. Now he's back, hoping for redemption.
In 2007 Fabian Hambüchen won the World Championships in Stuttgart on the horizontal bars. He was then named German sportsman of the year, beating out such names as basketball star Dirk Nowitzki. Hambüchen's potential, it seemed, was limitless. The upcoming Beijing Olympics were his for the taking.
Then the Games came. What was expected to be a coronation instead turned into a nightmare. A sloppy performance - by Hambüchen's standards - resulted in a bronze medal. With the amount of hype surrounding him beforehand, the so-called "golden boy" might as well have come up empty.
"On the way there I was very self-confident," said Hambüchen in an interview with newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung not long after the Beijing Games. "I was mentally on the ball, I went at it offensively and said: 'I want gold.' But once there, something went wrong, as if I were on a different planet."
Four years later, London represents a shot at redemption for Hambüchen. But the road for the former European and world champion - who is trained by his father, Wolfgang - has not been easy.
Hambüchen, who as DW first described in 2004 could easily be mistaken for a pint-size Popeye on shore leave, came into the spotlight at an early age. At the 2004 Olympics, the North Rhine-Westphalia native was the youngest German athlete in Athens, where he finished seventh in the individual horizontal bar and was part of a German squad that placed eighth in team competition. Just 16 at the time, his boyish looks and Harry Potter-style glasses endeared him to an estimated 9.6 million Germans who watched him compete. He instantly became a household name, appearing on numerous TV shows and winning 125,000 euros on the celebrity edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Then came the Beijing Olympics, followed by three years of various injuries including to his fingers and Achilles tendon.
A 2010 autobiography Hambüchen wrote at the age of 22 - in which he claimed some gymnasts were 'ridiculous' - further embroiled him in controversy. Some wondered if he would ever return to gymnastics.
"One must block out everything"
But a first-place finish at the German Olympic trials on June 30 in men's all-around, guaranteeing him a spot in London, means one thing: Hambüchen is back.
Winning gold in London won't be simple, however. Hambüchen will likely face stiff competition from Japan's Kohei Uchimura - the prohibitive favorite of many whom Hambüchen called the "perfect" gymnast in 2011 - and Americans Danell Leyva and John Orozco.
There's also countryman Philipp Boy, who Hambüchen edged out at the Olympic trials, to contend with. And of course there's always Russia and China, the two nations that have historically been the most successful in gymnastics.
The frustrations of the past should help him. "No matter the situation in which I find myself, I must remember to think: 'What can I do, what do I want to do and what must be done?' instead of rushing into doing something out of sheer joy or frustration," Hambüchen said in the same Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung interview. "One must block out everything, or at least try to, in order to be present here and now and concentrate on just the one thing."
That one thing, of course, is gold. Hambüchen's quest begins July 28.
Author: Benjamin Mack
Editor: Rina Goldenberg