For a German athlete, speaking fluent Chinese and excelling in fencing may seem like two completely unrelated abilities. But for Britta Heidemann, both have played a role in finding the current balance in her life.
Fencing is a sport that rewards concentration, focus and mental fortitude. It's a lesson Heidemann learned quickly when she sidestepped from the modern pentathlon into full-time fencing. The ability to keep control of one's nerves is essential, and Heidemann's talent in that regard paid off with a gold medal in Beijing.
Those games were especially personal, considering her connections to China. The 29-year-old spent three months there as a child and later studied Chinese regional studies in university. Her thesis was on China's wind industry.
"Already having a gold in the individual competition and a silver in the team competition [from Athens in 2004] means I can be a little more relaxed in London," she said. "I still have the expectations and the eagerness, but it can be advantageous to feel a little looser."
Finding a balance
Her sport has proved helpful in tests of everyday life, she says, seeing as some of the same principles apply.
She used that belief as an example for others, penning a book after the Olympics called "Success is a Matter of Attitude: What Fencing Can Teach You About Life." Stressful situations and failure are familiar to Heidemann, but she says there is a difference between external stress and stress that comes from within.
"After winning gold in Beijing, the external pressure [to win in London] is quite high," she said. "I have expectations of myself, too. It wouldn't be right not to expect things of yourself."
"But, I can imagine it will be positive since I was successful in the past. I hope things stay positive."
Heidemann does her best to spread that positivity. After the Olympics, she received much more media attention, appearing on talk shows and giving numerous interviews.
"I promote fencing, give speeches about mental strength, motivation and the right balance, and travel a lot between Germany and China," she said.
"I act as a go-between for the athletes of [the two countries]," she said. "I like it; I seem to have found a good balance that is fulfilling."
Some of Heidemann's critics think she is too engaged in activities outside of fencing, which they say is reflected in some of her results since Beijing. Last year she reached a career low by placing 126th at the World Championships in Catania, Italy.
She was 12th in her final event before the Olympics, but she isn't worried. She says the only thing that matters is being in top form for the games. She'll be competing in the individual epee on July 30 and the team epee on August 4.
Author: Olivia Fritz / mz
Editor: Nancy Isenson