Britta Steffen says she's not a born winner but that she has "so much fun winning." In London though, the two-time Olympic gold medallist hasn't had much fun. Her last chance to strike gold comes on Friday.
Not initially pegged to be a swimmer, German swimmer Britta Steffen was passed over by talent scouts at a young age. "First they said I was too small and too thin," she told DW in an interview earlier this year. But Steffen persisted, and her work paid off.
Born in 1983 in the East German industrial city of Schwedt, Steffen said the local oil refinery provided a heated pool, which gave her the ability to train regularly early on in her career.
By 1999 she had won eight gold medals at European Youth Championships. She was selected to participate in the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where she won a bronze medal as part of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay team.
'I dropped everything'
Four years later Steffen was competing at the Olympics in Athens when an ankle injury brought a sudden end to her medal aspirations. She described the event as an important moment in her career.
"I'd trained for four years, I'd gone to the Olympics for the first time in 2000 and been called the new Franziska van Almsick," said Steffen, referring to the former German swimming great who won 10 Olympic medals during her career . "And then I thought 'OK, if I can lose my ability to exceed in sport so quickly, maybe I should put emphasis on ordinary life.'"
She subsequently took a year off from the sport to return to school. "I dropped everything," she said. "I didn't want to swim anymore."
A return to the pool
Steffen began training again in 2005, and within a year she had set her first world record in the 100 freestyle at the World Aquatics Championship in 2006.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Steffen demonstrated her dominance, winning gold in the 50 and 100 meter freestyles. The next year she improved yet again - by breaking the world record in the same disciplines at the World Championship.
In 2011, Steffen underwhelmed at the World Championship in Shanghai, coming away with one bronze medal in the 4x100 freestyle relay. Steffen says illness during most of 2010 prevented her from being in top condition.
The German returned to form earlier this year. She collected three gold medals at the European Aquatics Championship in May. Boyfriend and fellow Olympic swimmer Paul Biedermann joined her on the podium, winning three gold medals at the competition himself.
Steffen went into the London Olympics as one of Germany's strongest medal hopes, with plans to bring home gold, and have fun doing it. "[Swimming] is meditation, it is dance, and I enjoy it a lot," she said.
However, things have not gone according to plan in the British capital. Steffen and her three teammates in the 4x100 failed to advance out of the preliminary rounds. On Wednesday, she failed to make it out of the semi-finals in the 100 freestyle.
"It's a bit difficult for me to acept that I may no longer be among the best in the world," Steffen said after the race.
She gets her last shot at a medal in the 50 meter freestyle on Friday.
Author: David Raish
Editor: Matt Zuvela