Status: 01.10.2023, 14:51 p.m.
By: Nico-Marius Schmitz
Fourth place at the European Championships in Munich: Neele Eckhardt-Noack. © Photo: imago
At the 2022 European Championships in Munich, Neele Eckhardt-Noack jumped to fourth place, and at the end of the season she was in ninth place worldwide. 2023 was bitter, cruciate ligament rupture and thus the World Cup exit in the summer. In an interview with our newspaper, the 31-year-old talks about the compromises she has to make as an athlete in Germany and the distance to the world's best.
Ms. Eckhardt-Noack, how is your recovery going?
I can't train 100 percent normally again yet and I'm still in the rehab phase. The bone in the knee doesn't look so good yet. You can imagine that the femur and lower leg bones collided during the ill-advised jump, resulting in a bone bruise. After the very successful year 2022 in terms of sport, my first priority was to take my exams in January, I completed my law studies. Unfortunately, I got injured during the third competition during the season.
Are you afraid that the competition will jump away from you during the failure?
I was impressed by the quality at the front at the World Championships. Five or six jumped over 14.80, which is an extremely high number. In Tokyo, there were only three, which are worlds in between. A final participation with 14.13 is humane - but at the front is really going off.
In a post on LinkedIn, you mentioned the meager funding for athletes in Germany. It seemed as if the topic had been on your mind for a long time.
Since 2017 I have been supported by the German Armed Forces, for which I am totally grateful. Before that, I was dependent on BAföG, so that was a huge increase. But I don't compete with just anyone in my free time, but with the world's best in competitive sports. And as an athlete in Germany, you sometimes have to think about that, which competitors certainly don't have to worry about to the same extent.
Can you give some examples?
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From the association's side, I receive physiotherapy twice a week, for half an hour. This is very meager given our workload and our training workload. You could train better if you were better cared for in this area. I usually travel alone to competitions abroad because it is not financially feasible for my coach to accompany me. At international competitions, I am not always, but often the only athlete without a coach. You're walking around alone in a technical discipline that actually requires consultation with the coach. That doesn't do justice to competitive sports. For maximum performance, you also need a maximally good infrastructure. I read today that Amanal Petros himself invested 10,000 euros in preparation for the Berlin Marathon. You have to have the money first. There is no question that it is very difficult to get rich with competitive sports in Germany. But you have to think about elementary things. For example, whether you can afford a second chiropractor appointment a month.
So is it logical that the medals for Germany are missing?
The world's best have taken a real step forward, and Germany has come to a standstill in some disciplines. It starts with such small things as the chiropractor appointment, but the problem is of course bigger and complex. What has also been bothering me for a long time is that annual contracts are normal in the Bundeswehr. However, long-term planning in Olympic cycles is relatively difficult when there is uncertainty every year. If you call up your performance, everything is ok. If not, you quickly have to worry about squad status and promotion. There are simply too many energy guzzlers. Many people may not be able to imagine how much sport fills everyday life. My mother couldn't imagine it either, until she moved in with me for a week. It's not a 9-to-5 job. It's not "just" the training either. Nutrition, preparation and follow-up, travel ...
Do you lack an appreciation for the sport?
The support is there. People are already enthusiastic about competitive sports. I felt it last year at the European Championships in Munich, the crowds were in the stadium, the atmosphere was unbelievably beautiful. The TV ratings also show that athletics is accepted. Financial appreciation is something else. That's where there is a clear problem.
Don't you sometimes think to yourself: What am I doing all this for?
It's very clear to me that I'm doing all this just for myself. Because I'm passionate about the sport and have a huge passion. Because I want to know how far I can still jump. The other day, my best friend said to me: If you had put the ten years into your vocational training, it would have been much more lucrative financially. I don't do the sport to make big money. I also want to be a role model and make it easier for young people to enter competitive sports.
Interview: Nico-Marius Schmitz