Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Excursion into the ice canal

Posted on 17 February 2022 by Kristina Thiedeitz

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To be part of the Olympic Games and represent your home country in a global competition is a dream that many young athletes have, but not all of them can fulfil it. Germany’s Alexandra Burghardt takes part in two Olympic Games within seven months. In Tokyo 2021, the sprinter competed in the sprint relay, and next Friday, she will compete in the two-person bobsleigh.

Burghardt is the German champion over the 100 and 200 meters. The Olympic Games in Tokyo were her first, and she finished 5th there in the 4 x 100-meter relay.

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But why the excursion into the ice canal? The German Bobsleigh Federation asked the 27-year-old several times, but Burghardt always refused at first. She thought it would be an escape from her actual sport: athletics. But the bobsleigh federation kept approaching her and finally convinced her to give it a try. Also, she was so enthusiastic about the Olympics last year that she wanted to experience it again.

It is not uncommon for sprinters to try their hand at bobsleigh. Not only has Burghardt taken this path, but also the American Tyson Gay. In 2007, the sprinter was world champion in the 100 and 200 meters and the relay. After a doping ban, he tried out as a pusher in bobsleigh.

Burghardt is now also trying her hand at pushing the bob. After initial exposure to the new sport and plenty of training, she had her first ride with the pilot. “The first ride was enjoyable,” said the 27-year-old afterward. She forms a team with the reigning Olympic champion Mariama Jamanka. The pusher explains with a grin: “We are getting to know each other more and more. For me, it’s a super good fit.”

The first acid test followed on 28.11.2021 at the Bobsleigh World Cup in Innsbruck. It went surprisingly well with with the pair finishing in fourth place. “A good debut, even if not everything went optimally yet”, Burghardt judged.

The new duo was convinced at two more World Cups last year in the end. Both in Winterberg and Altenberg, they achieved second place. At the World Cup in Winterberg at the beginning of this year, they only came ninth, but they are still looking positively towards Beijing: “Now I am looking forward to the Games.”

With Jamanka, Burghardt has the chance to win a medal. But when asked whether she would prefer a medal in sprinting or bobsleighing, she says that track and field is still her primary sport. “That’s probably why I would say a medal in track and field would be more valuable for me. But I realised in the summer that the Olympics are special – no matter what sport.”

However, after such a short period in a new sport, competing in the Olympics also means adjusting. “That’s probably the biggest difference for me, that I’m even more part of a team and that the team concept is written much bigger.” In sprinting, she is used to having a starting shot and relying on it, but now she even gives the final start command herself, so the responsibility is in her hands.

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On Friday, 18 February, it will get serious for Burghardt and Jamanka at the bobsleigh track in Beijing. The newly built bobsleigh track is a marvel of architecture and costs 2.5 billion dollars. The athletes rave about the track, as does Burghardt: “The facility is super. We have an insane bobsleigh track that will probably never be seen again.”

The sprinter will give her all at her first Winter Olympics but does not want to put herself under pressure by aiming too high. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few months in bobsleighing, it’s that anything can happen – from first place to last place. Even small mistakes can be unforgivable. That’s why the focus is not on pronouncing a big target.” She and her partner want to get all four heats down correctly and hope for the best possible outcome.

It remains to be seen to what extent the preparation has been sufficient. In any case, Alexandra Burghardt has already fulfilled a dream and is taking part in her second Olympic Games within seven months. Perhaps she will even win her first Olympic medal with Olympic champion Mariama Jamanka and thus crown her excursion into the ice canal.