It's 4 p.m. at the beer garden round the corner from the stadium on Hahnstrasse in Frankfurt-Niederrad. Günter Eisinger is sipping away at a large shandy -- a mixture of beer and lemonade -- waiting for Ariane Friedrich, Germany's top high jumper, to arrive. There are a only a few more weeks to go until the World Athletics Championships in Berlin.
Suddenly his cell phone rings. It's a woman from the German Athletics Federation. She wants Friedrich to do another advertising campaign before the meeting in Wattenscheid. "No," says Eisinger, "we're not doing any more."
Dressed in a black sports top and black leggings, with her iPod in her ears, blonde-haired Ariane Friedrich walks toward the table her trainer is sitting at. She tells him she added some wheat protein into her salad at lunch time -- "It was delicious." Eisinger wipes his mouth. "You had another enquiry," he says. Friedrich sighs. Can't people just leave her alone? They are heading for the track -- it's sprints on the program today. Friedrich's run-up must be fine-tuned for Berlin -- the optimum speed is 6.5 meters per second.
Friedrich runs off and Eisinger's phone rings again. This time it's a sports student from Cologne -- he wants to know if Ms. Friedrich is available to help with his diploma thesis, preferably before the championships, but if not then during the event. "Why don't I just do it during the competition?" asks Friedrich, shaking her head. "I have been a coach for 30 years," Eisinger says, "and in that time I have experienced a lot, but never hype like this."
Ariane Friedrich will be the only German star competing at the Athletics World Championships, which begin on August 15. She is 25 years old, and when she finishes her training she will qualify as a police commissioner. In March she became Indoor World Champion and in mid-June she conquered 2.06 meters. Only eight women have ever jumped that high in the history of the sport and it was enough for her to beat the old German record -- which held for 18 years -- by a centimeter.
Now in Berlin she is set to be what Ulrike Meyfarth was at the 1972 Olympics in Munich: "The Golden Girl." There is a long tradition of German women doing well in high jump: Meyfarth, Rosemarie Ackermann, Heike Henkel. Friedrich should be set to add her name to this list of greats. Many athletes have failed much lesser challenges.
'One Mistake and It Could All Go Wrong'
Everyone wants a piece of her. In the past few weeks she has been approached to do more than 200 interviews and countless advertising appearances. She turned down almost everything and even missed the Golden League Meeting in Paris, despite the money she could have earned there. "I have to be careful that Ariane doesn't break down on me" says Eisinger. "the pressure is enormous -- one tiny mistake and it could all go wrong."
Freidrich is someone who pushes back the boundaries. She has been working with Eisinger, the former national team coach, since 2001. He discovered her aged 17, when she was competing for her state team of Hessen, but they almost went their separate ways three years ago. Eisinger felt she was wasting her talent. "She was a wildchild -- her erratic lifestyle was completely unsuited to competitive sport." Some nights she would only get two hours sleep, she used to make phone calls at 3 a.m. and one night she sent Eisinger a text message at 2 a.m.: she wrote that she had done something silly. "And she really had -- in the truest sense of the word," says Eisinger. She had torn a ligament in her foot while running the wrong way down an escalator for a bet with friends, and in her room at the sports school, pizza leftovers were left rotting in the bin for days.
Eisinger took her in hand. They each had to write down what they were unhappy with at that moment in time. Friedrich wanted to leave the sports school, wanted more freedom and to be subjected to less controls. The coach listed 30 points of criticism. "At first, Ariane was quiet for a moment, then came the little comments, and finally she burst into tears."
A More Disciplined Life
After that she went to see a psychologist a few times and now Friedrich leads a disciplined life. She goes to bed at 11 p.m. She has improved on her 2006 personal best by 15 centimeters.
Friedrich has two nutritionists working with her and in the past two years she has lost 8 percent of her body weight. In competitions she now weighs 57 kilograms instead of 62 and is 1.79 meters tall. Eisinger analysed the 10 best jumpers in the world and determined that Friedrich was relatively heavy in comparison. Now she eats very few carbohydrates, lots of protein and, from three days before a competition, no sugar. She has thin arms and legs and is flat-chested, but she hasn't lost any of her substance -- she is still strong. She lifts dumb-bells of over 50 kilograms, and pushes 120 kilogram weights with her knees. There is constantly talk of her being anorexic, but Friedrich gets angry at the suggestion -- she says she has it all under control. A body mass index of 17.5 or below is an indicator of anorexia, and her's stands just above this figure. Once, when she weighed 56 kilograms, it did slip under 17.5, but Eisinger stepped in immediately.
In the coming weeks, Friedrich will be training at the same time at which her competition will take place in Berlin in order to attune her biorhythm to the strain.
Six or seven women are in with a realistic chance of making the podium at the World Championships. Friedrich's greatest competition is defending champion Blanka Vlai from Croatia. "You never know what's going to happen," says Eisinger, "but if you could plan getting a medal down to the very last detail, then it would be boring."