Top-level athletics and university – does it go together?: Students from Adlershof en route to the Olympics

19. January 2016

Top-level athletics and university – does it go together?

Students from Adlershof en route to the Olympics

Wasserspringerin Maria Kurjo und Kunstturner Philipp Herder vereinbaren Spitzensport und Studium. Bild: © Adlershof Journal

Diver Maria Kurjo and artistic gymnast Philipp Herder

They work hard for the Olympic qualifying and visit lectures at university at the same time – about 15 top-level athletes study on the campus of Humboldt-University (HU) in Berlin Adlershof. For Maria Kurjo and Philipp Herder, this is a real challenge.

Rio de Janeiro 2016: their greatest goal is to represent Germany at the Olympic Games. High diver Maria Kurjo, 25 years old and member of the first national team, was discovered in gym class as a child: “At the beginning it was just a lot of fun, later I was fascinated by the challenge to keep learning new dives. I need to have full control over my body in order to be able to perform those acrobatics in mid-air. To me that’s what this sport is about.”

Maria Kurjo is the German champion in synchronized diving from the 10-metre-platform, she made fourth place at the European Championship 2015, took part in the Olympic Games 2012, and is a member of the sports promotion group of the German Armed Forces – athletics are her main job. But Mario Kurjo also wanted to go to university at all costs. Top-athletics and university – does that go together? Yes, it does, because top athletes are supported on the basis of a cooperation agreement between HU and the Olympic Base Berlin that was signed in 2002 and continuously expanded since then. The third-semester Maria Kurjo nods: “It’s really important! Training in the morning, university in the day, training in the evening. Adding to that are training camps and competitions. It requires a lot of discipline and diligence. There’s no other way.” Maria is supported by a mentor from her institute. He is one of 15 mentors that the HU faculties and institutes use to help the athletes organize their studies. “Training is the top priority, especially when it’s about the Olympic qualification. Lectures and exams have to be coordinated somehow.” Maria knows this from experience.

Besides Marie and Phillip, about 60 first team athletes and 90 other successful athletic students are currently supported in balancing two careers. The Olympic Base Berlin, the university sports center as well as various university service and administrative departments work in close exchange and cooperation with the athletes. Key figure of the HU support system is a project coordinator whose position is sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research. A student mentoring program facilitates networking between professional athletes at university and fosters informal contacts between them.

The artistic gymnast Philipp Herder studies physics part time at the HU. He is 23 years old, part of the second national team, member of the sports promotion group of the German Armed Forces, junior high bar champion, third place in the floor exercises competition of the German Championship 2014. He has always been intrigued by physics and values the campus atmosphere in Adlershof where he goes once a week. “It’s very hard to be honest,” he admits. “I went to the world championships during the familiarization phase, so getting started was totally stressful. Up to 30 hours of training a week, plus physiotherapy and training camp. Three times a week at uni. I thought about dropping out after the first semester, but then turned to my mentor.” He helped Philipp get through his practical physics course. Now his studies are going nicely. “I’m pretty sure I’ll manage, but I have to be very organized.” The artistic gymnasts are preparing for the pre-Olympic Games in Rio in March 2016 where they will try to “bring home the tickets for the Olympics. We should manage to get among the first four of eight teams.” Whether or not he will be part of that, he doesn’t know. But it would be a dream come true!

By Jördis Götz for Adlershof Journal

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