Schäfer about training on beam: The whole thing is a love-hate relationship

Pauline Schäfer won gold on beam at Worlds in Montreal despite the notoriously hard beam judging at that competition. published an article about her and wonderful Johanna Stoeger translated the highlights.

The journalist was allowed to observe Schäfer’s training for two days and learned about her regular schedule. Schäfer is training in the morning and goes to school in the evening working towards getting her high school diploma. A construction company gave her a significant discount on the apartment rent which was important since her salary is not that high. Her main source of income is “Bundeswehr sports promotion group” which pays her about 1200 euros a month and she also gets additional 450 euros from a sponsor and a sports-aid institution. She’s been very busy since Montreal, with events to attend in addition to her training and schoolwork. On the day the journalist was observing her, she got to the gym at 8 am after going to sleep after midnight.

As the journalists observe her, she falls from the beam several times and gets back up: “The whole thing is a love-hate relationship, a continuous circle that never stops. You will never get out of it again”.

Schäfer started gymnastics at the age of five, and when she was seven, she started training with Sergej Slastnych in Saarbrücken and stayed there until the end of elementary school. After that, she attended an elite sports school where both her schooling and training took place.  In order to get there, Schäfer had to take the bus at 6 am and returned home only late in the evening. “I didn’t find that hard because I wanted to do that for myself”,  she says today.

However, when she hit puberty, Schäfer suddenly became afraid of doing backwards elements. Her coach didn’t respond well to her fear which only made her withdraw more. Her mother had to step in to resolve the situation: “It was clear that when the child suffers, it’s over. We never pushed her, I always wanted her to develop the way she likes”.

Schäfer did not to give up the sport just yet and at the age of 15 she ended up moving to a gym in Chemnitz and started training with Gabriele Frehse. She had to live in a boarding school sharing a tiny room with a roommate. She missed her parents and her four siblings very much. A year later, her younger sister Helene, who was just 12 years old at the time, joined her at the gym and the boarding school.

About her coach, Pauline says: “Without her, I would not have made it, I’m grateful she pushed me. From time to time I need a kick in the ass”.

The training conditions aren’t ideal. The gym is small and the roof isn’t strong enough, it risks collapsing in the winter under the weight of snow. There’s no foam pit in the gym. Because of that, the head coach wrote a letter in the Name of her best athletes (Pauline Schäfer and Sophie Scheder) to the Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maiziere. In the letter, they wrote that their preparations for the Olympic Games are in jeopardy if there is no change.

Schäfer describes Frehse as dominant: “Everything has to go according to the plan. If it does not work out the way she imagined, she’s in a rage”.  Frehse learned from the successful East German coaches. However, Schäfer says her coach has a warm heart despite being strict during practices and “you will not find anyone who wants to leave”. 

According to Schäfer, Americans train way more intensely than she does and that “nobody here would be able to endure that”. She says that they have “way more opportunities for recovery” and that “they do nothing except gymnastics”.

Her coach says that Pauline’s win is not because of high difficulty but because Pauline is an extremely elegant gymnast and that she benefits from that in today’s scoring system. Her coach also states that Pauline has a lot of self-motivation and that puts her ahead of other gymnasts.

Schäfer’s been experiencing diffuse back pain since this summer. Other than that, her worst injury happened on beam, where she tore open her thigh when she landed a salto too close to the end of the beam and the beam cap broke off. She also had a concussion in 2010 when she landed a double twist on floor on her head.

Schäfer plans on continuing in gymnastics until Tokyo 2020. Her coach Frehse says, that she wants Pauline “to live a little bit” after that. Despite the difficulties, Schäfer doesn’t regret anything and that she never felt like she had to give up something in order to do gymnastics. She always wanted to train and to go out and compete and she says that she already achieved more than she ever dreamed of.



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