A European Championship gold medal at his last ever Para athletics competition would be the icing on the cake for home favourite Heinrich Popow. The 35-year-old German will retire from the sport after Berlin 2018, rounding off a spectacular international career which began at the World Championships in 2002.
Sixteen Paralympic and world medals later – including golds at London 2012 and Rio 2016 – Popow has one last chance to stand on top of the podium when he takes on the men’s long jump T63.
But one man in particular will be standing in his way.
Denmark’s Daniel Wagner is the defending European champion; he also won his first ever world title in London, Great Britain, last year.
After a breakthrough season in 2015 when he broke the world record twice in the space of one week, Wagner had high hopes for the Doha World Championships.
But it wasn’t to be – the Dane struggled with his run-up and had to settle for silver behind Japan’s Atsushi Yamamoto. Popow, who had fractured a bone in his foot just days before the World Championships got underway, didn’t even start.
The result, which Wagner later admitted “was a total smash in the head”, made him work even harder and by May 2016 the former gymnast had set a new world record of 6.53m.
A few weeks later, Wagner and Popow went head-to-head at the Grosseto 2016 European Championships. While Popow improved his personal best to 6.43m, Wagner was in a class of his own, leaping a massive 6.70m.
That record did not last long, however.
On 20 August 2016 – two years to the day before the start of the Berlin 2018 European Championships – Popow leapt an incredible 6.77m.
He went on to claim gold at Rio 2016, his opening leap of 6.70m proving enough to seal another Paralympic title.
Wagner finished third in Rio, but bounced back last year when he won global gold with a championship record of 6.50m.
Still, one notable face was missing from that competition. Popow was out injured after taking part in German television’s ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He could only watch as Wagner celebrated victory with a backflip in front of the delighted British crowds.
The pair have already faced each other in competition this year. In Leverkusen in June and then at last month’s 2018 Japan Para Championships, Wagner, who changed his coach for the first time in his Para athletics career this year, came out on top.
But with the home crowds behind him – and as long as he can keep his emotions in check – Popow could turn the tables on his old rival for a final time.
Did you know… Daniel Wagner competed in Para snowboard at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games, finishing eighth in the snowboard cross.