“It’s a feeling of being happy and sad at one time. There are no words to describe the feeling of retirement"
Germany’s Paralympic champion Heinrich Popow plans to call time on his illustrious Para athletics career with one last winning performance at his home European Championships in Berlin from 20-26 August.
After a hugely successful international career spanning four World Championships and four Paralympic Games, Popow, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Saturday (14 July) will bow out from competition - and if all goes according to plan, it will be with his best long jump yet.
“My goal is to jump the best or to do the best competition that I’ve ever done,” said Popow, who broke the long jump T42 Paralympic record at Rio 2016 when he leapt 6.70m in the first round of competition – enough to claim the gold medal.
“One big jump, that’s me – I’m a sprinter. It’s not about having six good jumps and not even having one perfect jump. I’m going for the one perfect jump. Like I did in Rio – my coach told me, do it in the first jump. I just want to hit it once.”
The Rio Games were Popow’s last major competition – he missed the London 2017 World Championships due to injuries suffered while taking part in Germany television’s version of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ – and he admits that returning to training and full competition mode was something he “struggled a lot with.”
He explained: “The problem was, I got injured and pushed myself too hard in all the shows. After the third show I had a fracture in my foot and then I pulled a tendon in my shoulder; my stump was open since the second show.
“The feeling of getting the chance to represent the possibilities of amputees or disabled people in front of four to five million people, live every Friday evening, got me to a point that I was too motivated, I was not listening to my body.
“Then I struggled a lot to get back in to athletics with injuries. Even the mindset was not there - I thought being part of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ broke my whole career - but I’m happy to be back.”
But the Leverkusen man, who leapt a world record 6.77m in the long jump T42 in August 2016 - exactly two years to the day before the start of this year’s European Championships - insists he is ready to give it his all.
“Being a German athlete and having an international event in Germany, it’s quite fun and for me having the chance to make my retirement in Berlin, it’s also a good feeling getting ready for the competition,” said Popow, who now competes in the T63 class for single above-knee amputees who use a prosthetic.
“I’m not going in to Berlin with 99 per cent preparation; I will be there with 100 per cent.”
While Popow, who has 15 major global medals to his name, remains confident about his abilities in Berlin, the prospect of retirement is still something he is coming to terms with.
“It’s a weird feeling,” he explained. “It’s a feeling of being happy and sad at one time. There are no words to describe the feeling of retirement. It’s hard to explain – like preparing your own funeral,” he laughed.
“I don’t know how I can handle the feeling after the competition – what if it makes me think, ‘see you can go far, you are still on a professional level, why are you not going to Tokyo 2020?’ But there is a lot of work beside sports that motivates me.”