Thousands of fans are cheering for Malaika Mihambo at the finals in Berlin today. But the highlights for the long jump queen will follow at the World Championships and the European Championships at home. In an interview with ntv.de, the sportswoman of the year tells how she copes with her role as the hunted, what the Ukraine war is doing to her mentally, how she fights everyday racism and discrimination - and how far away she is from Heike Drechsler's German record .
ntv.de: Ms. Mihambo, do you prefer to be the hunter or the hunted?
Malaika Mihambo: I get along with both quite well. (laughs)
You will be the defending champion at the World Championships in Eugene, USA (July 15-24). What is different about the hunted?
This is a normal competition for me. Sure, I'm the defending champion and I'm happy to start with this status because it's a special achievement that you have to achieve first. Something has changed compared to previous years. Back then, I always felt the need to perform and prove myself. That's gone now. Everything that comes now is an encore. And I think that now I can deliver even better competitions because that special pressure is no longer there and I can concentrate on what is really important.
As a world champion and Olympic champion, are you now viewed differently by your colleagues?
Of course, the competition now knows who you are... but I had exceeded that status a long time ago. (laughs)
Are you preparing yourself differently for the World Cup, physically and mentally, because the European Championships in Munich (11th to 21st August) will follow just under three weeks later?
For me as a long jumper, it is ideal that the two competitions are so close together. From a training point of view, this is a single highlight for which I can prepare perfectly. I don't have to decide where I want to perform at my best, I can deliver it at both events. In between I have to see how I can cope with the jet lag. A lot will be about regeneration. I might do a small training block after the World Cup, but you do your homework beforehand anyway.
At the Diamond League meeting in Rome at the beginning of June, you had to admit defeat to the Ukrainian Maryna Bech-Romanchuk. Do athletes talk about the war in Ukraine?
Sure, you use this situation. Of course, I spoke to Maryna Bech-Romantschuk about the situation at home and how she is doing and how and where she can train now. Also at the beginning of the Russian war of aggression I asked her if she was safe and how her family was doing.
What is war doing to you mentally?
Unfortunately, war still plays a very present role in the world, even if we in Europe have been spared from it for a long time. I think for us Europeans this war is a wake-up call that not everything in the world is as peaceful as we are used to here. It is very sad what is happening in Ukraine and this is of course the conflict closest to us. But there are people all over the world for whom war is unfortunately part of everyday life.
Did we in Germany live in a kind of make-believe world before the war and looked at everything through rose-tinted glasses?
I think so, you didn't know it any differently from your own environment. Ukraine is now very close and you get a lot. The war is also becoming much more noticeable with the Ukrainian refugees in Germany. Of course, we are also much more affected by this war than others, in terms of the economy, gas or inflation, for example. These are issues that hit us hard and force us to think and change our behavior.
The World Championships will take place without Russian athletes. How do you think they are treated justly and fairly?
That is a difficult question. If you look at the individual, then the life of an athlete is short. Everyone wants to do their best in the time they have. If you lock out the athletes, you take away career opportunities from them. After all, not all athletes are equally closely linked to the upper political ranks in Russia. On the other hand, I think the big picture is more important. Sporting events can also open up a political arena and that can be exploited in Russia. That's why I think it's legitimate and right not to open stages like this in the first place.
You travel to the USA for the World Cup, where another bitter topic is currently dominating: gun massacres and gun violence. Does that matter in your mind?
That doesn't scare me in advance. I think that such events are very well controlled and everything is done to hold a safe World Cup. On the other hand, I am very concerned because gun violence is a huge problem and from our German and European point of view, where gun ownership is much more heavily regulated, it is also difficult to understand.
Gun violence particularly affects people of color in the United States. As a black woman from Germany, do you have a special connection to that?
For me it is a fundamental problem that a separation is made that actually does not exist. This should affect everyone equally, because an unjust and discriminatory society has negative consequences for everyone. Even if you might be in the "happier position". Of course, violence against people of color is disturbing. It may not be quite as bad in Germany, but there is also a lot of discrimination here and you have negative experiences if you look different from the majority of the population.
You once talked about racist hostilities that you had to endure as a child: Where do you not observe such obvious, but systemic and everyday racism in Germany today?
I am now in the fortunate position that I hardly have any points of contact with it. But everyday racism still occurs often and there are many systemic problems. Unfortunately, our system tends to exclude many people. Not only because of the color of the skin, but also because of the socio-economic status. These are things that are of concern and that are not good for a society as a whole. We should all work to build an open society and fight against intolerance.
Do you see yourself as a role model for women and girls of color, with a migration background or experience of discrimination, who otherwise do not have so many role models in Germany in sports and in public who look like themselves?
I'm just happy when I can be a role model for people. Especially for children. I personally don't care on what basis people decide to see me as a role model.
Footballers of color repeatedly report racist hate messages that they receive online. What are you reading there?
With its anonymity, the Internet naturally invites people to say things that some would otherwise be ashamed of in public. Luckily I don't get hate mail directly, but I read it more often in comment columns on other sites or profiles.
After your jump of 7.09 meters in the first competition of the World Championships season in Birmingham, you said: "I really feel better than ever. I think there's definitely more to come." What distances are possible for a Malaika Mihambo if everything is correct?
I don't know that. But it would be nice to find out what would be in the best case this year. It just feels great for me to be able to pick up where I was in 2019. That I worked my way through the start-up difficulties and the technical sprint difficulties. I always give my all and that's the most important thing for me: that I leave the field knowing that I did a good competition. Placements are secondary.
Would Heike Drechsler's German record of 7.48 meters or even Galina Tschistjakowa's world record of 7.52 meters be possible?
(laughs) Definitely not, because there are almost 20 to 25 centimeters between my best performance and the records. These are worlds in the long jump.
Haven't you ever jumped this far in training?
In training, I almost never jump from a long run-up, only from a short one. Also, I'm a competitive type. I need that pressure that something is at stake. You can't simulate that.
David spoke to Malaika Mihambo in need