Berger, who placed fourth on vault at the Olympic Games, was looking to get redemption last year but was unfortunately injured at national championships and unable to contend. This weekend, she made a return to competition at championships in Giessen, but isn’t fully back from injury and could only compete on bars, where she had a fall.
Enjoy this excellent interview with Berger about her injuries and bad timing below, published in the days before she made her comeback.
“One Step Can Ruin Everything”
The world-class gymnast Janine Berger on injury-related setbacks, the search for perfection, and her long road back to German Championships, by Jan Kubica.
What’s going on with your left knee?
It’s getting better and better, and now is actually pretty good. I can train, in any case.
You suffered an ACL injury at the German Championships in Stuttgart a year ago. At first, there was very positive news, but then a second operation was necessary. Since then, seven months have passed and you are now faced with your comeback. But tell us…what has happened in the meantime?
I must say, it actually went by pretty fast. Exactly one year ago, on September 16, I had the first operation. This was to repair the torn meniscus and cartilage damage. Then I needed a second operation in February because the scar tissue was a bit thick. This wasn’t a big procedure, but it was still unfortunate. Nevertheless, most gymnasts with injuries like this are out for a year and a half before they can compete again. For me, it was a year, which is pretty good.
Recreational athletes can’t presumably even imagine how much strength is necessary to get back on top after such an injury.
In competitive sports, only those with ambition and willpower can make it. And you need to be a bit tough and cold. That’s what makes professionals – to learn from every setback and just get a bit tougher. Those who don’t do this can’t make it to the top.
This weekend you compete at the German Championships in Giessen. Are you excited?
I’m looking forward to the competition and the fact that I came back to this level. Whether I hit my routines is another question. It’s a sport where you need perfection. Something like a small step too far to the left or a tiny problem can ruin everything.
You said you are not yet going to compete vault, and will only do bars. Tell everyone in layman’s terms why this is.
Because on bars, I’m not really using my knees…if things go well and I don’t fall, that is. The landing is also not a problem.
In training in Ulm you have begun to train the vault that has brought you both success and misfortune, the double-twisting Tsuk. How was the first time?
Of course, I was a bit excited. I am also very pleased that it’s as good as ever. In training I’ve mastered it, but it’s something else to do it in a competition. That will happen as long as I’m at 110%. I don’t want to risk anything. Right now, the outlook is “it could go smoothly,” which isn’t where I want to be. I want you to tell me I’ve mastered it in my sleep.
You always call this “the” vault. Have you ever thought about trying out another, something equal in terms of difficulty?
Honestly, no. The quality is still very high. Of course, my competition internationally has gotten a lot stronger. Especially the Americans. But with my two vaults, I still have good opportunities to do well internationally.
Back to Giessen. What’s your personal goal for this meet?
I really hope I can make bars finals. I did it in 2013 and in 2014, but I couldn’t compete last year because I got injured in vault finals right before.
You have been thinking about doing beam this weekend.
No, that’s the plan for the second qualifier in early October in Stuttgart. In Giessen I’m only doing bars. Beam isn’t something that will make me useful to the team.
You just mentioned Stuttgart. Is this competition, on October 3, in the same hall where you had that terrible accident?
Yes, it’s exactly the same hall. And when I have to compete there for the first time since that vault, I don’t know at the moment how I’ll react. But then I think to myself, the hall can’t help it.
So if you don’t vault, do you think you’ll have an issue making the World Championships team?
I won’t make it to Glasgow without vault. But that’s not my main goal.
That means your dream of the 2016 Olympic Games lives regardless of the outcome in the coming weeks?
Of course. Rio is and remains my goal. The qualifiers for that team aren’t until May or June. Regarding Glasgow, it’s especially important that the German team gets at least eighth place there so they can qualify to Rio. That will be difficult, but not impossible. But if they don’t qualify, there is a second chance for the team to qualify in January [at the Olympic Test Event]. And then who ultimately makes our Olympic team will come later.
Back to now. Two of your teammates from Ulm are also competing in Giessen. Annika Göttler and Natalie Wolfgang will compete in the all-around. What do you hope for them?
I wish for them to get through their exercises well. Both will be very happy if they can have their best individual performances.
Germany’s national team coach Ulla Koch expects a three-way battle between Elisabeth Seitz, Pauline Schäfer, and Sophie Scheder. Do you agree with that?
Yes, definitely. But someone new could also surprise.
How do you get along with the other gymnasts?
We all get along pretty well and are friends with each other. But in competition, there is so much pressure on each of us. Everyone has something to work through. For example, I’m only doing one event in Giessen after being out for a year – and everyone wants to see “how is Janine Berger going to look?” Dealing with that is difficult.
Translation by Lauren Hopkins