Malaika Mihambo, the angel among long jumpers

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Herne in Germany: Malaika Mihambo a long jumper with roots in East Africa won the women’s long jump at the Olympics with 7.03 metres. Then a few lines that rank the performance with the German predecessors and describe the competition, and that’s pretty much it. Radio and television usually don’t give much more than that. The athletes are rarely humanised…

There is no question that Mihambo is a model athlete of German sport: dynamic, female with a migration background and that is a good thing. She really caught my eye at the World Championships in Doha 2019. One 7-metre jump after another with huge composure, I was impressed. It was almost natural for her to win. The 7-metre mark is the absolute gateway to the world’s best in long jumping. She has a best of 7 metres 30 and has thus arrived in the absolute Olympus of women’s long jump.

As I came from a family of sportsmen, my dad was a referee in paid football and I myself dabbled intensively in middle-distance running and marathon running, a great interest in sport is in my DNA. The path once led me to the marathon team at the University of Pretoria. For me, sport and people are at the forefront. So I started researching out of interest.

Mihambo’s father is from Tanzania, her mother from Germany. Nothing special, actually. As is so often the case in Tanzania, the first name has a meaning. Malaika means angel in Swahili. 

She graduated from the International Comprehensive School in Heidelberg in Germany. It made me wonder. Already in her youth, at the age of 15 or 16, she achieved top-class sporting feats. How can that be? As is generally known, comprehensive schools have all-day classes to guarantee equal opportunities.  The learning groups are usually heterogeneous, consisting of children with different talents and learning speeds. My own rather modest experience with the strenuous combination shows that it is difficult to do competitive sport at the same time. Friends and sports colleagues experienced it more intensively.

Training ambitiously after a long, exhausting day at school is a tough task, especially if you’re aiming for national teams and German championship finals. Sometimes the envy of the environment does the rest. During this time, Mihambo dealt with the particularly training-intensive 7-fight and managed to do it without going to a sports high school…

In addition to top-class sporting achievements, she studied politics in Mannheim, which she successfully completed. Then a further education course in environmental sciences in Hagen at the Fernuniverstät in NRW. In the back of my mind I remember that she rides her bike to training. When I pointed out to one of her university teachers that there was a world athletics champion among her students, he looked at me in surprise.  

I wanted to see Mihambo in person and at an indoor sports festival in Dortmund I was allowed to watch her run 60 metres indoors. My impression from the pictures in Doha was confirmed. Her performance defied nothing but serene authenticity, surrounded at the end by numerous youthful fans. This is also reflected in her internet presence. She has set up a foundation to introduce primary school children to athletics. Her passion for backpacking matches this. It is probably the mixture: German precision and African ease and creativity. 

The example also shows that world-class competitive sport is possible in Germany. People remain people and people like it. Surely there is a strong team in the background.   

Author: Dr. Thomas Isenburg, 1000 meters best time: 2:45! May be more was possible…

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