Steffen No Longer Afraid To Win
Craig Lord
The former world record holder was once held back by an unusual ailment: subconsciously, she was afraid to beat her rivals, said German psychologist Frederike Janofsky. Now, she wants to win

Britta Steffen was once held back by an unusual ailment: subconsciously, she was afraid to beat her rivals. Such was the conclusion of German psychologist Frederike Janofsky, the woman who helped Franziska van Almsick get back from the low of silver at the 1996 Olympic Games to a world record win at a home European Championships in the 200m free in 2002.

'I didn't have my head in the right place,' Steffen told agency reporters this week. 'I would say I want to win. But after this test she asked: 'Britta, why don't you want to win?' I spontaneously blurted out: 'Because someone else would lose!' It sounded so absurd when that came out of me. I thought 'what?' I had got used to losing. Deep inside I hated to see others lose because they'd cry. She helped me erase my own mind's objections to winning.'

It was not long after that that Steffen broke the world record in 53.30 over 100m freestyle at claimed four gold medals at the 2006 European Championships in Budapest. Two of those saw her join teammates in freestyle relay world records.

Steffen's 53.30 was 0.99sec faster than her previous best, and questions were raised. Steffen understood the need to question. 'I'd have had doubts too,' she said. 'But the coaches pointed out that Lenton [Trickett] and others had also made similar one-second improvements before setting records.' In 2004, Lenton's 53.66 world record came off a previous best of 54.64.

Germany, however, is haunted by the ghost of State Plan 14:25 and systematic doping. 'The problem is I took off a half a year, I'm a 'German' and from the 'east',' said Steffen, who was just 6 when the Berlin Wall fell. 'Everyone assumed the worst.' Steffen has been visited by unannounced testers 12 times this year. She has also provided, voluntarily, blood samples for freezing for future screening at a time when technology may allow better detection of a longer list of performance-enhancing substances.

Talk that she had in some way cheated, was uncomfortable, said Steffen. 'Sure it hurt my feelings. It seemed so unfair.' The testing programme could be tougher as far as she is concerned. 'I wish they'd come every morning so I could give them samples right after waking up. It'd be fine with me,' she said. 'It's another chance to prove you're clean. Unfortunately we can't influence how often we're tested. But if it were up to me I'd give a sample every day. I don't have anything to hide.'

Steffen, 24, hails from Schwedt and has her feet firmly planted on the ground. An industrial town of the former East, Schwedt now suffers one of the highest unemployment rates in Germany and has suffered the loss of a large number of yourng people. Steffen is one of those. She lives in Berlin and is based at Berlin Neukoln with coach Norbert Warnatsch. Steffen lives in a one-room flat that costs 100 euros in rent a month. Her monthly budget is 400 euros, the same now as when she was 16. 'I don't know what I'd spend money on even if I had the time to spend it,' said Steffen, an industrial engineering student. 'I've got everything I need. The tickets to eat in the student cafeteria are three euros and I'm not really interested in going out or going shopping. So 400 euros is plenty.'