German sprinter Alexandra Burghardt: Transitioning to bobsleigh came "very naturally"

The 28-year-old reflects on her experience in winter sports but says she's now focused on her track and field career, at least until Paris 2024.

By Ash Tulloch and Alessandro Poggi
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Sprint athlete and bobsledder Alexandra Burghardt is the master of transitioning between sports.

Several athletes have competed at both the Summer and Winter Olympics, with American Lolo Jones and Japan's Hirano Ayumu perhaps the most high-profile examples, but the 28-year-old German showed her ability to adapt by managing to do so in the space of just 196 days.

At last year's Tokyo 2020 Games, she finished fifth with Germany's 4x100 relay team and reached the semi-finals in the 100m.

Burghardt then swapped her running top for a bobsleigh suit to make her Winter Olympic debut and won silver with Mariama Jamanka in the two-woman event at Beijing 2022.

The Bavarian athlete then returned to the track and last month came away with a relay bronze medal at the Athletics World Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

The versatile sprinter is now ready to perform in front of family and friends at the iconic Olympiastadion for her home Euros, where she aims for a personal best time in the 200m (she set her 23-second PB in May 2021), and for a medal - perhaps gold - in the 4x100m relay.

"It means everything. It's an honour to represent your nation and to do it in your basically hometown or very close to your hometown is a dream come true," Burghardt said in an exclusive Olympics.com interview.

"As a child, I've watched competitions in the stadium and it was always my dream to maybe compete there once by myself. And finally it's coming true. And so I'm just feeling gratefulness and happiness and I'm really looking forward to it."

READ: European Athletics Championships Munich 2022: Preview, schedule, athletes, how to watch

Germany's world women's 4x100m relay bronze medalists Tatjana Pinto, Alexandra Burghardt, Gina Luckenkemper, and Rebekka Haase
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Olympics.com: When people ask you questions about your sport, do you find that your brain has to try and figure out which sport they're talking about, if it's athletics or bobsleigh?

Alexandra Burghardt: In my head that was really a one-time thing and it was a great experience for me and I really enjoyed my journey in the winter. But for now I only want to focus on summer sports and on track and field.

O: It's becoming more common for athletes to transition from winter sports to summer sports. What was it like from your experience?

AB: In the beginning they asked me several times if I wanted to join the bobsleigh team and I always said no because I first wanted to reach my full potential in track and field. And after last year they asked me again and I was like, 'Why now? I mean, now everything is coming together and my potential is still not really fulfilled.' I mean, I ran 11.01, but there was more in the tank, I thought.

But then I gave it a second thought and it was like, 'OK, it would be the chance to have a second Olympics in only one year.' And it's quite similar. I mean, in the end I only have to run and my pilot even helps me. So it was quite OK and there was not so much difference, except for the sled and the stuff around it, and of course the winter, the cold was very different.

O: It's interesting you mention the similarities because most people would think there is similarities with running, but then when you look at them, they seem like two very different sports. Are there quite a few crossovers?

AB: The drive phase is exactly the same. I mean, I have to push the sled as fast as I can and we have to get us the fastest speeds in the fastest time. Of course, everything else was a bit of work and I was a beginner in some parts, but it all came very naturally. I mean, we've all watched it several times and I think through watching you really learn very fast sometimes.

And I mean, I had a very experienced pilot with Mariama and she was very helpful. And the team, the community was very helpful. It's really like a family.

O: Most sprinters probably couldn't go and do what you did. What sort of skills do you have that allow you to go from the track to bob and now back to the track?

AB: I think most of it's my height because you need to have a certain amount of kilos you're bringing into the sled. And most of the other sprinter girls are just not heavy enough. And because I'm very tall, I have the weight that it needs or I need to have for the sled. And that was maybe the main reason. And, yeah, so I only had to focus on running and keeping my head down, making myself small...

Alexandra Burghardt (right) and Mariama Jamanka (left) pose with their silver medals at Beijing 2022.
Picture by Getty Images

O: Did you have to change your size or your weight or your muscle mass at all?

AB: We tried to not change it at all because we wanted to perform in summer as well, and it worked out quite well. It was more the stress for my body that was really high during winter because of all the forces that I wasn't used to. But body wise I tried to stay the same.

O: If someone wants to consider transitioning into a winter sport, what advice would you have for them?

AB: Pack lots of clothes? (laughs) Because I was always freezing. It was freezing cold!

O: You've said you had to overcome several injuries in the recent past and that's motivating you ahead of the European Championships. Can you talk a little bit more about your struggles?

AB: I had a lot of health issues with my body because I'm a very tall athlete and that has some advantages, but also some disadvantages concerning injuries. And I was always injured in some way, and I wanted to reach my goals for different standards at the World Championships, European Championships and so on. And so I never gave my body enough time to recover properly and to be at 100 percent.

So I was always running at around 80 percent of my potential, having some pain. But due to COVID, I finally had a chance to really recover and try to get my body fit and healthy again for all the upcoming things we wanted to achieve.

O: Was bobsleigh just a one-off experience or is there a chance we'll see you at Milano-Cortina 2026?

AB: I don't really know yet (laughs). But for now, I'm really like it was a one-time thing. It was a project and I'm happy how it went and happy with the outcome. So I'm planning until Paris for now and then let's see.

Alexandra Burghardt giving interviews at the Olympiapark during the opening press conference European Championships Munich 2022.
Picture by Sven Beyrich / SPP-JP

How to watch Alexandra Burghardt at European Championships Munich 2022

Alexandra Burghardt will be in action in the women's 200m heats on Thursday 18 August with the final taking place the following day. The women's 4x100 relay is scheduled for Sunday 21 August.

For a detailed full schedule of the event, check out the official website here. Please note the schedule is subject to change.

The event will be available for television broadcast and livestream coverage in various regions. Further streaming details can be found on the Munich 2022 app.

You can also follow all the action via our social media and on Olympics.com.

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