Tina Hermann's need for speed: Relying on my inner strength

Despite being outcast from Germany’s national training set-up, the four-time skeleton world champion is arguably in the form of her life and the favourite for Olympic gold at Beijing 2022.

By Andrew Binner

In 2020, German skeleton star Tina Hermann suddenly found herself in a predicament.

At the time she was a three-time world champion, and her coach Dirk Matschenz had just been stood down from working with the national team due to differences with some of the athletes. But as Hermann’s personal coach of 10 years - who oversaw all of her world championships victories - this left the athlete with a difficult choice to make.

Skeleton involves riding down an icy shoot at up to speeds of 145 km/h, with athletes’ faces just centimetres from the ice. As such, the sliders put their full trust in their coaches, who also act as technicians for their sleds. Hermann subsequently refused to be coached by another, and risked having to retire from the sport.

Eventually a compromise was struck between the athlete and the Bobsleigh and Sled Association for Germany (BSD). Hermann was allowed to continue competing for her nation, but could not train or live with her teammates due to Matschenz’ involvement with the Russian team.

Another seismic blow saw Hermann cut off from using German tracks before certain events as well as national team equipment - which is widely acknowledged to be the best in the world.

Tina Hermann has trained separately from the German national team since 2020.

She trained instead with the Russian team, while her sledge now lived in her hotel room at competitions. She was an outsider.

"I'm a thinker and I still think about it a lot," the 29-year-old, who admitted to crying for days after the announcement was made, told hr-sport last season. "My head is my biggest problem at the moment and I haven't had full confidence this season."

"This decision just pulled my feet from under the ground."

Fuelling the fire

In sport, as in life, disappointment can often spur individuals on to great achievements.

And so it was for Hermann. Despite some inconsistent form, the Cologne native finished second overall in the 2020/21 World Cup.

But her best achievement came at the 2021 World Championships on the daunting Altenberg track in Germany.

Many had written off her chances of landing a fourth world title due to her disrupted season and the lack of access to German facilities. But she silenced any and all of her doubters in the most dramatic way possible.

After a driving error in the first round, Hermann found herself in 11th place.

"I wanted to leave. I told to my coach: 'It doesn't make any sense, I'm leaving'." - Tina Hermann to the Sports Show on her troublesome start at the 2021 World Championships.

But Matschenz knew what to tell his athlete, and vindicated her decision to stick with him.

"He motivated me amazingly, so I'm very grateful to him for that. He knew that I could easily improve by half a second. He had confidence in me, and that made me really motivated."

Hermann discovered her best form to pip ex-world champion and compatriot Jacqueline Loellingto the gold medal by eleven hundredths of a second. It also made Hermann the first athlete ever to win four skeleton world championships.

Her primal scream in triumph as she crossed the finish line told its own story. She had proven her mental fortitude, and that her power came from within, not from Germany’s renowned technological advantage.

Tina Hermann: “I'm a real adrenaline junkie”

That Hermann has such inner power is hardly a surprise.

Ever since she was a youngster and had yet to step foot on a skeleton sled, she has loved to race and to test herself.

“I basically like the speed,” she told Tagesspiegel. “Even when I was alpine skiing. And I also like to drive and have a motorcycle license. I'm a real adrenaline junkie.”

But surely even for her, travelling at speeds of up to 145 km/h (her personal best set at Whistler) is frightening?

“Actually, I’m only concentrating on driving,” she continued. “You shouldn't think so much in the moment and just focus on your steering points. It’s like being in a tunnel and brutally fixated so that you can get down well and quickly.”

"Crashes are part of the game,” she once told the Hannes & Guests podcast. “You have to be able to deal with defeat, shake it off and attack again."

Hermann's fastest recorded speed is 145 km/h at the Whistler track.

Standard setter ahead of Winter Olympics

Hermann has unfinished business at the Winter Olympics, having finished fifth in the final at PyeongChang 2018.

In addition to Loelling, two other speed fanatics that she will have had her eye on ahead of Beijing 2022 are reigning overall World Cup champion Janine Flock from Austria, in addition to Russia’s Elena Nikitina.

But Hermann remains the standard setter.

In October's Olympics test event in China's new National Sliding Centre in Yanqing, it was the four-time world champ that came out on top - sending a clear message to her rivals.

Given the immense sliding talent at their disposal, making Germany’s Olympic team is never a given until the domestic trials are completed in February.

But you can bet your bottom dollar that Hermann will be up for the fight.

GO OLYMPIC. GET ALL THIS.

Free live sport events. Unlimited access to series. Unrivalled Olympic news & highlights.