06. December 2021

Tougher than the Olympics Olympic champion Mieke Kröger about her studies, cycling and what’s been happening since Tokyo

Olympic champion Mieke Kröger talks about her studies, cycling in the Siebengebirge mountains and what’s been happening since Tokyo

Gold for Mieke Kröger! The 28-year-old from Bielefeld raced to the gold medal in the team pursuit in the velodrome at the Tokyo Olympics. And you will also see her in Bonn from time to time, shooting through the Siebengebirge on her black bike, because Mieke Kröger is studying nutrition sciences at the Poppelsdorf Campus. In an interview, she discusses Tokyo, moving house and her studies.

Mieke Kröger drives for us through the arcade courtyard
Mieke Kröger drives for us through the arcade courtyard © University of Bonn / V. Lannert
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Ms. Kröger, many congratulations on your medal. How have things been since your victory?

I feel fairly normal, but the win gives me more self-confidence. It also means that I can break an unwritten rule of cycling style in public with a clear conscience: cycling in short socks, which is technically frowned upon. I’m still getting a few requests for interviews and invitations to ceremonies, such as to the “Ball des Sports,” the Deutsche Sporthilfe foundation’s closing gala.

What was the time like before you went to Japan and while you were there?

In early July, we had a training camp in Frankfurt an der Oder to make our final preparations. After a three-day break at home, we flew to Tokyo for about ten days. It’s a chance to take a breather. And any training you do just before your races isn’t going to make you any better either. We were restricted in what we could do anyway due to the pandemic, and we weren’t living in the Olympic Village but in the Cycling Village, about three hours’ drive outside Tokyo, on a mountain, right in the middle of a forest. That was quieter and nicer. 

As we know, something that the media picked up on was the beds made from cardboard.

Kröger (laughs): They were so comfy! I’ve no idea what other people experienced, but I slept very well in mine!

Have you had more time to do things since you got back?

First up right after the games was moving from Bonn to Hürth, to share a house with some cycling friends. That was tougher than the whole Olympics  put together, it really brought me back to Earth with a bump (laughs). After all, I hadn’t expected to win.

How do you combine top-level sport with studying nutrition and food sciences? 

The University has helped me do that with its Studies and High-Level Sport program. Of course, I don’t get given grades “for free” and have to put in the hours of learning just like everyone else. But, for instance, I was allowed to take my written maths exam on the day of the mock exam because I was going to be at a World Championship on the day itself. And I got to take my anatomy exam orally. If you go up and speak to your lecturers, they’ll understand and accommodate your needs. If I was naturally more communicative, I’d undoubtedly have been able to get more support, but for a long time I was a really stubborn person who wanted to achieve success in the same way as everyone else. Now, in the winter semester, I’ve registered for some modules once again so that my brain can get a bit of exercise too.

What do you find interesting about your subject?

I’m interested in scientific things. And of course, that’s very relevant to cycling. The topic of nutrition has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. It’s fascinating to learn how the body works and what a banana does to it. And when your coach tells you what you have to eat, you learn it all over again from a biochemistry perspective, that’s a lot of fun. I picked the degree program because it interests me, not because I had a set plan for my future career. In terms of a job further down the line, I can see myself moving into rehabilitation more so than elite sport.

Where do you like to practice your cycling in and around Bonn?

I’ve always enjoyed cycling up the Schmelztal valley as part of my interval training in the Siebengebirge. It’s an even climb that isn’t too steep, enough for eight- to ten-minute intervals each time. The Siebengebirge isn’t far away. For longer stints, I go to the Eifel region; if I need some recovery laps, then maybe along the Sieg river. But only if the weather’s bad, else there are too many people out and about.

Do your fellow students know about your medal win or your sport?

Having stretched out my degree program a bit, I don’t have any fellow students who’ve been with me since the start. But when we’ve had study groups or tutorials, which now take place via Zoom in the coronavirus era, then it’s cropped up in conversation once or twice. Then everyone’s congratulated me, even though we haven’t seen each other for ages.

What do you love about track cycling?

Back when I was 15, I thought to myself, “Oh, a racing bike would be fantastic.” I probably saw someone riding one on the way to school and thought: “I can do that too.” Or it could just have been my imagination. When I told people what I wanted, my mum sent me to have a trial at the club first, because racing bikes don’t come cheap. I did my trial, stuck with it, bought my first second-hand bike for €120. After that I was really bitten by the bug, and I won my first race. Then the regional association spotted me, and things took off from there.

This year has been a huge success for you, as we know. What other competitions did you have lined up after the Olympics? 

The season ran until the end of October. First up were the Road World Championships, where I won a gold in the team relay, then I did the Paris–Roubaix. This was a dramatic race with a lot of mud and cycling on cobbles. It was the first time they’d had a women’s race as well. Finally, there were the European Road Championships in Switzerland, where I picked up another gold, and straight after that the Track Cycling World Championships, back in Roubaix again. We in the women’s four won gold there too.

Where’s your medal right now?

Rather unspectacularly, the gold medal is currently on my desk—though it’s no longer in the freezer bag it came home in.  INTERVIEW: SEBASTIAN ECKERT

A sewed medal bag
A sewed medal bag - A friend sewed the medal bag for Mieke Kröger - to ensure that there is a good place to keep the olympic medal. © University of Bonn / V. Lannert
A real year of success: After the Olympic victory, various World Cup and European Championship competitions were still to come.
A real year of success: After the Olympic victory, various World Cup and European Championship competitions were still to come. - "The season continued until the end of October. First came the road cycling world championships with gold in the mixed, then I raced at Paris-Roubaix. It was a dramatic race with a lot of mud and on cobblestones. For the first time, women were also allowed to race there. The last race was the European Track Championships in Switzerland, again with gold, and immediately after that the Track World Championships, also in Roubaix. There we won gold again in the women's four." © University of Bonn / V. Lannert
In her olympic jersey
In her olympic jersey © University of Bonn / V. Lannert
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