Britta Steffen (GER)
2019 Honor Swimmer
FOR THE RECORD: 2000 OLYMPIC GAMES: bronze (4x200m freestyle); 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle); 2009 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): gold (50m freestyle, 100m freestyle), silver (4x100m freestyle), bronze (4x100m medley); 2007 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): silver (4x200m freestyle), bronze (100m freestyle); 2011 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (LC): bronze (4x100m freestyle); 2000 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): silver (4x100m freestyle); 2012 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (SC): gold (100m freestyle; 5 WORLD RECORDS
She was winning youth championships in Germany at age 14 and was quickly becoming one of the top junior swimmers in all of Europe. At the 1999 European Junior Championships when she was just 15, Britta Steffen won six gold medals.
A year later, Steffen was selected to compete for Germany at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in both freestyle relays. She led off Germany’s 4x200m freestyle prelim relay and watched as her teammates raced to the bronze medal in the final, earning her first major international medal at the senior level.
In 2004, Steffen missed qualifying for the Olympic Team by six hundredths of a second in the 50m freestyle, but still picked up a relay spot to compete in Athens. She again swam on the prelims relay in the 4x100m freestyle, but injured her foot and was unable to compete during the rest of the Games.
After a heartbreaking Olympic experience, Steffen returned home to begin her studies and work on her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, adding on to an already rigorous training schedule.
Steffen had to start practice later than all her teammates, because of her studies, and often had to practice alone. With the continuous work load, she was constantly tired and ended up bedridden with a severe cold. She decided then that maybe it was time to quit swimming.
One of Britta’s biggest struggles in swimming was her inability to put her swims together in competitions when it mattered the most. She knew that if she was going to come back to swimming, she was going to have to get out of her own head. She met with a sports psychologist, who specialized in high performance and health. She was able to help Britta make changes with her training as well as her relationship with her coach.
With this new mental training, Steffen hoped she would lead her swimming career on a new path and in 2006 at the European Championships, Steffen set a world record in the 100m freestyle and was on two world record setting freestyle relays for Germany, swimming one of the fastest relay splits in history. For these efforts, Steffen was honored as Swimmer of the Year by the German Swimming Federation.
After her seemingly meteoric rise to the top of the world rankings, Steffen was accused of doping by the international media, even though she had never failed a drug test. To hush these rumors, Steffen volunteered to take examinations to ensure she was clean and all of the tests came back negative.
Steffen struggled to return to her form as the best sprinter in the world after her spectacular 2006 performances. At the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, she only managed a bronze in the 100m freestyle and a silver in the 4x200m freestyle relay. Leading into the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Steffen was hardly a medal favorite.
She silenced all of her doubters when she won the 100m freestyle at the last stroke to win Germany’s first Olympic gold medal in swimming since 1992. Two days later, she won her second gold medal of the Games in the 50m freestyle, winning again at the very last stroke.
After the Olympics in 2008, she continued her momentum with two new world records at the 2009 World Championships in the 50m and 100m freestyles, but after 2009 her career would never be the same.
Illnesses and injuries kept her off the podium at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics and Steffen retired from swimming in September 2013. Today, she hosts TV programs and is involved in social projects for young children.