Janne Müller-Wieland: Devastated Olympic athlete axed weeks before the start of the Games

·5 min read

This interview is part of the exclusive Yahoo series 'How To Raise An Olympian', in which we speak to Olympic stars and their parents to get a unique insight into what it takes to raise an elite athlete. Watch the full interview above - and for more see the links at the bottom of the page.

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German hockey star Janne Müller-Wieland is feeling slightly frustrated - even though this is not typical of her. 

The 34-year-old Hamburg native is usually a cheerful person. When the hockey player enters a room, she normally fills through her sheer force of personality. Müller-Wieland is a real character. Now, in early summer, shortly before the 2021 Olympic Games, she has had to endure a sporting setback. National coach Xavier Reckinger unexpectedly dropped her from the squad for Tokyo. A shock that she is finding it hard to recover from.

Müller-Wieland has played over 300 international matches for Germany. She was the team captain until recently. She was the leader and also the heart of the team. Her experience was meant to help the young team pull off a surprise coup at the Olympics. Maybe not gold and maybe not silver. That may have been expecting too much. But the bronze medal would have been within their reach.

Janne Müller-Wieland celebrates a goal at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio (Image: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images)
Janne Müller-Wieland celebrates a goal at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio (Image: Mark Kolbe / Getty Images)

What now? Everything is over. She wants to go into hiding. Tokyo was supposed to be the culmination of her outstanding international career. Now it is going to be a low-key international farewell. But still: no shadow will be cast over her sporting legacy. Müller-Wieland has achieved too much for that. Her achievements for German hockey remain untouched by her omission from the squad.

The midfielder has won just about everything you can win as a hockey player in her career: she won several German and European cups at club level with her team, UHC Hamburg. On top of that, she won the European Championship in 2013 with the national team and in 2018 she won team gold at the World Indoor Championships in Berlin. She has participated in three Olympic Games. In Rio 2016, one of her biggest dreams came true when she won the bronze medal.

A passion for hockey runs in the family

The 34-year-old was born holding a hockey stick, you could say. Her mother Anja, an educational counsellor from Hamburg, was a successful hockey player in her own right and, with the Harvestehuder Tennis und Hockey Club, won the German championship twice and the European Cup in the 1970s. “We never put the children under any pressure at home”, Anja says. "The love for the sport grew organically.

Horst and Anja Müller-Wieland in an interview with Yahoo News Germany. (Image: Yahoo Sport Germany)
Horst and Anja Müller-Wieland in an interview with Yahoo News Germany. (Image: Yahoo Sport Germany)

Even Müller-Wieland’s older sister, Roda, plays hockey at the UHC and both sisters played together in the same team for a long time. Her father Horst got into hockey through his daughters and started his own amateur career at a slightly older age. The Müller-Wieland family is crazy about hockey and, in Germany’s hockey capital, their name is well known. In 2011, Janne Müller-Wieland was even chosen as Hamburg’s athlete of the year.

She enjoyed perhaps the most exciting time of her career in the second half of 2014. Müller-Wieland was then playing in the Japanese league for the West Red Sparks, Coca-Cola’s factory club with which she became Japanese champion. “My time there had a big influence on me: the culture, the Japanese mentality, healthy food, discipline during training, all of that excited me”. By playing in the Tokyo Games in 2021 and returning to her beloved Japan, she would have gone full circle in her career.

Janne Müller-Wieland has the sport of hockey in her blood (Image: Private)
Janne Müller-Wieland has the sport of hockey in her blood (Image: Private)

Instead, she will follow the Olympic Games from home. In the meantime, England has become her home. She moved there for personal reasons. Müller-Wieland lives between London and Oxford with her Welsh partner Sarah Thomas, who won Olympic bronze in hockey with Great Britain in 2012. Thomas gave birth to a child a few weeks ago. The new baby helps her get over her omission from the squad.

New motivation in the men's team

In England, Müller-Wieland, who regularly travels to Hamburg and will continue to play hockey for UHC Hamburg, built her own small hockey area in her garage during the pandemic, laid out with artificial turf. Because England was subjected to harsh travel restrictions, she was also unable to take part in training in Germany. But necessity is the mother of invention. When training restrictions in England were finally lifted, she immediately joined the second-division Oxford Hawks. But not in the women’s team, rather in the men's.

“I tried to make up for the faster game speed and the physical and technical superiority of the men with my eye and ingenuity”, she once said. “I believe this training has given me a lot of new motivation and I’m convinced people should do this more often”. This is typical for Müller-Wieland: courageous, determined and open to new ideas.

Janne Müller-Wieland speaks to her team during the semi-final of the FIH Field Hockey Pro League 2019 in Amstelveen. (Image: Charles McQuillan / Getty Images)
Janne Müller-Wieland speaks to her team during the semi-final of the FIH Field Hockey Pro League 2019 in Amstelveen. (Image: Charles McQuillan / Getty Images)

It is not yet entirely clear how her sporting career will continue. She will continue with her professional career as founder and advisor to several internet-based start-up companies both in England and, of course, in her beloved home city of Hamburg. And her hockey career? It will continue a while longer - at least at club level.

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