Mareike Miller has been an avid basketball player since she was a child. After tearing her cruciate ligaments four times during her youth, her dream of becoming a competitive athlete appeared to be over – that is, until she began playing wheelchair basketball at the age of 18. Since then, she has chosen Hamburg has her hometown and has gone on to become the World Championship Runner-up and the European Champion with the German national team and won Paralympic gold at the London Games in 2012. In this interview, she talks about competitive sports, the sports city of Hamburg, and the thrill of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Hello, Mareike. You’ve been a passionate basketball player since you were a child. After tearing your cruciate ligament four times within a short period of time, you took up wheelchair basketball at the age of 18. Since then, you have enjoyed international success as the captain of the German national team, among other things. How was your transition to para-sports back then, and what impact has it had on you?
When I started playing para-sports, I’d been trying my hands at “just being a coach” for quite some time. However, at the age of 18, after three intense years of rehab and around 10 years of intense youth and competitive sports under my belt, I decided that I wanted to continue being active myself. Wheelchair basketball gave me the opportunity to do just that. The sport has given me the chance to play competitively again with everything it entails – and with protected knee joints. The sport has also allowed me to meet many other athletes, both in Germany and around the world, to complete my studies in the US, and to compete at the highest level – all the way to the Paralympic Games. It has provided me with numerous fulfilling moments, it has given my life purpose, and it has been a very satisfying outlet for me for a very long time.
You won gold in London in 2012, silver in Rio in 2016, and you and Michael Teuber were the flag bearers for the German team in Tokyo in 2021. What makes the Paralympics so special compared to the World Championships or the European Championships? Would you like to see such an event staged in Germany again?
Compared to other international competitions, the Paralympic Games are much bigger due to the combination of various sports, both in terms of the competitions and everything that goes along with them: Spectator interest, media coverage, the opening and closing ceremonies. In that respect, the atmosphere of the Games is very special because of the surroundings, the encounters among the many athletes and, of course, the fact that it is the world’s toughest competition. The Games are a unique sporting challenge. Such a backdrop and stage for our sport is unparalleled and, as such, is a source of particularly emotional moments for us.
Bringing such a stage, such attention, and such accessibility directly to Germany or to my hometown of Hamburg, for example, thereby hopefully boosting enthusiasm for and the status of the sport, would be a dream come true for me.
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The current agreement between the IOC and IPC expires in 2032. In 2036, completely new opportunities to combine the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games may arise. Can you imagine the Paralympic Games taking place in parallel with the Olympic Games?
In my opinion, reviewing such considerations in detail is always a good idea. However, whether and to what extent all those involved could benefit from such a move seems questionable to me. I think the Olympic Games are already quite big. Extending the period of time or eliminating certain Paralympic events doesn’t make much sense to me. Moreover, I think combining the Games might result in Paralympic sports being pushed into the background, based on the current state of affairs. There are always discussions about which sports really generate the highest viewer numbers, for example. However, as the Paralympics have never had the same level of media coverage as the Olympics, we have not been able to reach large numbers of people. In that respect, given how things currently stand, we will always lose out when it comes to direct competition.
Nevertheless, I sincerely hope that we will be able to analyze this area in a completely different way by 2036 and that opportunities will be created – assuming the new agreement really ensures that the 28 or more Olympic and Paralympic sports are all presented on the same stage.
Hamburg is your adopted hometown. Why do you think it would be a good place to co-host the Olympic and Paralympic Games? Where might there still be room for improvement?
In my opinion, Hamburg is a great sports city with many active and sports-minded residents. The promotion of competitive sports, the many sports facilities, and the enthusiasm for sports, all in combination with the beautiful city, strike me as important prerequisites for hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. As we all know from past experience, however, there is still a lot of convincing to be done, and, most importantly, a compelling, sustainable concept has to be developed.
Next Saturday, you’ll be a guest at the Hamburg Dialog Forum on the issue of a prospective German Olympic bid, with Hamburg as a possible co-host. What do you hope will be achieved as a result of the event?
I hope that the event will be well attended and that those who are critical of the bid will also take part. That is the only way that we will be able to hear every valuable argument and ensure that all the important points are taken into account in the subsequent deliberations. In addition, as an athlete and an athlete spokesperson, I find engaging in a direct exchange of ideas on this issue very interesting, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to do so for a day.
Information on the Dialog Forum in Hamburg can be found here.