Tokyo 2020: The German athletes making waves at the Olympics

As Germany plunges into the long Olympic race for gold, silver and bronze medals, here are some of the athletes stirring things up this year - in both sport and politics.

Tokyo 2020: The German athletes making waves at the Olympics
German gymnast Pauline Schäfer from competes in her bodysuit to make a statement about sexism in the sport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

Since the games began on Friday, Germany has already enjoyed some success in team dressage, canoeing, swimming and archery – and as of July 28th, the country’s teams have scooped two gold and five bronze medals and are ranked 13th in the world. 

And these medals are just drops in the ocean: counting both the Winter and Summer Olympics, German athletes have won over 1750 medals in their time: around 578 gold, 589 silver and 587 bronze. 

But sporting achievement is not the only thing making Germany’s teams notable this year. From fighting women’s sexualisation in gymnastics to helping young people access athletics, some teams and individuals are using the Games to help spread important social messages. 

Here’s a rundown of the German athletes and sportspeople you need to know about at this year’s Games. 

The women’s gymnastic team – Elizabeth Seitz, Kim Bui, Pauline Schäfer, Sarah Voss

It may have seemed like a small costume change, but the German women’s Olympic gymnastic team made headlines around the world for taking a stand against sexism. Instead of their traditional leotards, they opted to wear full-length unitards to compete in a protest against the sexualisation of women in the sport. 

The team, consisting of Elisabeth Seitz, Kim Bui, Pauline Schafer and Sarah Voss, also wore the full-length bodysuits at the European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in April. Though the bodysuits are permitted, they have up to now only been worn for religious reasons. 

The protest was met with praise and support from the gymnasts’ fellow athletes, as the team members said they wanted to be “role models” to girls pursuing sports who are often faced with sexual harassment and even abuse. They emphasised that people of any gender should be allowed to wear whatever uniform makes them most comfortable whilst pursuing the sport.

This year, the German women’s gymnastics team opted to dispense with skimpy leotards that are normally standard attire for female gymnasts at the Games. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

Gymnastics has long had a problem with sexual abuse, with several well-known trainers and doctors being accused of misconduct. Most prominently, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to over 100 years in prison in 2018 after sexually assaulting 265 young women and girls using his position of authority as a medical official.

Allegations against Nassar came as part of an even wider and more extensive gymnastics sex abuse scandal in the USA which brought to light the misconduct of gym owners, coaches and other staff.

Sexualisation is still an ongoing issue in gymnastics. Days before the Games began, the Norwegian women’s beach volleyball team received a fine for refusing to play in bikini bottoms during the European tournaments. By comparison, the men’s standard uniform consists of long shirts and knee-length shorts.

With their outspoken and inspiring approach to empowering other women and girls within the sport, the team has made waves throughout the competition and attracted media attention from all over the world to bolster important conversations about sexualisation and sexual misconduct.

READ ALSO: How a German Olympian’s heart gave a Brazilian new life

Ricarda Funk

Ricarda Funk is a slalom canoeist from Augsburg, Germany who had made waves by winning Germany’s first gold medal of this Olympic season. In her nail-biting win in the women’s slalom K-1 category, she managed to beat favoured candidates Jessica Fox from Australia and Maialen Chourraut from Spain. But it was a close call: her nearest opponent was just 1.13 seconds slower than she was.  

Ricarda Funk overcame numerous setbacks to win Gold in the slalom this year. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jan Woitas

She had hoped to take part in the Olympic tournaments of both 2012 and 2016 but was pipped to the post first by Jasmin Schornberg and then Melanie Pfeifer. She had previously said that just to compete in the Olympics at all was her greatest ambition, so to win gold proves the strength of her perseverance. 

Funk was overjoyed at her win, which she described as a lifelong dream. In a tearful press conference, she repeated “I really can’t believe it, I really can’t believe it”, before saying “my dream has become a reality” (“mein Traum ist Realität geworden”). 

Malaika Mihambo

Malaika Mihambo will represent Germany in the women’s long jump this year – and pundits believe her first ever Olympic medal is likely to be a Gold. 

Having formerly achieved fourth place in the Olympic games in Brazil in 2016, she came first in the women’s long jump category of the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2019 and scored second in the 2021 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Poland earlier this year. She also placed first in women’s long jump in the European Athletics Championships in Berlin in 2018.

Long-jumper Malaika Mihambo spends her time inspiring young people to get into athletics – and may bring home Gold for Germany this weekend. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappele

Her current personal best in long jump is 7.30 metres. 

Not only is she an incredible athlete, but she also does charitable work inspiring and empowering young people to get into athletics. She herself began training in the long jump when she was just eight years old, and wants other talented young people to have the same opportunities. 

READ MORE: What is Germany’s Olympic problem?

Florian Wellbrock

Wellbrock is a seasoned competitor, having competed in the men’s 1500 metre freestyle at the 2016 Summer Olympics and having won both the 1500 metre freestyle and the 10km open-water race at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships, becoming the first swimmer to win both categories at an international competition.

Millions of Germans are pinning their hopes on Florian Wellbrock to “make waves” in a number of swimming events this year. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

Wellbrock qualified for the final in the men’s 800 metre freestyle on Thursday night after improving his personal record in the heats by around one and a half seconds. He came second in these heats only to Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk. 

After an unsuccessful Olympic season in Rio in 2016, Wellbrock has been projected by some to win the Gold medal this year in both the men’s 1500 metre freestyle and the men’s marathon swimming categories. Many Germans will presumably be crossing their fingers that he will literally make some waves come Thursday’s competition.

Isabell Werth

Isabell Werth became the first rider ever to win seven equestrian Olympic gold medals after Germany won the Equestrian team dressage title on Tuesday, reported AFP. She has, to date, won six team titles and one individual gold title. She has won eleven medals overall, having competed in the Olympics six times in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2016 and 2020. 

Not only is she a trailblazing rider, but she also enjoyed a brilliant academic career and initially started out in law before pursuing dressage full-time. 

Isabel Werth isn’t just an accomplished horse-rider – she also knows her way around a legal textbook for two. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Jim Hollander

Her teammates from the team dressage competition, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Dorothee Schneider, are equally distinguished riders. Schneider was also part of the team that won a gold medal in the same category in the 2016 Olympics.

The Dressage Individual Grand Prix Freestyle finals was set to take place on the 28th July. Werth is the resounding favourite to win a further Olympic gold medal, whilst her compatriot Jessica von Bredow-Werndl may also be in the running. 

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PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

The Tokyo Olympics were Italy's best Games yet, with Italian athletes taking home more medals than ever before. Here are the highlights.

PHOTOS: Italy’s most memorable medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Gianmarco Tamberi celebrate after winning golds in the 100m sprint and high jump. Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP

With ten golds, ten silvers and 20 bronzes, the Azzurri representing Italy in Tokyo were tenth on the medal table overall and top in Italian sporting history.

Previously the most medals Italy had ever won at a single Olympics was 36, which the country hadn’t equalled since the Rome Games in 1960.

READ ALSO: ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

As well as a ceremony at the presidential palace in September, Italy’s Olympic champions will be welcomed back with prize money from the Italian National Olympic Committee: gold medalists are awarded €180,000 each, while silver medallists get €90,000 and bronze medallists get €60,000.

And then there’s the glory: after an exceptionally successful summer of Italian sport and music, Italy’s Olympic team dubbed their athletes “stupor mundi” – Latin for ‘the wonder of the world’. 

Italy’s gold medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Men’s high jump: Gianmarco Tamberi

Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi couldn’t have been happier to share the gold with his fellow competitor Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar, in what was hailed as one of the most touching moments of the Games. 

  • Men’s 100m: Lamont Marcell Jacobs

Relatively unknown long jumper-turned-sprinter Lamont Marcell Jacobs was in the form of his life when he outran the favourites and hurtled to first place in the biggest race in men’s athletics. He’s the first Italian ever to qualify for the Olympic final of the event, let alone win it.

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 4 x 100m relay 

Lorenzo Patta, Lamont Marcell Jacobs, Eseosa Desalu and Filippo Tortu pulled off an astonishing victory by the smallest of margins, with Tortu flinging himself over the finish line to snatch gold from the favourites, Great Britain, by just a hundredth of a second. It was another historic first for Italy: the country has never before won the event, and the last time an Italian team got onto the podium was at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (silver). 

Photo by Jewel SAMAD / AFP
  • Men’s 20km race walk: Massimo Stano
  • Women’s 20km race walk: Antonella Palmisano

Antonella Palmisano cemented Italy’s domination of the walking competition when she followed up her teammate Massimo Stano’s gold with her own victory a day later. She actually performed slightly faster at the Rio Olympics in 2016, but that time only earned her fourth last time round.

Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
  • Track cycling, men’s team pursuit

Italy’s four-man team set a new track cycling world record by completing 16 laps (4km) in just 3:42.032. While Great Britain had long dominated the event and Denmark were reigning World Champions, no Italian team had won it since the Rome Olympics of 1960.

Photo by Greg Baker / AFP
  • Karate, men’s kumite -75kg: Luigi Busa
  • Rowing, lightweight women’s double sculls 
Valentina Rodini (L) and Federica Cesarini (R) celebrate their win in the lightweight women’s double sculls final. Photo by Luis ACOSTA / AFP
  • Sailing, mixed multihull – Nacra 17 foiling
  • Taekwondo, Men’s -58kg: Vito Dell’Aquila

Vito Dell’Aquila won Italy its first gold of the Games, at the age of just 20. It was his first Olympics but at this rate, it won’t be his last.

Photo by Javier SORIANO / AFP

Italy’s silver medals at the 2020 Olympics

  • Artistic gymnastics, women’s floor exercise: Vanessa Ferrari

Arguably Italy’s greatest competing gymnast, 30-year-old Vanessa Ferrari proved the value of experience when she became the first Italian to win an individual Olympic medal for women’s artistic gymnastics.

Photo by Loic VENANCE / AFP
  • Men’s individual archery: Mauro Nespoli
  • Men’s kayak single 200m: Manfredi Rizza
  • Fencing, men’s foil individual: Daniele Garrozo
  • Fencing, men’s sabre individual: Luigi Samele
  • Fencing, men’s sabre team

Fencing has long been one of Italy’s strongest sports, and these Games were no exception. Altogether Italian fencers took three silvers and two bronzes in both team and individual events. 

Italy’s Luca Curatoli (L) competes against South Korea’s Gu Bongil in the men’s sabre team gold medal bout. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
  • Women’s skeet shooting: Diana Bacosi
  • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay
  • Swimming, men’s 800m freestyle: Gregorio Paltrinieri 
  • Weightlifting, women’s 64kg: Giorgia Bordignon
    Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

    Italy’s bronze medals at the 2020 Olympics

    • Women’s individual archery: Lucilla Boari
    • Women’s featherweight boxing: Irma Testa

    Irma “Butterfly” Testa made history as the first Italian woman to win an Olympic medal for boxing, a victory she dedicated to all of Italy’s female boxers.

    Photo by Luis ROBAYO / POOL / AFP
    • Women’s cycling road race: Elisa Longo Borghini 
    • Track cycling, men’s omnium: Elia Viviani 
    • Men’s 10km marathon swimming: Gregorio Paltrinieri 

    Gregorio Paltrinieri is one of the best long-distance swimmers there is, holding the men’s world record for the 1500m freestyle. He comes home from Tokyo with two medals: silver in the 800m freestyle, and bronze in the gruelling 10km swim.

    Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP
    • Swimming, men’s 100m breaststroke: Nicolo Martinenghi
    • Swimming, men’s 100m butterfly: Federico Burdisso
    • Swimming, men’s 4 x 100m medley relay
    • Swimming, women’s 800m freestyle: Simona Quadarella 
    • Judo, women’s -52kg: Odette Giuffrida
    Photo by Franck FIFE / AFP
    • Judo, women’s -63kg: Maria Centracchio
    • Fencing, women’s épée team
    • Fencing, women’s foil team 
    • Karate, women’s kata: Viviana Bottaro

    Accomplished karateka Viviana Bottaro won Italy its first Olympic medal in karate, which made its debut at the Tokyo Games. 

    Photo by Alexander NEMENOV / AFP
    • Rowing, lightweight men’s double sculls
    • Rowing, men’s four
    • Rhythmic gymnastics, group all-around

    Nicknamed le Farfalle (‘the Butterflies’), Italy’s five-woman rhythmic gymnastic team provided one of Italy’s last medal-winning performances on the final day of the Games, and one of the most spectacular.

    Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
    • Weightlifting, men’s 67kg: Mirko Zanni 
    • Weightlifting, men’s 81kg: Antonino Pizzolato
    • Wrestling, men’s freestyle 97kg: Abraham de Jesus Conyedo Ruano