German National Champion and Universiade Gold Medal Winner
On August 4, Caterina Granz placed first in the 1500-meter race at the “Finals – Berlin 2019” national championships. The psychology student at Freie Universität also won gold at this summer’s Universiade in Naples.
Aug 27, 2019
Two big victories in one summer – the twenty-five-year-old psychology student Caterina Granz is on a winning streak in the sports world. Just a few weeks ago she won the only gold medal for the German national team in Naples at the 30th Summer Universiade 2019, the largest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics. Then last Sunday, she claimed the German national championship title in the 1500-meter event.
You are the German national champion in the 1500-meter run. Congratulations, Ms. Granz! What was it like racing last Sunday?
It was very special. It was my first champion title as an adult athlete in the German national championships – and that in the Berlin Olympic Stadium! The atmosphere in the stadium when I started my last lap was really overwhelming. I’ve never experienced anything like it before.
After 300 meters you left the competition in the dust. Did you plan to do that in advance?
Well, I was pretty surprised when I glanced behind me. Actually, my plan was to keep a fast pace with Hanna Klein at the head of the race and attempt to qualify for the World Championships. I had to change my plans quickly and decided to go it alone. Right up to the last 200 meters I was making good time, but then my strength started to fade and my pace dropped. Running a fast 1500 meters alone out in front is much harder than running it with the pack.
You were just three seconds away from the World Championship standard. What was that mix of pride and disappointment like?
Right when I crossed the finish line I was so exhausted that I couldn’t react much at all. A few seconds later though, I realized I had just won my first title. And that was really the whole point of the event. My pride in winning was a much stronger feeling. I was also very happy with how the race went, so I don’t regret having taken the risk.
Congratulations are also due for your gold medal at the Universiade! What was your recipe for success in Naples?
Thanks! I think, I am just in really good shape physically this year, and I knew that going into the competition. Shortly before the event, the participant lists are published, so you know who you are competing against. You can sort of figure out how you measure up and can see how you rank against the others. So I knew in advance that I was definitely going to try to win a medal.
So you weren’t that surprised by the results?
My goal was to win. But it wasn’t like I just kept telling myself that. I was more focused on the actual running itself. I wanted to run my best race and give it all I got that day. Well, it worked, and I was actually a little surprised, as I crossed the finish line, that it went so “easily.”
What was going on in your mind in Naples?
That was the first race where I stayed in the lead the whole time. Usually, you are faster if you run in the slipstream, but this time I had to take responsibility and set the pace. You have to develop a feeling for it. I was able to find a good speed for myself and ran with confidence. When I think about it now, it does make me kind of proud.
Were you keeping an eye on the competition?
There are some stadiums that have huge screens where you can see yourself and the others. I didn’t even look in Naples. I didn’t know until the end whether Georgia Griffith from Australia, who finished second, was directly behind me or not. That made me nervous because I was afraid that she would pass me in the last stretch – and running in fear is different than running to cross the finish line. It wasn’t until I passed the finish line that I was able to feel some of the excitement, especially a few seconds later when I realized I had won.
Aside from the racing, what did you like about the Universiade?
It’s a great feeling to be with students from all over the world and be part of a competition together. Sure, it’s competitive, but you still feel connected to each other. It’s not just all rivalry. Some of my toughest competitors are also my best friends. But it was also great to meet German athletes from other disciplines like tennis and sailing. The main thing at these events are the connections you make with the people you meet.
As a psychology student, how do you think mental or psychological factors play a role for you in sports?
I think, they are very significant. You have to use an extreme amount of strength to project yourself forward. At the same time, you have to keep your torso calm and relaxed. You can work out like a world champion physically, but you have to be present mentally, too. I have practiced that a lot in the last two years. Before a race, I try to focus and find an inner sense of calm, which helps deal with nervousness. I also train mentally every day through meditation and meet with a sports psychologist.
It is also important to learn how to deal with pain, since as athletes we are always pushing our bodies to their limits. It doesn’t matter what shape you are in, when the race starts you are going to give it all you’ve got. What used to worry me was not that I had to race against other people or get a certain medal; it was imagining that I had to give it all from beginning to end.
1500 meters is your favorite distance. Why?
I also run 10-kilometer races, which rely heavily on endurance. But I like to run fast. The 1500-meter race requires both endurance and speed – it’s really challenging. After 400 meters, you already start to feel the exertion, but you find a way to keep up your pace for a long time. It is the most demanding distance mentally. Once you realize that it’s normal to feel bad even after the first lap, but that you will still make it to the finish line, then you can run much faster.
You have been a university student for about six years now. What is currently taking up more of your time, running or your studies?
Right now, it’s running. Working out and keeping up my motivation for weekend events require a lot of energy. Psychologists call it “ego depletion.” The idea is that people only have a limited amount of motivation, and at some point they use it all up. I am taking my time with my studies. When I decide to do something, I want to do it right and be conscientious about it. Still, working out and going to practice need to be balanced with mental work, and I want to continue to pursue my academic goals. I finished my Bachelor’s degree and now this winter semester I want to start with my Master’s.
What are your next goals in terms of athletics?
I want to qualify for the World Championships in October, and then next year it would be nice to participate in the Olympics in Tokyo – that is my biggest goal.
What do you have to do to qualify for the Olympics?
Each country gets to send three people per discipline to the games. To qualify, you need to place among the top three at the German national championships, which take place in July next year. For the 1500-meter race, you need a time of under 4:04. Or you are in the top three in Germany and are among the top 45 in the World Ranking. My scores at the Universiade count towards my Olympic ranking score, which is good for me of course.
What is your World Ranking right now?
I am number 23.
So your chances are pretty good?
At this point, yes. If I can keep up this level of performance, then my chances are good.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you.
Leon Holly and Sören Maahs conducted the interview. It originally appeared in German on August 9, 2019, in the campus.leben online magazine published by Freie Universität.
Freie Universität Berlin belongs to a network alliance for high performance athletics at Berlin universities. The network was formed by a partnership agreement with Berlin’s Olympic support office, one of many so-called Olympiastützpunkte in Germany. In the agreement, Berlin universities acknowledge the special needs of students trying to balance athletic careers with academic training and promise to provide them with support.