BERLIN (AFP) –
Swimming sweethearts Britta Steffen and Paul Biedermann could return from the Olympics as Germany’s golden aquatic couple if they can produce performances rather than kisses in the London pool.
Having first made their relationship public in 2010, they make a photogenic couple with petite, blonde Steffen next to Biedermann’s strapping frame, but both are double world record-holders in their own right.
German daily Bild was quick to publish photos of Steffen stealing a kiss from her boyfriend poolside after the pair both impressed at May’s German trials.
But they both suffered disappointed at last year’s world aquatic championships in Shanghai, when Steffen quit early after poor performances, and are under pressure to bounce back in London.
Biedermann first hinted there was more to their relationship than just friendship when he paid tribute to Steffen following his stunning 200m freestyle win over Michael Phelps at the 2009 world championships in Rome.
“Britta told me before the race that she really believed in me and that I could beat Phelps. I want to thank her for this win,” Biedermann said at the time after claiming gold with a new world record of 1min 42.00sec.
The Italian capital played host to the scene of the couple’s high-point triumphs in their respective sporting careers three years ago.
Biedermann beat Phelps in the 200m freestyle final, obliterating the American’s world record in the process, having also captured the 400m freestyle title and record just a few days before.
It was Phelps’ first major loss in four years.
Steffen also dominated her rivals in the Rome pool with world records in the 50m and 100m freestyle to add world golds to the Olympic titles she claimed in Beijing, but it was a different story two years later in Shanghai.
The 27-year-old flopped at the world championships in 2011 when she failed to defend either the 50m or 100m world titles, finishing 16th fastest in the 100m heats and failed to swim at all in the 50m heats.
Embarrassed, the Berliner fled Shanghai, blaming her performance on a weight-training programme that she says turned her into “a little body-builder” and was abandoned for more endurance work.
“I was so muscular that after 50 metres, I didn’t have any strength left,” Steffen said.
“That is when stamina comes into play and I should have done a lot more training in that area.”
But Steffen threw down an early marker of her form ahead of London by swimming 53.68sec in the 100m freestyle final at the German trials, having clocked 53.65sec in the 4x100m relay a few days earlier.
And last month, Biedermann was crowned European 400 metres freestyle champion for the first time having collected bronze in both the 200 and 400m freestyle finals in Shanghai.
Having achieved the qualifying mark for London over 200m, his winning time of 3min 47.84sec in the 400m freestyle final was outside the time required for the Olympics, but his world bronze from Shanghai means will have a London place.
However, questions linger at home as to whether Biedermann can threaten the American domination in the 200m freestyle after Phelps and Ryan Lochte won silver and gold respectively in Shanghai.
“Paul is a competition swimmer who can go through the pain barrier and has the potential for medals, but he is stagnating in his performances,” said former Germany swimming coach Dirk Lange.
“He is still racing too slowly and has not improved in the last two years.”