Posted today on Swimnews.
"Franziska van Almsick, 31 and former world 200m freestyle champion in 1994 and record holder between 1994 and 2007, today flies the flag for all elite athletes in Germany. At the launch of a new series in Bild entitled "Heroes Without Money" ["Held Ohne Geld"], the former multiple European champion - and spokesperson for the Deutschen Sporthilfe support unit - notes that most world-class athletes in Germany put in a 60-hour week in return for monthly support of around 600 euros. Asked why athletes "sacrifice" so much for so little, Van Almsick replies: "The question is false: athletes don't sacrifice, it is a question of pure passion."
Van Almsick in my opinion is one the greatest European swimmers to have ever lived. Her 200m Free WR set in 1994 (aged 16) of 1:56.78 was something very special.(No swimsuit controversy in those times, although she did qualify 9th for the record breaking final only for her teammate Dagmar Hase to pull out sick - Video of the race below, tell me if you think she has a chance with 50 to go!). The record stood until 2002 when 'Franzi' lowered it herself to 1:56.64 at the Europeans in 2002. The new world record as well as 5 gold medals capped an incredible comeback to form. Her new WR lasted until Federica Pellegrini broke it at the Worlds in Melbourne in 2007.
She never managed to win an Olympic Gold medal. The closest she came was in 1992 at the age of 14 when she won silver, just 0.10 behind Nicole Haislett (USA) - 1:57.90 to 1:58.00. She followed this up with another silver in 1996 behind Claudia Poll, 1:58.16 to 1:58.57. (Poll later failed a drug test in 2002). Unfortunately the lack of Olympic Gold may adversely affect her legacy in swimming. I hope it doesn't. She set one of the all-time great WRs in swimming and should be remembered alongside the other European greats.
Due to her early success and photogenic looks she was lauded over by the German media her entire career and remains a prominent figure in Germany. She appears at major swimming competitions as a pundit on German TV (impressive contributions so far) and is now helping German athletes.
Here's to hoping that she is remembered, outside of Germany, as a true great.
Roll call - Olympics - 4 Silver, 6 Bronze
Worlds - 2 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze
Europeans - 18 Gold, 3 Silver