At the age of nine, a surprise encounter with a stranger gave Heinrich Popow the motto he has lived by ever since, "Always go a step further than the rest." In a Bonn hospital, waiting to have his leg amputated as a result of bone cancer, Heinrich received an unexpected visitor who promised him that soon he would be able to do sports, "You can do everything again, you’ll just have to work a little harder than the others." The stranger then revealed his own prosthetic leg, and introduced himself as Arno Becker, Paralympic cyclist and 1990 German individual time trial champion.
Today Heinrich is clear, "I do sports not in spite of, but because of my disability. Thanks to sports, I don't feel disabled."
In 2012,his motto became a reality when he become the T42 100m Paralympic champion. In a thrilling contest at the London 2012 Paralympic Games he came from behind to snatch the gold medal ahead of Scott Reardon in the final metres of the race. These friendly rivals went on to make history at the 2013 World Athletics Championships when they both crossed the line in exactly 12:68 seconds and were jointly awarded the gold medal and World Champion title.
Heinrich’s Paralympic debut was at the Athens 2004 Games, and ever since he has worked alongside the team at Ottobock collaborating on the design and development of a range of prosthetic legs, opening up the opportunity to run and play sports to all amputees not just professional athletes. This experience led him to apply his motto in his career and in 2014 he again went one step further and began his training as an orthopaedic technician.
When he is not training or competing, Heinrich is passionate about opening the door to sport for more people. "Giving up is not an option," is his response to the obstacles and lack of support that many people with disabilities face when trying to get involved in sport.
He is making this a reality with Ottobock Running Clinics, which take place around the world, teaching beginners who never dreamed they would be able to participate in sports to get up and running during a unique three day programme. He is also helping to nurture the next generation of Paralympians. In 2015, Ottobock in partnership with the German Paralympic Committee (Deutscher Behindertensportverband) hosted their first Talent Camp where Heinrich worked with aspiring young athletes, introducing them to a range of sports and providing the benefits of learning from an athlete at the top of his sport.
Looking ahead this year is set to be one of Heinrich’s busiest yet. At the top of his list is preparing to defend his Paralympic title at the Rio 2016 Games and training as an orthopaedic technician.. However, he is also committed to making time to continue Ottobock Running Clinics and Talent Camps, as well as accepting invitations to talk at schools and visit young people waiting for amputations. Talking to them about their future, in the same way Arno Becker encouraged him, means a lot to Heinrich and he always leaves them with an invitation to visit him at his training base in Leverkusen. "I teach them to have confidence on their prosthesis when they walk. It isn't about athletic training, but it is the first step.” The atmosphere in Leverkusen, where coach Karl-Heinz Düe coaches able-bodied and disabled athletes side-by-side, can be contagious. “Nowhere else in Germany do you find this. It is the perfect environment for encouraging people with disabilities to become involved in sport.”
Key competitive achievemets:
|Paralympic Games||IPC World Championships|
|Rio 2016||London 2012|
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|Beijing 2008||Athen 2004|
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Year of birth: 1983
Sport: Athletics (100m, 200m and long jump)
Personal Best: 100 m - 12,11 sec, 200 m - 25,90 sec, long jump - 6,31 m
Coach: Karl-Heinz Düe
Home team/club: TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen
Career highlights: Winning Gold in the 100 m at the London 2012 Paralympic Games
For sport: 3S80 and 1E91
For everyday: Genium X3