Farewell Ellen

Yesterday was Ellen Sprunger’s last competition. The Weltklasse Zürich meeting was just the right stage for the end of her fine career.

I met Ellen in 2011 when she was a very young heptathlete and participated at the Hypomeeting in Götzis joint with her sister Léa. Still a pure hobby photographer, I took some snaps and sent them to her. I started following her career, not knowing that I would cross her paths over and over again after I became a semi-professional.

Years later, I became impressed by Ellen’s personality. I apologize for an absolutely amateurish psycho analysis, but here is my characterization.

  • She is passionate and stubborn – maybe a career as a runner or even a hurdler would have been the better choice for her… better in terms of world ranking places. But unlike her sister Léa, Ellen never switched, because of her deep passion for the heptahlon (after a few beers, I agreed with the well known expert Guillaume Laurent that the 400m hurdles would have been her ideal discipline… maybe even at Léa’s level).
  • She is friendly and empathetic. During her career she started working for disabled children – she once told me that this would be her dream job after the end of her career. Well, ambassador for the Special Olympics 2018 in Geneva will be a good start.
  • She is tranquil and self-controlled. Fans will remember one of the key moments of her career, the 4x100m final at the Europeans in Zurich. Mujinga Kambundji dropped the baton and the disappointment was huge. Understandably, it was hard to deal with the home crowd and talk to the media. The way Ellen did this was just impressive. Team spirit is very much a matter of managing bad moments. On this day, Ellen showed that she has team spirit.

So what remains of her career? She is a double Olympian, 2012 and 2016. She was Swiss athlete of the year in 2012 and 2013. Until 2016 she was member of the 4x100m relay that took its path from mediocrity to world class. At the 2016 Olympics, she was the secret leader of the team… “Mom” the giggling girlies (sorry) called her.

Her biggest disappointment will be that she failed to break the Swiss national record in the heptathlon. There is no doubt that she had more than just the potential to do so. An ugly injury at the Achilles heel (“the heel doesn’t heal”) held her up over many years. So her biggest desire, a world class heptathlon performance, remained unsatisfied.

Finally, her physical appearance always was part of her. A broad public became thrilled by her courageous competition at the London Olympics that peaked with the fourth discipline, the 200m. As a photographer, I am envious of Olivier Morin of Getty Photo who took the maybe best known picture when she celebrated her performance. “Ellen Sprunger… sixpack” is a suggested auto completion by Google still today.

Quite likely, the sixpack will go one day… passion and friendliness will remain.