Perhaps one has to have experienced the downs to be able to really appreciate a high. The eventer, Julia Krajewski, is familiar with lows in one’s sporting performance, she has experienced several herself. That makes her victory on August 2nd, 2021, when she claimed Olympic individual gold in Tokyo, all the more valuable. “I am more relaxed,” she said during the shooting of the CHIO Aachen Digital Report, “I have proven that I can also perform well at Championships.” She had already long since proven her exceptional qualities – among others with her victory in the SAP Cup at the CHIO Aachen in 2018. Thing simply hadn’t turned out right at Championships. Up until now.
Six months have passed since your Olympic win. What has changed since then?
Julia Krajewski: The response was overwhelming. It is still simply always an indescribably wonderful feeling to realise that I have touched so many people with my story that has taken on so many ups and downs. And it has also reassured me that it was right to carry and never to have given up.
You mentioned the setbacks…
Yes, there were plenty of them. But I’d say without having experienced those difficult moments, I wouldn’t be there where I am today. I have learnt that things also look up again. That, regardless of what happens, I never lose my motivation. Simply because I really enjoy my job and love what I do.
You are the first woman to win Olympic gold in your discipline. Does that make this achievement even more special for you?
I actually wasn’t aware of that fact beforehand. One woman, namely Bettina Hoy, got really close to winning Olympic gold one time. And we have also already had women on the top step of the winner’s rostrum at European and World Championships. So, somehow it was time for a woman to triumph at the Olympic Games. In the riding sport, woman don’t really have a disadvantage compared to men, equality has long since become reality there. But yes, of course, equality is a huge theme, also in sport, so it fits in well with the times.
Is the victory a signal to young girls: Don’t be frightened of boys, you can succeed!
Definitely. Our sport and particularly the Olympic victory are also global and there are many regions in the world where the differences regarding the subject of equality are much bigger than here in our country. Perhaps my success in Tokyo will give a girl here and there the drive to say: I can have dreams and it is worth fighting for them – even if the path is a difficult one. It is lovely to be able to offer a bit of inspiration along the way.
Has the pressure on you risen after this victory?
Of course, I am more present everywhere. When I compete at a small show anywhere, I am always announced as the Olympic gold medallist. And of course the people now always have high expectations. I am quite good out shutting out the expectations that others have in me. I am pretty good at that as a rule. I don’t cope with the demands I set in myself as well though. One can’t switch one’s own head off that quickly. I am not particularly good at that.
Have you already had time to enjoy the Olympic victory?
In principle, I find it difficult to dwell on a moment. I have to keep reminding myself that I really have achieved a huge feat and have to keep telling myself: Enjoy that for a while before you start thinking about how the next show will go.
After the interviews in Tokyo, the former national coach Hans Melzer said you had the talent of a presenter…
Yes, I had to grin at that myself. Namely it wasn’t always the case. As a young girl I didn’t even dare ring the show office to confirm my participation. Or at school I preferred taking exams rather than doing a presentation. It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me to speak with other people in such a casual manner. I have had to learn that over the course of time.
Your partner in Tokyo was Amande de B'Neville. What type of horse is she?
“Mandy”, as we call her back home, is an absolute mare. In her eyes she isn’t a princess, she feels like she is even more important than that. Like a Queen perhaps. And that is how she lives her everyday life. When handling her there are things she likes and there are things she doesn’t. So it is down to me and my groom to find compromises.
And when you are training? Is she a role model pupil?
She is always highly motivated, she tends to give 20 percent too much rather than too little. She was like that throughout her education. The jumping was always extremely good. I spent five years practicing how to make it normal. And in the dressage, I always have to tell her again and again: A little less would be fine.
When did it become clear that you had a future star under the saddle?
I always knew she is very special. But it simply took a long time to curb her excessive energy. When a horse is young, it can go in two directions during their education, even if it is a good quality horse. A feat like the one we achieved in Tokyo is in the end like a masterpiece of art. A moment when everything comes together perfectly. One can’t foresee something like that.
Training horses is your passion. What fascinates you about it?
It brings me great joy watching how the young horses develop. When working with them one experiences a lot more satisfaction quicker as a rider. When one has reached a very high level together as a pair, it is much more about refining certain aspects or movements. These are often simply nuances that don’t really bring a great feeling of success with them, as is the case when working with the youngsters.
You are a trainer as the second part of your job. What makes this work so special for you?
I find working with young riders very exciting and educational – also for myself. Having to find a solution for a problem while standing on the ground also gives me inspiration for my own riding.
Which tip do you give young riders along the way?
It is very important to be open to criticism and to suggestions for improvement. And the personal will to always want to improve is for me a basic prerequisite for being successful.
How does an Olympic gold medallist relax?
Ideally with a good book on the couch. I enjoy reading historical novels. And if I manage to take a few days off, I use the time to discover new places in the world.
Which sporting goals do you still have?
Oh, I still have a lot. There are a few 5* shows on my list that I would like to compete at. And the goal for the 2022 season is quite clearly the World Championships in Italy in September. I don’t think I will ever lack motivation. There are still so many things I want to do.
Is repeating your victory of 2018 in the SAP Cup at the CHIO Aachen one of them?
Of course. The CHIO Aachen is a special highlight every year. I will never forget that moment when I rode into that stadium as the winner. And I’d definitely like to experience that feeling again.
Source: CHIO Aachen press release
Photo: CHIO Aachen/ Jil Haak