At the age of 16, Johannes Floors faced the choice between sitting in a wheelchair for the rest of his life or having his lower legs amputated. He opted for the latter and is now a world record holder, world champion and Paralympic gold medalist. At last year’s World Para Athletics European Championships in Berlin, he won three golds. All the while, the trained prosthetist is studying for a BA in mechanical engineering and believes this variety is key.
Johannes, you are off to an absolutely flying start this season. You’ve broken world records for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint – congratulations!
Thank you. Yes, I’m very happy with my times because they show that my training is going well.
On your website, you welcome visitors with the message “...one day, you’ll be flying.” Does running truly make you feel like you’re flying?
I could never properly run as a child. I was always the slowest, always the first to feel short of breath. Things only changed after the amputation. That was eight years ago, so I haven’t been able to run for all that long, which is why I thoroughly enjoy myself each time I do. And yes, one day you will be flying. You get to a point in your training where you notice how fast you are. It feels like you’re running ten meters a second. That’s a magic number – one second for ten meters. Everything flashes by. When you reach that point – it was the same for me – you always just want to run faster. I set out to push myself every day to continuously increase my speed.
The Paralympics stand for courage, inspiration, determination and equal rights.
Paralympic athlete at TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen
As a world record holder and world champion, you’re gradually running out of opponents. Would you be keen to compete with non-amputated athletes from time to time?
I’m glad we’ve got our own games with the Paralympics. The Olympic and Paralympic Games formed on the basis of different values. The Paralympics stand for courage, inspiration, determination and equal rights. Personally, that’s something I can really identity with and get behind. Yet I believe the competitive side is important, too. I look forward to taking part in good, challenging races with fast opponents. That’s why I think it’d be great if we could take on Olympic athletes at athletics competitions.
You’re a trained prosthetist and have also interacted with prosthetics a great deal in a professional context. Despite all that, you’re also currently studying mechanical engineering. Why?
I really enjoyed my vocational training, but afterwards it was too much for me. Prosthetics featured in my everyday life, sport and job – it was taking up too much space. If I’m honest, I always wanted to go to university. Mechanical engineering offers exciting new branches of industry and plenty of opportunities. But perhaps I’ll go back to developing or researching prosthetics later on – then I could link the two areas together and come full circle. Having said that, I don’t see any point in making set plans for the future. Instead, I like going through any doors that open up to exciting opportunities if the circumstances are right.
Then let’s stay in the present day for now. How do you manage high-performance sport alongside your time-consuming studies?
My days are strictly planned. Seeing as I’m in the middle of exams at the moment, that means revising, training and revising from morning to evening, with physio squeezed in between. My studies are very important for me to balance out the sport. One time, I spent six months just training and it felt like something was missing. I have to keep my brain occupied, too, and think about other things that aren’t related to my training, times and conditioning. The variety is the key – as is the right mix. Continuously giving my all in both areas, mentally and physically, wouldn’t work either.
You need strong partners to be able to afford that. What does the support you receive from the German Sports Aid Foundation, in particular Deutsche Bank’s sport scholarship, mean to you?
The German Sports Aid Foundation is hugely important to me, just as it is to all other athletes who couldn’t make a living from their sport. The financial support gives us security and Deutsche Bank’s sport scholarship means I don’t have to worry about an empty fridge. My mind is free to concentrate on uni and sport.
This year’s world championships are being held unusually late, this November in Dubai. How does that impact on your training?
It is certainly something you need to adjust for. The “normal” competitive season runs until late August. After that I’ll return to training for the world championships. I’ll be focusing on my favorite track event, the 400 meters, as I’m eager to defend my world title in Doha. I will definitely be waving goodbye to my 200-meter title sprint because that distance has been taken out of the program for bilateral amputees at both the Paralympics and the world championships. That’s such as shame in my opinion because as a 400-meter runner, the 200 was well suited to me, and I really enjoyed it. My second focus will therefore be on the 100 meters. Given that we will be competing alongside unilateral amputees, the races will be of a very high standard. It’s going to be an exciting competition that will be great preparation for the 2020 Paralympics, regardless of the outcome.
Talking of which – there’s still one individual Paralympic medal missing from your collection after you injured yourself so badly celebrating gold for the 4 x 100 meters relay in Rio in 2016 that you were no longer able to compete in the 400 meters, a distance you normally sail through.
I still have a score to settle at the Paralympics, but more with myself. That means I am all the more determined, however, which will hopefully come across in my performance.
Among 100 candidates, Johannes Floors was picked out as one of the top five by a panel of experts. This honor is conferred by the German Sports Aid Foundation and Deutsche Bank on athletes who achieve notable success in combining high-performance sport with university studies.