Steffi Jones: "Olympic Games are the biggest thing around"
Every major tournament seems to produce a tragic hero, and the role at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup fell to Germany stalwart Steffi Jones. The experienced defender sustained cruciate ligament damage in her side's final group match against Argentina and flew straight back to Germany for surgery, enduring the frustration of watching on TV at home in Frankfurt as her team-mates battled to the Final and a dramatic 2-1 victory over Sweden to claim a first FIFA Women's World Cup title.
The 31-year-old set out on the long and weary process of rehabilitation, regaining fitness and resuming training, but in something of a minor miracle, she has leapt aboard the Olympic express at the last minute. "When I turned up for the first session, the first thing I thought was: I'll never make it. I was so far off where I needed to be and the standards I set myself," the likeable international told FIFA.com.
She came on as a late substitute in recent friendlies against Norway and Nigeria in the hope of picking up a little match practice, but did enough to convince coach Tina Theune-Meyer that her experience and reliability would be worth taking to Athens.
Jones's deep commitment to her club almost proved her undoing on the Olympic front. She resumed duty for 1. FFC Frankfurt just eight months after the career-threatening injury and immediately saw action at the highest level. Instead of gradually working her way back, "I played in the UEFA Cup, the championship and the German Cup Final," she reflects, "I'd set those five weeks aside to get fresh and sharp again, but it never happened because I played instead."
"I took a risk and I might not have been here"
Inevitably she picked up a string of minor injuries which threatened to derail her progress to the Olympics. "I took a risk and I might not have made it here, but everyone has to do what they can for their club," the 31 year old declares.
Any last doubts were swept away by a convincing 90-minute display in Germany's Olympic opener against China. Jones avoided injury and thoroughly enjoyed her side's 8-0 demolition of their long-standing rivals.
"I was a little nervous at the start because there was a bit more pressure," the player confesses, admitting her surprise at Germany's supremely comfortable victory. "I looked up at the scoreboard during the match and I thought I must be in the wrong stadium," she said, "I was stunned at China's poor display."
Jones pinpointed fitness as the key difference between the sides. "The player I was marking was exhausted before half-time, so I reckon they were simply not up to it physically."
Germany now seek to follow up a perfect start with victory over Mexico on 17 August, using the gap between matches to train, relax on the beach or around the pool at their well-appointed hotel in Patras. Jones appreciates having other international teams staying at the hotel and reports plenty of intermingling among the players.
The German squad regularly comes across their Argentine and Portuguese counterparts around the facility, and Jones believes there are advantages to having men's and women's teams quartered together. "We're spending much longer than normal in the weights room, you look around and see these fine, fit upper torsos, so you just keep on pedalling on the exercise bike as long as you can," she laughs.
But joking aside, Jones has a medal-winning finish in her sights. After missing out on the FIFA Women's World Cup Final and the party in California, the defender has some catching up to do, and in any case she rates the Olympics the non-plus-ultra of the game.
"You have to say this is the most valuable and the best. The European Championships and the World Cup are wonderful, obviously, but the Olympic Games are the biggest thing around," the 31-year-old insists, "the Games will always be top of my list, and I have no time for anyone who doesn't give everything for a medal."