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Tough fitness programmes are a distinguishing feature of the sports University
© dpa-Bildfunk
The world’s largest sports university

July 11, 2008

Cologne is a sporting city: it has Bundesliga soccer, a sport museum, an Olympic training centre, trainer academies – and the world’s largest sport college: the German Sport University.

Everything is conspicuously casual. It’s easy to imagine that you are in an Olympic Village or at a major sporting event. There are tracksuits everywhere you look and young people with towels casually thrown over their shoulders. On the left is the athletics stadium, on the right the swimming centre and the tennis courts are just around the corner. Everyone is good-humoured, good-looking and in incredibly good shape. The campus, as you soon notice, is not a place for couch potatoes. The canteen lies optimistically on Olympiaweg, the road to the Olympics, and the window of the bookshop presents piles of books with titles like “Marathon – You Can Do It!” and “Mountain Biking the Right Way”.

The German Sport University in Cologne is a rather unusual university. The students’ daily campus routine resembles a continuous fitness program combined with highly demanding mental gymnastics. Swimming in the morning, followed by circuits around the track, a shower and a fresh change of clothes. Then a lecture on sport medicine, followed by a seminar on the subject of sport economics – and to round it all off a training course covering football, tennis or basketball. Also popular is a short visit to the “Playa in Cologne”, as the beach volleyball field is known.

The Sport University in Cologne is the only German higher education institution devoted solely to sport. There are no students of law, philosophy or business administration, just sport sciences. “SpoHo”, as the students call the university in German (short for “Sporthochschule”), is much more to many of them than just an educational institution. “SpoHo is not just a university, but a way of life,” is how student Jakob Ulrich describes the special appeal of the sport university. Anyone seeking this spirit of sportsmanship will find ideal conditions in west Cologne. The campus of the world’s largest sport university lies idyllically in the middle of the city’s green belt. Furthermore, the university has attained international renown for its wide range of study programs and its varied research – and also basks in the success of the world champions and successful Olympic athletes who have studied here.

The current student body of 5,600 include a number of major talents: for example, Benjamin Kleibrink, runner-up at the 2007 European Fencing Championships, and sprinter and long jumper Wojtek Czyz, three times German gold medal winner at the 2004 Paralympics.

Tough Test

The university’s good reputation attracts many. However, a successful application is preceded by a great deal of sweat and tears – in the shape of the sport entrance exam that everyone has to pass. You need to be able to run 100 meters in less than 13.4 seconds, complete 100 meters breaststroke in 1:50 minutes or perform a roll, handstand and circle exercises on the gym floor. Applicants must successfully complete 19 out of 20 disciplines. “You have to be an all-round athlete to manage it,” explains Jakob Ulrich. But performance isn’t the only thing that matters at the university; it also aims to provide the best training for students’ later professional lives.

High-tech medical support

Alongside basic research and continuing and advanced training for coaches, the centre also aims to provide intensive support and guidance to top athletes. A comprehensive basic sport medicine checkup gives them a complete picture of their health and performance status – and provides information and prognoses for ways of optimizing training. “We record roughly 3,000 parameters, evaluate them, summarise them and save them in the athlete’s personal file,” says Eva Engelmeyer, Executive Director of the research center.

Sport brings people together – this idea also applies in Cologne in an international sense. The German Sport University maintains partnerships with 53 international institutions of higher education, students from over 50 nations are studying at the campus and more than 8% of students came from outside Germany.

© Deutschland Magazine / German Information Centre
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