By Lloyd Webb
With an Olympic gold medal sitting on the desk in front of her, Josephine Henning stares wide-eyed at pictures she hasn’t seen before of herself sandwiched between captain Saskia Bartusiak and top goalscorer Melanie Behringer on the podium at the Maracana Stadium.
In August, the defender was part of the Germany squad that beat Sweden 2-1 in the women’s football final to become the first Arsenal player to win an Olympic gold medal. Josi made two appearances in Rio as Germany beat Zimbabwe, China, Canada and Sweden on their route to victory. Henning may have missed key clashes against Liverpool and Notts County during her time in Rio, but the souvenir around her neck certainly made the sacrifice worthwhile.
We sat down and spoke to Arsenal’s very own Olympic champ at London Colney...
THE BIG INTERVIEW
“Looking back at the pictures – oh my God,” she exclaims.
“It’s crazy! It still feels a little bit weird because it needs some time, some days, some weeks to realise what we did, because it’s a special thing – a dream come true. I feel really pleased.
“To be on the podium was amazing, because the Brazilian people weren’t huge fans of us because of the 7-1 scoreline their country suffered from the men’s game at the World Cup. They hadn’t forgot about that! But in the end, they were applauding and that felt really, really nice.
“I didn’t have any expectations about what the medal would be like when I got it – it’s really nice, though. It has some scratches from the night after the win but it will always have a special place in my heart. It helps you realise what you’ve done and achieved looking at it.
“I had two days with my family after the tournament in Germany – what’s weird is you get so many messages from people you haven’t heard from in years. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but it’s amazing how many people follow you in Rio and sometimes you don’t realise it when you’re at the tournament.
"I saw Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps but I’m not the type of person to run up to someone and ask for a selfie. I thought it was nice to see they were in the Olympic Village with everyone"
“I got a lot of messages from my team-mates back home, which was nice. But as soon as I could find a live stream I was watching Arsenal Ladies’ game against Notts County. I tried to get one for Liverpool match as well but I couldn’t find one so I was following on Twitter the whole time. I had to stop during training to look at my phone. They were also writing to me.
With the likes of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps for neighbours in the Olympic Village, Henning says she was blown away by the spirit she witnessed in Rio, but also the South American culture she and her team-mates experienced.
“Everything was crazy – the experience of the Olympic spirit, in the Olympic Village, the different cities of Brazil, of the culture. To adapt was a big thing – how can you adapt in three or four weeks and be at your best level? We’re talking about food and that kind of thing. We had a cook with us, a doctor – everything that you could imagine was given to help us so I think that was one of the key things.
“I saw Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps but I’m not the type of person to run up to someone and ask for a selfie. I thought it was nice to see they were in the Olympic Village with everyone – they could easily, with their money, go and get a villa in Rio and live there and do their own thing. But it was nice to know they were here like every other athlete.
“Everyone had a house in the village and you also had an extra house at the beach, and that’s where we partied when we won. That’s where we met with the other German athletes and press. Myself and Serge Gnabry had some talks there. He’s a really nice guy and really funny. I wish him all the best for the future.
"I think it’s important for him just to play, because that’s what you want to do.
“But I still have a lot of things in my mind when I think about Brazil – the difference between poor and rich, to see how they still are happy and trying to make the best out of their lives.
"There is always music in the streets and Brazil is, for me, all about having that smile on your face when it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, or what you have in your life because everyone’s struggling. They still smile and they’re nice – it’s a happy feeling there.”
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