Hans Günter Winkler stands shoulder to shoulder with Max Schmeling and Fritz Walter. He is a legend of the German sport and this actually has a lot to do with Aachen and the World Championship title he won 60 years ago. At the Opening Ceremony of the FEI European Championships Aachen 2015 on August 11th, he will be returning to the big stadium. The organisers don't want to disclose the details of his appearance yet, but instead the 89-year-old "HGW" revealed what Aachen means to him.
Question: On August 11th, you will be part of the Opening Ceremony of the FEI European Championships Aachen 2015. What was it like riding into this arena, what did it feel like?
Hans Günter Winkler: "The size of the arena and the exceptional atmosphere due to the fantastic crowd are what turn Aachen into a unique experience every year. For me, as well as for all of the equestrian athletes from all nations, riding into this stadium was and still is both impressive and challenging."
Question: You claimed the World Championship title in Aachen 60 years ago. Is that your strongest memory of Aachen?
Winkler: "Of course, successfully defending my title as world champion is very memorable. But, above all, I will never forget the special atmosphere of fair sportsmanship between myself and my good friend, Raimondo d‘Inzeo, when I won the world championship title as the last rider in the jump-off and my defeated friend rushed over to congratulate me in a wonderful sign of sporting fairness and recognition."
Question: What does Aachen mean for you?
Winkler: "Aachen is unique in every respect. For us riders just as much as for all of the officials and the terrific crowd."
Question: Why do you think you are so incredibly popular with the crowd in Aachen? After all, lots of other rider were successful here…
Winkler: "In the 37 years between 1949 and 1986, a family-like relationship developed between the crowd in Aachen and myself, which turned the Soers into my equestrian living room. You'd have to ask the people from Aachen themselves why they are so fond of me, instead of me."
Question: What do you think makes Aachen so fascinating?
Winkler: "It is probably due to the fact that the ALRV keeps a vigilant eye on the development of the modern top sport paired with their awareness for upholding the traditions and constant consideration of the needs of the horses." Question: Turning to the European Championships 2015: Who do you think are the favourites? Winkler: "There are indeed many favourites. The current world ranking list shows a clear picture of the high quality of the European riders and horses. 7 Europeans are under the top 10 in the rankings – and 17 under the top 20! The form on the day and that famous bit of luck will ultimately decide who wins."
Question: You actively promote aspiring young riders. What tips do you have for young talents?
Winkler: "That always depends very much on the personality of the young people. But, in general, terms such as motivation, diligence, ambition and courage play a decisive role."
Question: When you cast a backward glance – what have been the most important changes in the field of equestrian sport over the past decades?
Winkler: "In fact, I don't actually believe in changes, but rather in further development. The incredible further development in the breeding sector and the fact that the needs of the horses have been increasingly taken more into consideration over the decades have led to dramatic further developments in the sport."
Question: You have never missed a CHIO in Aachen – what is your nicest memory purely from a spectator's rather than a competitor's point of view?
Winkler: "In spite of my old age, I have a pupil competing this year, namely Andreas Ostholt in the eventing. So, I still can't really answer that question purely from the point of view of a spectator."
Question: Can you remember your first show in Aachen?
Winkler: "Of course, I can remember my first show in Aachen – I competed here in 1949. The impressions I gained at the time most certainly contributed towards my special motivation and ambition to achieve major riding victories for Germany."
For more information visit www.aachen2015.de