A comeback would be desirable for German gymnastics - until then I hope that Philipp will follow his own path successfully!! All the best!
This article is two weeks old, but I loved reading it, because it’s so well and emotionally written and gives me shivers every time I read it. Very fitting right before Philipp’s announcement this weekend. -J
Germany’s Philipp Boy is giving off signals that he might retire from gymnastics. And after the close calls he’s had, who can blame him?
As he lay with his lower body folded under his torso and the high bar rattling angrily 10 feet above him, it occurred to Philipp Boy to wonder if he could still feel his legs. It was bad if you couldn’t feel your legs.
His fall had been one for the books — a scary, nothing-you-can-do-about-it moment that happens every few years on camera and gives us all pause as we remember that at the end of the day, even the most well trained at falling are literally risking their necks out there.
Fortunately Philipp Boy didn’t land on his neck when he peeled off high bar at the Stuttgart World Cup a year ago this month. But the scenario wasn’t much better: he landed on his knees, shooting forward, with calves and ankles behind him. The fall arched his back in an unnatural way and for a moment he lay flat on his back with legs bent under him, staring at up at the bar, wondering what the hell just happened.
It was a long, ugly moment. At 24 then, Boy was and is still considered a young gymnast, the sort of man with at least a quadrennium — two if he’s lucky — left in him. But he was also already an Olympian, headed to for his second Games, and definitely old enough to remember what happened to Ronny Ziesmer, the German team member who was paralyzed after he landed a Tsuk double back vault on his neck just before the 2004 Olympics.
If you don’t remember that, you might remember a tiny, bespectacled Fabian Hambuechen, just 16 at the time, holding up a cardboard sign that read “Für Ronny” as his teammates waved and shouted messages of hope at the camera after the German men completed their team competition in Athens.
Such were Boy’s thoughts as he lay on the mat. Three coaches, in their black and white team Germany tracksuits, surrounded him within seconds, getting down on their hands and knees on the mat to ask if he was all right and look him over. Boy lifted and lowered his head agitatedly a couple of times, as though he wanted to bang it on a wall that wasn’t there. And then, to the relief of everyone in the arena and everyone watching the live stream, Philipp Boy slowly unfurled himself and stood up. Assisted by coaches, he gingerly made his way off the mat and out of the arena.
He hasn’t been the same gymnast since. There have been other problems — notably a leg injury that kept him hobbling around the floor in London when he wasn’t nailing his usual difficulty on floor and vault — but his second Olympics was a mighty, selfless performance that hasn’t been recognized enough, probably because the German team didn’t win a medal. During podium training in London, I asked a German reporter what was wrong with Boy as he struggled to catch the high bar on simple releases.
"He has a problem with his leg," came the response. "And a problem with his head."
And really, could you blame him? The worst thing that can happen to a gymnast is death or paralysis. Outside of that, the next worst must be nearly escaping death/paralysis, and then continuing to train the same skill(s) that nearly paralyzed you over and over and over in training, as you have to do.
Maybe Boy, who has been one of the most charming and charismatic male gymnasts on the international circuit this quad, has done all he can do. He’s certainly been entertaining: Remember how he went blond in 2007? How he burst onto the scene in 2010 to win all-around silver in Rotterdam? How he famously declared “I’m in the wrong era” after repeating the feat in Tokyo in 2011, coming up short again to Kohei Uchimura? How there are several photos on the internet of him doing gymnastics in his underwear?
If this is the end, we’ll miss him and his wonderful combination of power and elegance (and, if we’re really honest, seeing him work out shirtless). At 25, Philipp Boy has the rest of his life ahead of him. Maybe we’ll breathe a little easier knowing that he’ll never take a fall like that again.