To be unphased in the presence of Usain Bolt, you have to have something about you. In around all the hysteria that engulfed the Olympic Village during the games in Rio, Leonie Maier was able to keep a cool head. On the occasion of walking through the area to discover a mass of people gathered beneath the Jamaican sprinter’s balcony, to whom Bolt was throwing signed hats and putting on a small show, Maier stopped to pay attention only for a few seconds. “You could barely see him up there on his fifth floor.”
Despite her relative youth, having only turned 24 around a month ago, she has an impressive array achievements to her name. She is a European champion at U17, U19 and senior level with the Germany national team, and two-time German champion in her club career with FC Bayern. Former national team head coach Silvia Neid, who stepped down following the success in Rio, described her as “the future of women’s football.”
While described as the future, she has been on the road to becoming the ‘present’ for quite some time. Maier sees herself as taking on ever more responsibility in her roles for club and country. The national team is in something of a state of flux following the resignations and the international retirements of senior figures that followed the Olympic gold triumph, and will be put to the test again against the Netherlands on Tuesday (16:10 CEST). “You do not jump straight to being a leader in just one year,” she said discussing the changing the altering circumstances, “but my generation has to grow steadily into the responsibility.” Her time as the team’s youngster is “over” – now is her moment to begin taking charge.
Maier approaches the world with open eyes and an open mind. Her experience in Brazil was not just limited to the “goosebumps” her sporting successes gave her. When making repeated trips through the Brazilian favelas, she stated just the extent to which there so visibly exists “a great divide between rich and poor”. She continued “that makes you very sad, too, and you come home far more aware of the wider world than you were when you left. I am grateful for every part of the experience.” The sight of football pitches across the many troubled districts was a source of comfort to her, though. “The Brazilians love for the sport, and that gives me hope.”
More exciting than her encounter with Usain Bolt was her meeting with another star sportsperson. After returning to Munich, the five Olympians from Bavaria were invited to the Allianz Arena on the first matchday of the Bundesliga. There, she was able to chat to Markus Rehm, who shortly after was heading to the Paralympic Games. “I wished him luck and rooted for him in front of the television – that maybe helped him a little,” she said. Rehm came away from the Games in Rio with the gold in both the long jump and in the sprint relay. She says she followed the Paralympics with great interest: “What they do is simply admirable – they are examples for everyone.”
The international fixture in Aalen against the Netherlands is particularly special for her, as she made her first steps in football in Aldingen and Remseck – just an hour from where the game will be played. Many of her family members and friends – some from her hometown club – will be in the stands for the game.
Although she moved to Munich in 2013, she never lost contact with people from where she is from. Before the Olympics, she trained on her ex-club’s training ground and until today, still phones her former coach Dieter Grauer. “He still gives me feedback which continues to be important for me,” she says.
Contact with home is important to her, but it is also true to say she feels at home in Munich. “I have everything that I could ask for here” she says. “Someday, going abroad count tempt me but it would have to be very good offer. Sportingly, FC Bayern have developed quickly and our team spirit is exceptional.”
Leonie Maier is also a passionate chef and is part of a cooking club in her spare time. In the club, there are often challenges to cook dishes from different countries for the others in the group. Recently, she was tasked to cook something from France, so she prepared entrecote with ratatouille, vegetable quiche and melt-in-the-middle chocolate soufflé. It was a complete success she says with a smile, “there were no complaints at least.”