Philipp Boy Retires

It did not come as a surprise. Germany’s Philipp Boy, reigning European all-around champion and silver medallist at the 2010 and 2011 world championships, is retiring. The 25-year-old had already hinted he was considering retirement during the past few weeks and made it official at a press conference during the DTB Cup in Stuttgart on 1 December. He cited two main reasons – his health and his financial and career prospects.

Boy had two fantastic years in 2010 and 2011, winning team gold at the 2010 Europeans, silver AA and team bronze at the world championships the same year. In 2011, he took the AA gold at the European championships in Berlin and reclaimed his status as second best in the world behind superhuman Kohei Uchimura. But 2012 was not kind at all to Boy, whose friendliness and polite charm made him a fan favourite off the mats. “I spent more time visiting physiotherapists and doctors [than training],” he said. Boy battled a long stream of injuries throughout the year. Collar bone, wrist, back… just a few of the areas Boy had problems with this year. Nonetheless, he felt confident going into the Olympics. “I was in good shape and risked something,” he said, referring to the Dragulescu vault he decided to risk in team prelims. Boy fell and got injured on the vault, his first event at the Olympics. “[Head coach] Hirsch advised against throwing it in this competition, but I’m stubborn and went for it.” Instead of making a number of finals as hoped, Boy hobbled through the rest of the competition and missed out on all individual finals.

The first public step towards retirement was Boy’s announcement that he was leaving the sports group of the German army. The army admits successful athletes to its ranks, paying them a salary and allowing them to concentrate almost exclusively on training. 19 of Germany’s 44 medals in London were won by athletes representing the armed forces. The advantages of the arrangement are obvious – athletes are essentially fully paid professionals with no distractions and very few obligations toward their employer. However, they often leave the army and top level sports in their late twenties with nothing but a school leaving certificate and have a hard time finding their feet once they are no longer of interest to their respective federations as medal winners.

Boy initially started an apprenticeship in a bank and had hoped to combine his vocational training with his gymnastics career. He eventually gave up that plan, and his results improved dramatically once he joined the army. His career prospects are the other main reason he has decided to call it quits. “I’m just tired of hoping for a large sponsor to appear after a big success. I know, money isn’t everything but you can’t just live on love alone. What we get is not enough to save money for later. I think [the system] in Russia is excellent where you get a life annuity if you win a medal.”

It was obvious that the decision was not an easy one for Boy, and he took his time before making the final decision. “I was already totally sure I was going to retire in London. Then, I went back on that decision. Andreas Hirsch asked me to not make any rash decisions and take my time.” Continuing in gymnastics for fun was never an option, Boy stated. “If I were to continue then it would be to win a medal [at the Olympics]. I don’t think I’d be able to win an apparatus medal at 29.”

Perhaps the 2011 DTB Cup was a first step towards Boy’s retirement. He suffered a scary fall on high bar there. “It was the worst fall of my career. Until then, I had never even given a thought to the fact that I could get injured. It lead to a lot of mental problems on the event I wanted to win a medal on.” The fall and the ensuing mental block, Boy emphasized in Stuttgart, were only “a small reason” for his retirement. “If I had wanted to continue, I could have worked it out.”

Boy’s retirement will leave quite a sizeable gap in the German team. While the team has enjoyed considerable success over the last two Olympic cycles, the upcoming juniors have a long way to go before reaching the standard set by the Hambüchens, Boys and Nguyens. “I’m sorry,” head coach Hirsch said, “I will miss him. From my point of view, his retirement is a little early.”