When Sarah Voss made her appearance at the European Gymnastics Championships in Basel in April 2021, the then 21-year-old caused an international sensation. Not because she had performed a new, complicated figure on the balance beam. No, Sarah Voss drew attention to herself with her clothing. Instead of skimpy pants and a tight top, the gymnast wore a full body suit. What was known from starters from other countries at international competitions from time to time for religious motives, the Hessian made a demonstration for self-determination.
"Our main concern was to be a role model for younger female athletes," the gymnast told Stern magazine. She said she had often been told that gymnasts did not feel comfortable doing sports because of the dress code with skin-tight clothing and even quit. The slipping of the skimpy clothing and thus involuntary exposure of intimate body zones had burdened many a girl and woman. "And we especially wanted to show these girls that there is a way to wear other suits and that you definitely don't have to be ashamed of it." The German Gymnastics Federation supported the campaign, in which other gymnasts also participated.
Before her statement, the gymnast Sarah Voss already had some sporting successes and made a name for herself.
The 22-year-old looks back on these successes:
- Olympic participant in Tokyo 2021
- German champion in vault and balance beam 2021
- German champion in all-around, vault and balance beam 2019
- German champion in vault and balance beam 2018
- Fourth of the European championship in vault 2018
During Sarah Voss' childhood and youth, a phenomenon developed around her sport that she and other women on the German gymnastics team countered. For at the latest when beach volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1994, open sexism moved into the games. Close-ups on the buttocks of female beach volleyball players became common.
The former president of the world soccer federation Fifa, Sepp Blatter, even recommended that female soccer players follow the example of beach volleyball players by playing in skimpy panties in the future. This provided plenty of fodder for scientists at the Cologne Sports University, who came up with the term "sporno" almost ten years ago and published "Sporno - where sports meets porno," a specialist article on many aspects of sexism and sports.
In her own words, the young student did not aspire to the role of being a pioneer of a counter-movement to this phenomenon, which is borne by voyeurism. It surprised her how many people talked about the action at the European Championship. It had also been partly more purely interpreted than they wanted to say with the suit. "However, I have the feeling that the more positive feedback we get, the more people feel encouraged by it," Voss told Stern.
Even if the feedback was a surprise, rash actions do not actually exist with her. After all, the 1.67-meter gymnast had some problems with her body, especially when she was growing, so she always had to train consciously. "Before I make a million attempts until something works out, I first think about what the solution might be." She takes a similar approach in her studies of economics at the Distance Learning University in Riedlingen. In her own words, Voss plans exactly which modules she has to complete and when, so that she only has to write exams that fit into her tightly timed annual schedule.
A self-confident, self-determined young woman who doesn't let things get her down so easily. She wears glasses in private, which of course is not possible in gymnastics - the fact that she can't see in full focus because of this hasn't stood in the way of her advancement.
It is not yet clear where her athletic career will take her. So far, however, she can look back on some notable successes.
In 2021, she was German champion on vault and balance beam, took silver on floor and bronze in the all-around. However, this is a step backwards compared to 2019, where she was the national best in all-around, vault and balance beam. Internationally, she has always lacked a bit of upward momentum.
At World Championships in 2019, seventh place on balance beam was her best placing, and at European Championships in 2018, fourth place on vault. At the European Championships in Basel, she still missed the final under the after-effects of her own Corona illness last October and a quarantine break in the spring. But she may have started a movement that will inspire other gymnasts as well. Some clubs are already reporting that young women and girls are inquiring about the full-body suits.
At the young age of 22, Sarah Voss can look back on a successful career as a gymnast so far. The fact that she needs glasses doesn't slow her down, and even her corona disease in 2020 didn't stop her from continuing her career. With her full body suit, she makes a statement about self-determination and affirms young female athletes from all over the world.