Former German bobsledder Maximilian Arndt was a two-time world champion before retiring to pursue a career with the police force. Here, we find out how he has coped with the transition
Maximilian Arndt has always harboured a love of speed. That makes perfect sense if you are one of Germany’s strongest and most talented bobsledders – a two-time world and European champion in a sport that is often dubbed ‘Formula One on ice’. In fact, it is an essential ingredient for athletes to succeed in this fiercely competitive discipline, which is all about hurtling down narrow, twisting, banked, ice tracks in the fastest time possible. And there is no doubt about it – Max loves hurtling down icy tracks.
“I would drive 125mph with a bob if that were possible; I have no fear,” he told a newspaper in his hometown of Thuringia in October 2015. He also claims to have once blasted around the EuroSpeedway Lausitz racetrack on a motorbike at 185mph – just for the fun of it.
Arndt’s love of speed had initially led him to compete in luge, but after switching to bobsleigh in 2003 he went on to win gold in both the four-man and two-man events at the 2011 World Junior Championships in Park City. He soon began starring on the World Cup circuit and in 2012 left the World Championships with two silver medals and a bronze, as well as winning gold and silver at the European Championships.
An excited German media were soon hailing him as the natural successor to the country’s bobsleigh legend Andre Lange, but despite winning the four-man world title in 2013, Arndt was unable to emulate Lange’s success on the Olympic stage when he competed at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
A second four-man world title followed in 2015, while Arndt also enjoyed a dream season in 2015/16, which saw him reach the podium in all eight World Cup events to secure the overall four-man title.
It came as a huge shock, therefore, that he announced his retirement from the sport in June 2016, swapping his slick bobsleigh for a blue and silver Thuringian police car.
This sudden decision came as a surprise to many fans and fellow athletes, with Arndt – then aged just 28 – seemingly on course to challenge for medals at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. But, for the man himself, it was a decision that had been long in the making.
“Many factors contributed to this decision,” explains the now 29-year-old. “The most important one was the crash I had in Altenberg in 2015, which seemed to leave something behind in my mind. A certain risk tolerance was missing afterwards and I realised I wasn’t giving 100 per cent anymore. You need that level of commitment to keep up with the world’s elite.”
That incident in January 2015 saw Arndt taken to hospital suffering from cuts, bruises and suspected concussion, and came as a huge shock to not only the man himself, but also his fiancée, Annemarie Mannhardt, who recalled: “My heart was in my mouth when Max crashed.”
Characteristically for Arndt, he was back in a bob just two weeks later but the incident, coupled with another life-changing event, helped bring about his decision to retire.
“The birth of my daughter in June last year was also a big factor,” he admits, before revealing that his new life as a policeman is considerably slower – and safer. “There is always a certain risk but we since we don’t deal with major criminals here in my department it’s not too bad.”
The German now has ambitious plans for his career in the police force and intends to become an inspector in the near future. He also doesn’t rule out returning to bobsleigh as a coach.
“I would never leave the police service,” he says. “A return to the sport would have to happen alongside my job as a police officer, maybe in an organisational capacity or as coach for athletes at the Thuringian police.”
And while Arndt’s bid for Olympic gold in PyeongChang has ended prematurely, he reveals that he has no conflicting emotions about leaving his career as a professional athlete behind. But does he still sometimes miss hurtling down steep and narrow ice channels?
“Well, since I grew up with bobsledding, an important part of my life is now over but I have no regrets,” he says. “After all, I can spend more time with my family and friends and I can do things like skiing, which was not possible before due to the risk of injury. And due to work and family commitments I don’t actually have much time to dwell [on the decision] although sometimes when I watch races it makes my skin tingle.”
Now, however, it’s not only bobsledding that fires him up. As well as being busy raising a young family, Max is also a passionate footballer and plays as a striker for his local club FSV 04 Viernau – so far with modest success.
“Admittedly, I have only scored five times so far and I am not happy about it, but we’re having loads of fun and that’s what it’s all about.”