Athlete Spotlight: Daniel Unger
September 2, 2007: A Day Germanys Daniel Unger will Never Forget
By: Barrie Shepley
Two weeks before last year’s world triathlon championships, Germany’s Daniel Unger was driving in a van with New Zealand’s Kris Gemmell. The two talked about Unger’s great fitness and eventually discussion turned to Daniel’s other love, girlfriend Tina Fink. Unger met his love in college thirteen years earlier, and they have been on and off since. After having been with Fink (since he was 17) almost as long as he’s been involved in triathlon (since he was 12 years old), Gemmell wanted to know when Unger and Fink would finally marry. Before the drive ended, Unger promised he would ask Tina to marry him, if he won the World Championships two weeks later.
Unger’s respect for Spain’s Javier Gomez is significant and the three-time German National Champion needed a courageous final sprint in front of 300,000 enthusiastic home fans to out-duel Gomez for the World Championship. After the medal celebration, multiple interviews and drug testing, Unger finally found himself back in his hotel room preparing for the 10pm awards party. At 8pm, Kris Gemmell called Unger to congratulate him on his World Championship victory and remind him of the bet the two had made in the van two weeks earlier.
Suddenly Unger became much more nervous about the second big job for the day. He immediately got on the phone, called a friend and asked him to secure him an engagement ring before the 10pm awards party. After receiving a standing ovation at the evening awards party, Unger took the microphone, thanked the crowd and sponsors, then asked Tina to marry him in front of the big crowd.
“My knees were shaking and I was more nervous asking her to marry me, than I was at racing in front of 300,000 people, said Unger.
With the automatic berth to the Beijing Olympic Games team as part of his top-8 finish in Hamburg, Unger had three great victories all in the same day.
Growing up in Germany, Unger was like most young athletic boys; he wanted to be a world-class football player. As a good runner, he showed promise in endurance sport and eventually did his first triathlon in his early teens. By the time he was fifteen years old, he was a silver medalist at the Germany Triathlon Championships. Unger continued improving but never won a national or European title in his junior years. His parents were huge supporters of his athletic interests and his father drove the van most weekends to a local athletic event.
“My dad is my biggest fan and he never missed a race, driving me and most of my friends to races all over Europe,” said Unger.
While his dad provided the drives along with the athletic drive, his mother packed the lunches and gave Daniel his positive attitude.
“My mom was supportive in whatever I did, but stayed out of the day-to-day triathlon support, giving me a great balance between my two parents,” said the 2007 World Triathlon Champion. Unger says his father claims his proudest day, was being in the grandstands with the huge German crowd, watching his son claim the elite men’s title in Hamburg.
Unger did not put all his eggs in the triathlon basket. In his early twenties he got his certification as a plumber and has the skills to work in refrigeration and heat/cooling.
“My father is in the industry and I love working with my hands” said Unger. It might seem that Unger has led a blessed life with no setbacks, but that is far from the truth. In 2004, just months before the Athens Olympic Games, Unger came down with a blood
and immune disorder and was forced to withdraw from the Athens team. Watching
Hamish Carter win the gold medal, after dreaming about being an Olympian
himself, was very difficult.
“After watching Hamish win the gold medal in Athens, I set myself a new goal of making the 2008 Beijing Olympic team,” said Unger.
Now as a world champion, three-time National Champion and soon to be a Beijing Olympian, life couldn’t be better for Unger.
“I have been very busy with many great charity and sponsor and media obligations,” said Unger. His now fiance, Tina Fink, is a fashion designer for Sanetta, a company that
specializes in children’s clothing. Daniel and Tina plan to marry in 2009 and currently both live in the small town of Bad Saulgiu, located two hours from Munich.
Triathlon fans shouldn’t expect to see Unger many times in 2008. He will be passing on the Vancouver World Championships to focus on trying to win gold in Beijing.
“Its disappointing that I will lose my title in another six weeks without actually racing in Vancouver, but our Olympic Team is focused on doing everything possible to win in Beijing,” said Unger.
After this weekend in Richards Bay, Unger will only race in the Hamburg BG Triathlon World Cup and the German Sprint Championships before Beijing. When asked what keeps him motivated, Unger claims that his mother’s positive attitude drives him out of bed each morning and that he absolutely loves racing and training.
“There is nothing that I love more in the world then what I am currently doing,” said the German star. With a significant number of world-class sponsors, a loving fiance and great support from the German Triathlon Federation, Daniel Unger has to be a
serious consideration for bringing home another big prize later in August.
Barrie Shepley is proudly known as the voice of ITU, announcing over 100 races in the past 20 years. Barrie was Canada’s head coach for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Team and has the privilege of watching the top ITU triathlon stars on a weekly basis.
An elated Unger after winning Germany first elite world championship