2021 22 Wiencek (4)
EHF Champions League

This is me: Patrick Wiencek

Patrick Wiencek. You know him. Or maybe you don't. A self-confessed quiet guy off the court he's anything but on it. Never afraid to speak his mind, Patrick has become of German handball's best-loved line players. While he may have played his last game in the national colours of Germany the 33-year-old is still going strong for Kiel - as shown on Thursday against PSG. So spend 15 minutes of your day by reading his story.

This is me: Patrick Wiencek

I come from the Ruhr area, and that's where you learn from an early age: if you want to achieve something, you have to work hard. My parents are Polish immigrants, they always had to work hard for everything. They passed that attitude on to us, and that has always shaped me.

It was my dream to become a professional handball player and I fought for it. And therefore I am - quite clearly - a handball worker, not a handball artist. Others may have had more talent than me, but I always gave it my all. I just had to work harder to achieve something. And I still know where I'm coming from.

In my private life I'm more of a quiet guy, but sometimes I was too emotional on the court. I always spoke my mind when I didn't like something. But I didn't have to say something every quarter of an hour. But I've already opened my mouth.

I started playing handball in Duisburg, normally a football city, but we had one famous club: OSC Rheinhausen. But in 2008, I went to TuSem Essen, former German champions and former EHF Cup winners.

Two years later, I had signed my first professional contract, had turned my hobby of handball into a career, had bought my first car and my first apartment through handball, was now training twice a day after I finished my apprenticeship - no more working as an industrial mechanic, just playing handball. My dream had come true.

One year before, I already stood on the winners’ podium of the U21 World Championship, which was a really crazy story. I wasn't even a member of the junior national team squad in 2009 and hadn't played for any German youth and junior teams before.

2021 22 Wiencek (3)

I was not even invited for the training camp of the team, but for the army sports handball team, and because someone got injured, I ended up joining the team for the U21 World Championship at the last minute. It was a special team, their team-mate Sebastian Faißt had died in a test match shortly before. We were travelling to the tournament in Egypt and everyone wanted to win for Sebastian, whom I did not even know.

We lose the first game - and thought: that was it now. After that we won all the matches, including the final against Denmark with my THW Kiel teammate Niklas Landin and other later top stars. So I unexpectedly became Junior World Champion and just a few months later played my first men’s international match against Belarus. After Christian Zeitz, I was only the second second-division player to play in the men’s team, because I was still under contract with TuSem Essen at the time.

On one day in 2010, Stefan Hecker, the former manager of TuSem, told me that Alfred Gislason had called him and was interested in me. I thought it was a joke. Mighty THW Kiel should be interested in a young player like me? Never! Later, after I had moved to Gummersbach, the THW manager at the time, Klaus Elwardt, actually contacted me and I went to Kiel. That was the most important step for my career, definitely.

But the start at Kiel wasn't that easy, the first year was a real apprenticeship year. I came to this world-class team as a young player and only played a few games. Maybe I was a bit naïve, as I had a completely different role in Kiel than I had in Essen and Gummersbach. But from the second season on I got going and I think I've done a good job so far. For me it was already clear with this call from Kiel: There is nothing better in handball than the THW, you have to use this opportunity.

And mainly it was person: coach Alfred Gislason. Without Alfred I would never have ended up where I am today. He called me to Kiel, he developed me. Alfred is the most important coach of my career and it was great that we were also able to work together in the national team. Unfortunately I couldn't play the big tournaments in 2021, neither in Egypt, nor in Tokyo, but the time with the national team under Alfred was another very important chapter. And I've won countless trophies under him at Kiel, and of course you never forget that.

2020 EHFFINAL4 (2)

But this only one side of the medal, the other is the national team. Despite the many years wearing the German shirt, I have never won a title. In 2016, when Germany became European champions, I played the qualifiers, then a cruciate ligament tore and I missed the European Championships. It's really hard that I never won a title with the senior team.

The EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia was my first major tournament as a national player. And I've been part of the team until the EHF EURO 2022. Thanks to my Champions League experience in Kiel, I've always developed further. But I never saw myself as a star, or number one on the court. The nice thing about handball is that all 16 players on a team are needed. And everyone gets involved.

And handball gave me so much: The 2019 World Championship on home ground still gives me goosebumps when I think about it. This atmosphere, the packed arenas, this huge enthusiasm and the attention that we enjoyed as hosts. I always think of the matches in Cologne – 20,000 fans were already cheering for you on while you were warming up. That was unique – and we also showed a lot of great games. Unfortunately, we failed to win a medal. So the only silver ware I achieved with the national team was at the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 - unfortunately only bronze, but silver ware at the Olympics is something special, but it was my only medal with the national team, of course it is of great importance. Rio is also one of the biggest moments in my career.

Incidentally, when it comes to collecting trophies, I'm like my former teammate Thierry Omeyer, everything goes in a big box - and will only be taken out again when I have finished my career. A lot has accumulated there, special jerseys, medals, memories of the Olympics. Sometimes when my kids ask, we go to these containers and I show them something and tell the story about it. But during your career you have absolutely no time to enjoy successes and experiences. It's all going too fast. That's why I'm looking forward to watching all of this after the end of my career.

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In spring 2022, the time had come to take a decision: I announced to retire from the national team. That was of course not a decision made overnight, although in January, at the EHF EURO alone in the hotel room in Bratislava, I had a lot of time to think about it. At some point every athlete faces such a decision. You have to take your body seriously, I'm not 20 or 25 anymore.

I can feel my bones. I used to laugh at my former teammate Christian Sprenger when he talked about the fact that everything hurts when he gets up in the morning. Now I'm 33 and noticed that I have to take care of your body a lot more, stretch more, do more strength exercises to relieve the bones and ligaments. I also have to allow my body to rest and regenerate. And all of this led to me calling Alfred Gislason and announcing my farewell from the national team - but looking back I can only say: I was so proud in every match to wear this German jersey.

But in terms of THW Kiel, I'm not even thinking about the end of career yet, I want to play for a few more years as long as my body can take it. I want to perform as long as I'm healthy - and I don't want to sneak across the field - if it comes to that, it's over.

Instead of thinking about a potential end of my career another highlighter is ahead: On Thursday night we managed to qualify again for the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, this was our goal, but this was also a tough piece of work. You could see the pressure dropped from all of us, when this thriller against Paris was over.

I am so happy that we will be back at Cologne - in 2020, when I won my so far one and only Champions League trophy, the arena was empty due to Covid, now 20,000 fans will cheer for the teams. This is why we really wanted to be there, this is the biggest motivation. You saw the impact of fans on Thursday night, when our famous spectators pushed us to the limit, this is the atmosphere I really hope for in Cologne.

My perfect way of relaxing is by do-it-yourself. As a skilled craftsman I still do a lot myself, and I also help my fellow players when a new closet needs to be built. From time to time the guys come to borrow some tools. But I think they are now also going to my teammate and defence partner Hendrik Pekeler, because he is also incredibly talented with his hands. Maybe the two of us will open a caretaker service when handball is over.

But before we are fully anticipating the feeling to return to Cologne - an arena, which, below the one in Kiel, has given me the best memories.

This is me

Patrick Wiencek
May 2022

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