A partnership in great shape: Decathlete Niklas Kaul and Opel boss Michael Lohscheller go on a run together in the forest.

MISSION NIPPON IS ON TRACK

The sandy running course lined with old oak and pine trees winds through the Lenneberg Forest near Mainz-Gonsenheim for five kilometres. A sign indicates the route is “for beginner runners”. Michael Lohscheller adjusts his running shirt and takes a deep breath: “This is about to be the run of my life.” The Opel boss is a passionate marathon runner, he has covered the distance of 42.195 kilometres 114 times. So the 5-kilometre run shouldn’t be a big deal for him. It is his running partner, who is just getting out of an Opel Corsa-e, who commands respect: 1.90 metres tall, broad shoulders, in excellent shape – Niklas Kaul, the youngest world champion in the history of the decathlon. 

The athlete from Mainz USC is in peak condition, with qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo coming up in a fortnight. “Cross your fingers for me that I can keep up,” the Opel boss says as he walks towards his running partner. A warm greeting – at a distance, of course, in line with coronavirus rules – and a short photo shoot later, they set off, chatting as they run. After a few metres, the two disappear behind the first crest. 

“The partnership with Opel gave me security during the difficult corona pandemic months.”  
– Niklas Kaul –

Mokka or Corsa? “Both are super! I’m a huge fan of the current models,” says Niklas Kaul at the meeting with Michael Lohscheller.  

At the age of 21, Niklas Kaul won the title in 2019 as the youngest world champion in the history of the decathlon. He is currently preparing for the Olympics in Tokyo – with the support of Opel.

“All of us at Opel are keeping our fingers
crossed for the Olympic Games!” 
– Michael Lohscheller –

Opel and the top athlete have been partners since 2020. Last summer, the Opel boss and the decathlete announced their cooperation at the headquarters in Rüsselsheim, and Niklas Kaul took delivery of his Opel Corsa-e for trips to training and competitions. The two had also spontaneously arranged to go for a run. Michael Lohscheller will later say: It is this openness and affability that distinguish Niklas. It was fascinating to observe how grounded the athlete was in dealing with his World Cup success and the hype surrounding him. With his performance standards and his personality, he is a perfect fit for Opel.

Five kilometres
that pack a punch 

After 25 minutes, the star athlete and the top manager emerge from the forest on the horizon. One more, one less out of breath, both with smiles on their faces. Looking at his watch, the Opel boss says, “That was an average of 5 minutes per kilometre. I was definitely close to the limit. Any faster and I would have only been able to nod during our conversation.” “It was great! I can only run short distances,” Niklas Kaul replies with a laugh. “If we had run longer, 10 kilometres for example, then I would have been in over my head.” 

The Olympic Games in sight: The Opel brand ambassador has to score 8,350 points for the Olympic qualification at the combined event in Götzis/Austria on May 29 and 30. Then, no doubt, it’s off to Tokyo.

Olympia 2021 

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo (from July 23 to August 8, 2021) will take place under strict conditions. The German track and field athletes will probably arrive shortly before their competitions and leave promptly afterwards. The two-day decathlon competition will take place on August 4 and 5. It starts with the 100-metre race, followed by the long jump, shot put, high jump, 400-metre race, 110-metre hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, Kaul’s specialty the javelin throw, and finally a 1500-metre race. The 2021 Olympics can be watched on Eurosport as well as ARD and ZDF. The time difference to Central Europe is plus seven hours. So when a competition in Tokyo starts at 1 p.m., it’s 6 a.m. here. 

They got on very well together: The Opel boss and the decathlete.

Two journalists join us for interviews. More media representatives would have liked to come, but the corona pandemic is taking its toll. Everyone present has taken a PCR test, as Niklas Kaul has to be particularly careful with the Olympic Games right around the corner. In general, the corona pandemic has really thrown his plans into disarray, the 23-year-old says. He used the postponement of the Games by a year to have an operation on his elbow. That was nine months ago. Kaul: “It was the right decision.” In fact, the athlete from Mainz has completed significantly more training sessions than in 2019, despite his surgery. He feels great. At a recent competitive event in Frankfurt, his time of 14.60 seconds over the 110-metre hurdles was just five-hundredths above his best.

Grateful that the Games
are taking place

But the past few months have been anything but normal for him, the student admits. Training in the almost empty hall, in between online lectures at the university, hardly any competitions, the temporary uncertainty as to whether the Games would even take place: “In such a situation, Opel’s faith in me has really made a difference. The partnership gave me security, especially during the difficult coronavirus months,” says the athlete. Despite all the difficulties and restrictions, he is grateful that the Games are taking place at all: “That I can experience my first Olympic Games in Japan – provided, of course, that everything goes smoothly at the qualification in Austria at the end of May.”  

Running with a top athlete: As a marathon runner, Michael Lohscheller took on the challenge with the necessary respect.

Niklas Kaul has Japan firmly in sight – as does Opel

Niklas Kaul is not the only one with his sights firmly set on Japan. Opel is also returning to the island nation in the Pacific, Lohscheller tells us. From the end of the year, the Corsa, Combo Life and Grandland X will be in Japanese showrooms. He would have loved to be there in person at the games in Tokyo to cheer on the Opel brand ambassador, but foreign spectators are not allowed: “However, I will definitely be there ‘live’ watching on TV. All of us at Opel are keeping our fingers crossed for the Olympics!” His respect for the performance of Niklas Kaul, the “King of Athletes”, is enormous, emphasises the Opel boss, who is a sports enthusiast. As a child he already cheered on top athletes at the Rhede sports centre near his hometown of Bocholt, including hammer thrower Karl-Hans Riehm when he set a German record of 80.80 metres in 1980.

He may only be an amateur athlete, “But sport, running, is infinitely important to me, it helps me stay focused and efficient,” says the 52-year-old, who has led the Rüsselsheim-based car manufacturer back into the black over the past four years. Michael Lohscheller laces up his running shoes four times a week. Without exception. “Three times in the morning at 6 a.m. before work, and on Saturdays a longer run of a good 20 kilometres.” Every week he covers 50 kilometres.

Niklas Kaul has to hurry, an online lecture starts at 6 p.m. He is studying physical education and physics to become a teacher. Before he gets back into the Corsa-e, he reveals that he is a big fan of the current Opel models, especially the Mokka. “I love the design. I’d love to stow my sports gear in there one day – including my 15 pairs of shoes.” Why so many? “At least one pair for each discipline – and depending on the weather conditions, even several for each sport.” And he’d gladly take his running shoes out for another run in the forest: “That was really fun!” Niklas Kaul and Opel – a perfect match.


May 2021

Text: Tina Henze; Photos: Jonas Werner-Hohensee, Andreas Liebschner/Opel