“Up until I was six or seven, all my holidays were joining my dad at his training camps,” recalls Silke Bernhart, with a smile. “My mother, three little girls on the beach somewhere, then all of the athletes and my dad."
With that background, it is hardly surprising that Bernhart’s career has led her to the role as head of digital media with the DLV, Germany’s National Athletics Federation.
Yet despite her father being a coach at developmental level, Bernhart, speaking to the IAAF at the Birmingham World Indoor Championships as part of Women’s History Month in the UK this March, spent time away from athletics after completing a degree in media and communications studies.
“My sisters and me were supposed to be good athletes, but I guess we never had enough talent or motivation to make it to anything special. Afterwards, for about ten years, I was not in touch with athletics at all,” she explains.
That absence included a stint at Yahoo! and a move to live in Ireland. She “got back with the sport” in 2008, when she applied for a role with the DLV’s media team.
“I didn’t actually get it,” says Bernhart, who was nonetheless contacted by the online editor, who invited her to contribute as a freelance writer. She jumped at the opportunity, describing that first year as her “own private qualification” ahead of the 2009 World Championships, which were to be held in the German city of Berlin.
She adds: “I really wanted to be at those championships! I just tried to write as many good articles as I could.”
Next step, giant leap
Her enthusiasm led her to joining the editorial team on a freelance basis more regularly at events, during which time she returned to live in Germany and completed a trainee programme in online journalism. Then, in 2012, she was appointed online editor on a staff basis. After just eight months, the position as head of digital media became available.
“People were asking whether I wanted to take over. At the start I was a bit hesitant. It was a lot of work, a lot of responsibility, a lot of weekends – all weekends, basically, as we all know,” Bernhart admits. “But also it was a great opportunity, and really the only next step I could think of.”
She took the step and has been in the job ever since. Although she was the first woman to take on the role, which had been established “from scratch” by her predecessor, she insists resistance from any quarter was not an issue – “never”.
She adds that the DLV’s three core media staff, excluding the head of communications, are all female. “I don’t think about the gender issue at all.”
Athletics returns to Berlin
This year, one of Bernhart’s team’s main focuses is on another marquee event in Berlin: the 2018 European Championships.
“Berlin is a very big deal,” she says. “We want to make it a great event. I’m not involved with the organisation part, but we want to make sure everyone can find all the relevant information and has fun watching or following on our platforms.”
On a personal level, she is also looking forward to the 2018 World U20 Championships in Tampere, where her role will see her act as team press liaison and provide editorial coverage of events. Her first taste of those championships came in 2012 in Barcelona, where she was “on cloud seven (sic) for ten days” after being “right in the middle of everything for the first time”.
Bernhart describes organisation of such championships as “always an immense, tricky map”. This year there are also planned updates to the DLV’s online data services –-including results and profile sections-- alongside day to day web coverage. Bernhart concedes that there are “issues I don’t know how to deal with yet”, and getting past them will include many more weekends sacrificed. “But always my heart was with athletics” – that makes it worth the graft.
It is this attitude that Bernhart believes has enabled her to progress working in the sport she loves; the same mindset should be adopted by anyone looking to do likewise.
“If you love what you do then you’re good at it because you want to make the most out of it and of the time you spend with it, I think. Then it comes naturally,” she says. “I can’t see myself being anywhere else.”
Thomas Byrne for the IAAF