Niklas Wellen hasn’t been able to look away from his phone for the last two days. Wellen has been glued to the pictures of his two-day-old son, who was born when he took to the field for Germany in the Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
Wellen knew his girlfriend Kim was going into labour just before the match against the defending champion, Belgium. Trailing 1-0 in the 27th minute, Wellen struck a fierce finish from a tight angle to level the scores at half-time.
At the break, he asked the team manager for his phone. When he opened the messages of his partner’s mother he was greeted with pictures of his newborn son. “It was emotional,” describes Wellen. “I was not listening to anything during half-time because I was thinking about it. It was a crazy moment that I will never forget in my life.”
Once Wellen knew Kim and his son were healthy, he was back on the pitch and eventually earned a player of the match award in his team’s 2-2 draw.
“My team didn’t know it. They were assuming that something had happened because they could tell it from my reaction,” says Wellen. It was only after the match, he broke the news to his teammates.
Coach Andre Henning described it as an emotional moment for the whole squad. One of his teammates stuck a note on the trophy and turned it into the ‘Daddy’ of the match award to celebrate the moment.
“It was quite unique,” says Wellen describing the last few days. “It’s a crazy situation that I am here in India while my girlfriend is back home giving birth to our child. I have seen a lot of pictures of my little one and I was face-timing a lot with my girlfriend, I have seen so many messages from my friends, the hockey community, and the other teams. They have been really kind to me and I am very happy about that.”
Wellen’s teammates want him to do a special celebration if he happens to score in the next game, but he isn’t focusing on that. “I am not the kind of guy to do special celebrations but I think the guys will try to do something, I don’t know. The focus is on the game and we want to finish top of the group so we are not thinking about celebrations. My main focus is on beating Korea,” the forward says.
Germany is second in Pool B behind Belgium on goal difference and will need a big win against South Korea to take the automatic quarterfinal spot.
The 28-year-old, whose father was a U-21 national team hockey player, is back in Odisha after having made the decision in consultation with his head coach and family. Wellen, who is playing his second World Cup, believes the team has what it takes to go all the way.
“I made all the decisions I needed to make during the summer. I spoke to the head coach that it doesn’t make sense for me or the team to not go for the World Cup after doing all the preparations with the team in the build-up to the tournament,” he says.
He is also counting the days until he can get home to his son and his partner. “The next 10 days until I get home is going to be quite long,” he says with a smile.
The Rio Olympics bronze medallist has had life-altering visits to India in the past when he won the U-21 World Cup in New Delhi. While the bronze ranks high on the list, he is hopeful of adding more to it in the next 18 months with the World Cup, the European Championship and the Olympics to play for.
Whatever happens in the next 10 days, Odisha will hold a special place in Wellen’s heart and he will aim to make the trip more memorable.
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