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Athletes return after modest Olympic showing

(Keystone)

Switzerland’s athletes flew home from Athens on Monday after reaching their minimum target of five medals.

Although the tally was almost half that in Sydney four years ago, it included the country’s 47th gold in the history of the Olympic Games.

The Swiss Olympic Association’s hopes of more medal glory were dashed when the world’s number one tennis player, Roger Federer, was eliminated early in the competition.

The Swiss had also expected a medal from the judoka, Sergei Aschwanden, but he too was unable to live up to his pre-Athens billing.

The failure of Federer and Aschwanden came as a shock, and it was left to fencer Marcel Fischer to save the country’s blushes. He provided the Swiss with their only gold medal of the Games.

The Swiss also notched up some success in cycling. Karin Thürig captured bronze in the individual time trial, and Franco Marvulli and Bruno Risi won silver in the Madison track event.

In beach volleyball, the duo of Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel held off a strong Australian challenge to win bronze in a nail-biting match.

Triathlon

Neither Brigitte McMahon, the defending women’s Olympic champion, nor Olivier Marceau were up to the test in the triathlon. Sven Riederer saved the day by finishing third in the men’s event.

Werner Augsburger, head of the Swiss Olympic team, said Switzerland had reached its medal goal but added that he was not satisfied with the performance.

“We wanted more,” he said. “We are disappointed in various disciplines, especially tennis. We had higher expectations from the world number one – and so did Roger.”

“Evidently, it’s not easy for top stars to perform under the pressure of the Olympics… In swimming and athletics many athletes couldn’t repeat their qualifying performances.”

Augsburger said the Swiss had a flair for taking to new sporting disciplines such as triathlon and beach volleyball but soon ran out of steam.

“When other nations decide to follow suit, we’re not willing to invest more in these sports,” he explained.

Despite the gloomy assessment, the medal haul was far from being the country’s worst. In fact, it was above average and has only been bettered on four occasions: in 1960, 1984, 1996 and 2000.

Beijing

The Swiss delegation were given a warm welcome on arrival in Switzerland on Monday evening.

About 60 athletes, including gold medalist Marcel Fischer, coaches and officials met the public at Zurich's main railway station.

The Athens Games closed on Sunday evening with a look ahead to Beijing, which plays host to the Summer Olympics in 2008.

During the closing ceremony, Chinese performers put on a beautifully choreographed show which gave a hint of what is to come in Beijing.

For the athletes, the Games finished as they began – marred by controversy.

They opened with two Greek athletes implicated in a doping scandal, and they ended with a spectator attacking the lead runner in the men’s marathon.

But despite these problems, the Athens Games have been hailed a success. Many feared Greece would come up short in its efforts to stage the world’s biggest sporting event.

They were wrong, and the burden of Olympic history now passes to the Chinese capital.

swissinfo, Dick Deene in Athens

Key facts

Gold: Marcel Fischer in fencing.
Silver: Franco Marvulli and Bruno Risi in cycling (Madison track event).
Bronze: Karin Thürig in cycling (individual time trial).
Bronze: Patrick Heuscher and Stefan Kobel in beach volleyball.
Bronze: Sven Riederer in the triathlon.

end of infobox

In brief

Apart from the five medals, Swiss competitors were also awarded 13 Olympic diplomas, given to the top eight finishers in each event.

Switzerland came 46th in the country standings, eight positions lower than four years ago in Sydney where it won nine medals.

The next Summer Olympics will be hosted by the Chinese capital, Beijing, in 2008.

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