Bronze for Stähli

Stähli celebrates at the end of his impressive second run Keystone

Switzerland's Gregor Stähli has won the bronze medal after a thrilling conclusion to the men's Olympic skeleton race.

This content was published on February 20, 2002 minutes

After coming through persistent snowfall to finish his first run in fourth place, the veteran Swiss star recorded a blistering second run to put himself back in medal contention.

Three more riders were still waiting to come down the track but once Ireland's Clifton Wrottesley had failed to match Stähli's time, a medal was guaranteed.

Austrian world champion Martin Rettl and America's Jim Shea did then manage to push Stähli into bronze medal position but couldn't wipe the smile off the Swiss athlete's face.

"After my first run and with all the snow, I was happy to finish in the top three," Stähli told swissinfo. "Rettl is very good on this track and the Americans have all put in many, many runs here so it was great to win the bronze."

Gold for Shea

Rettl finished 14 hundredths of a second ahead of Stähli to take silver, with Shea going an extra five hundredths of a second quicker to secure the gold.

Shea was the sentimental favourite for victory in Wednesday's race. The American is a third generation Olympian whose grandfather Jack, a double Olympic champion in speedskating, was killed in a car accident last month at the age of 91.

Swiss tradition

Stähli's bronze is Switzerland's first ever in the Olympic skeleton, although the sport itself is something of a Swiss tradition.

Born in the Swiss resort of St Moritz during the late 1880s, the headfirst style of tobogganing made just two Olympic appearances - both in St Moritz - before being reinstated in time for the Salt Lake Games.

Stähli's own Olympic success came after a similarly unlikely return. The father of three from Kloten, who turns 34 next week, retired from skeleton riding in 1994 only to make a comeback three years ago when the sport was reinserted into the Olympic programme.

"Looking back on all the training, the preparation, the meetings and technical discussions, I see how much time I've invested in the sport," Stähli told swissinfo. "But having a medal makes it all worthwhile."

Another retirement?

Having already retired once from the sport, Switzerland's latest medal hero said he didn't know if he would now be calling it quits for good.

"A lot of people have been asking about that," Stähli laughed, "but I'll have to see what happens. I'm going to be 34 and I'll have to think about a lot of issues."

Ever since returning to the skeleton, Stähli has become famous for his explosive starts. Having worked on his running speed with former Swiss sprint star Stefan Burkart, the Olympic bronze medallist knows he still has what it takes - for now.

"I can certainly still compete, if I want to," Stähli said. "Stefan is 44 now and last weekend he came third in the 60 metre sprint at the Swiss indoor championships so as long as you're fast at the start it's still possible to be at the top of this sport. But you never know how long you can keep up that level."

Disappointment for Pedersen-Bieri

There was more American joy and some Swiss disappointment in the women's event with Gale Tristan and Lea Ann Parsley taking gold and silver for the US team while Swiss world champion Maya Pedersen-Bieri had to settle for fifth.

Pedersen-Bieri, who now lives in Norway with husband and fellow skeleton rider Snorre Pedersen, finished less than two tenths of a second behind British bronze medallist Alex Coomber.

by Mark Ledsom

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