Swiss athlete André Bucher has been struggling to find the form he enjoyed in 2001 when the 800m runner won 12 out of 14 races.
But in an interview with the “NZZ am Sonntag”, the former world champion says he hopes to prove he is still capable of going for gold at the Athens Olympics.
In 2001 Bucher became the first Swiss runner to win a gold medal at a world championship event, storming to victory with a trademark surge in the closing stages of the 800m final in Edmonton, Canada.
But over the past two years the Lucerne-born athlete has been dogged by injuries, including a stress fracture in his right foot.
With less than two weeks to go before the Olympics begin, Bucher talks about his determination to succeed and denies speculation that he has taken performance-enhancing drugs.
NZZ am Sonntag: You have been saying for a while that training is going well. But this is not translating into good performances on the track…
André Bucher: I have been able to measure my speed, strength and performance during training, and things look good. But that does not of course mean that you can run fast when it comes to the crunch.
My problem has been that fitness does not necessarily translate into the ability to run fast when you have to. Some people have said that it is all in the head and that I have not trained enough. But this is definitely not the case.
NZZ: You are under considerable time pressure. This Friday you’ll be running for the last time before the Olympics at the Weltklasse athletics meeting in Zurich. How worried are you?
A.B.: I’m not particularly concerned. I am trying to use the time that is left before the Olympics as best I can. But I can’t force anything… If there is not enough time, then I have to accept that. And it’s only in this way that I can do what I have to do in a calm way.
NZZ: There has been speculation that the only way you were able to be as successful as you were was because you took performance-enhancing drugs…
A.B.: Recently somebody told me that a friend had told them [that I used drugs]. The person who said this didn’t know me and had never met me. But for him it was perfectly clear that all us athletes are involved in doping.
When I was running well, people said I was using drugs. And now the fact that things are more difficult is being used as proof that I can’t run without them.
NZZ: And how do you feel about this?
A.B.: Well, there’s not much you can say. The truth is, though, that there has never been an athlete who has always performed at his or her peak. Look at people like Sebastian Coe and Wilson Kipketer, both of whom went through rough periods and eventually fought back.
The body is not a machine that you can switch on on Monday morning and leave running until you turn it off.
NZZ: Fair enough, but none of this is really an argument against the doping charges…
A.B.: You’re quite right. The fact is, though, that I have always been willing to be tested for whatever substance that there is a possibility of finding. I am tested up to 12 times each year during training, and that’s quite apart from all the tests that take place at athletics meetings.
It’s possible to question the effectiveness of these tests, but if I’d wanted to try and slip through the net I would have needed my own doctor or whoever with me at all times. That was never the case and is just not my style.
NZZ: Finally, what goals have you set yourself ahead of the Olympics, which begin on August 13?
A.B.: My goal is still to reach the 800m finals in Athens. There would be no point in doing it if I were satisfied with anything less than this.
If I had the feeling that I had completely lost my way, I would throw in the towel. But I really do think that things are slowly moving forward.
I’m really enjoying competing right now, because I have such a mountain to climb. Of course it was nice back in the days when I was winning race after race. But sometimes it was almost a bit boring.
swissinfo, based on an interview previously published by NZZ
André Bucher career highlights:
2000: Ran the 800m in 1:43.12 making him the fastest man of the year.
2001: Wins the world championship title in Edmonton running 1:42.55 - a new Swiss record.
2001: Awarded European Athlete of the Year.
2002: Silver medallist in Munich, Germany, at the European Championships.