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Bucher eyes title defence

Can Bucher repeat his Edmonton triumph? Keystone

The world athletics championships has kicked off in Paris, with André Bucher once again Switzerland’s biggest medal hope.

The reigning world champion over 800 metres insists he can defend his title, despite last week’s poor showing in Zurich.

The 26-year-old from Lucerne had to settle for eighth place at last Friday’s prestigious Weltklasse meeting, after being swallowed up by the field in a furious opening spurt.

But speaking to swissinfo before leaving for Paris, Bucher said he wouldn’t be worrying too much about one bad race.

“It was just one of those days,” Bucher said of his last competitive outing before the heats in Paris. “On another day, the same approach would have worked out fine.”

First track gold

Two years ago in Edmonton, Bucher became the first ever 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 800 metres final.

Since then, Bucher has worked on varying his tactics, even opting occasionally to attack from the outset – a strategy that helped him to victory at a London super grand prix meeting earlier this month.

But the Swiss star points out that tactics alone aren’t enough to decide races.

“You certainly need tactics, but you also need a bit of luck. One day you can get everything right tactically but still not win if the other runners get in the way of your plans. Another day you might get the tactics all wrong but still manage to come through.

“It’s hard to say what the best tactic will be for Paris, but it looks like everyone is running for about the same finishing time of one minute, 44 seconds, so I think things could be very similar there as it was in Zurich with no-one wanting to give away any space.”

A question of stamina?

Unlike in Zurich, though, Bucher is expecting stamina to play a much bigger role at the world championships.

“In Paris, there will be the heats and the semi-final to deal with before the final itself, so the winner will be the runner who proves the strongest over three races.”

In the early days of his career, Bucher earned himself an unwanted reputation as a “nearly man”, having taken silver medals at the 1995 European junior championships and 1997 under-23 championships, as well as at the European championships and European Indoor championships in 1998.

Having finally ended that series with his gold medal win in Edmonton, Bucher believes that the pressure won’t be quite as intense as he begins his title defence.

“Of course going to Paris as the world champion will help because I know that I’ve done it before. I’ve already won the gold once, so I won’t be thinking that I have to win it this time. I will be thinking more along the lines that I can win it if I want to.”

Seven other Swiss

Although he’ll be the most well-known Swiss in Paris, Bucher won’t be alone at the world championships.

No less than eight athletes have fulfilled the qualifying limits for the event, two more than for Edmonton.

While many in the squad will be satisfied simply to have qualified for the championships, canton Uri’s Anita Brägger and Bern’s Christian Belz could be outside contenders for a place in their respective finals.

Brägger, a semi-finalist at the Edmonton world championships, enjoyed a much better night at the Weltklasse than Bucher – finishing the women’s 800 metres in fifth place.

Belz, meanwhile, could only manage 15th place (out of 16 finishers) in the Zurich 5,000 metres. But his other performances this season, including new personal bests over 1,000, 1,500 and 5,000 metres, suggest that the 28-year-old could yet cause an upset.

Heptathlete Sylvie Dufour will be the first Swiss to enter the fray in Paris, with the high jump section of the heptathlon getting underway on the opening Saturday.

Bucher has a little more time to prepare for his big race. Assuming he qualifies for the final, Switzerland’s top athlete is due to defend his world title on August 31, the championship’s closing day.

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

Swiss squad for Paris:

André Bucher (800 m)
Christian Belz (5,000 m)
Cédric El-Idrissi (400 m hurdles)
Martin Stauffer (high jump)
Julien Fivaz (long jump)
Viktor Röthlin (marathon)

Anita Brägger (800 m)
Sylvie Dufour (heptathlon)

Bucher’s likely schedule:
Aug 28 Heats
Aug 29 Semi-final
Aug 31 Final

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR