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Olympics: Judgement day for Bucher

Will it be thumbs up for Bucher in Sydney as it was at Lausanne's Athletissima Meeting? Keystone

Lucerne's André Bucher will be seeking a place in Swiss Olympic history on Wednesday. Among the favourites in the men's 800 metres, Bucher is hoping to win Switzerland's first ever Olympic gold medal in athletics.

Bucher knows that he has run quicker than anyone else in the world this year, following his win in July at Lausanne’s Athletissima. But when he lines up in lane four for the Olympic final he won’t have to look far to see the quality of his opposition.

To Bucher’s left will be Denmark’s Wilson Kipketer, three-times world champion and holder of the quickest 800 metres time ever. The Kenyan-born athlete was unable to compete in the last Games following his decision to apply for Danish nationality.

Kenya refused to let him compete for Denmark and the Danes refused to bend their seven-year qualification rule. On Wednesday there will be no such diplomatic wrangles to hold him back.

On Bucher’s right will be Algeria’s Djabir Said-Guerni, a good friend and occasional training partner of the Swiss runner. Bucher has got the better of Said-Guerni twice this season, but the Algerian has looked strong in Sydney, and recorded the quickest qualifying time in Monday’s semi-final heats.

The outside lanes could also pose a couple of threats to Bucher’s ambition. South Africa’s Hezekiel Sepeng is, along with Kipketer, one of only two men on the track to have run the 800 metres faster than Bucher. As the silver medallist from Atlanta, Sepeng has also proven his ability to handle the big occasions.

On the final stretch Bucher will not be able to feel comfortable if he hasn’t opened up a healthy lead over this year’s European indoor champion, Yuriy Borzakovskiy. The Russian is one of the deadliest finishers in the discipline, as he once again demonstrated in the semi-finals.

European champion Nils Schumann of Germany finished ahead of Bucher in their semi-final race, but doing so required Schumann to run his best ever time while Bucher was clearly conserving energy.

Botswana’s Glody Dube and Italy’s Andrea Longo would both be surprise medallists, but given the strength of the rest of the field Bucher will clearly have no cause for complacency.

Swiss fans with knowledge of their sporting history will also be taking nothing for granted. In 104 years of the Olympics, Switzerland has won just eight medals in athletics, only three of which have come in running events.

Werner Günthor won the country’s last athletics medal, taking bronze in the shot put during the 1988 Games in Seoul, while Markus Ryfell was the last Swiss runner to step onto an Olympic podium after winning the 5,000 metres silver medal in Los Angeles in 1984.

So if Wednesday does bring gold for Switzerland you can expect the country to bask in Bucher’s glory – it will be a victory the nation has waited a long time to see.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR