Marathon runner reflects on Tokyo success


On his arrival back in Switzerland, Swiss athlete Viktor Röthlin tells swissinfo how he overcame many problems before winning the Tokyo marathon.

This content was published on February 25, 2008 minutes

Röthlin, 2007 world championship bronze medallist, is now looking ahead to the Beijing Olympics this summer.

Scores of fans and a chorus of cowbells greeted the athlete after he touched down at Zurich airport on Sunday – one week after his Tokyo victory.

Röthlin's time of 2.07:23 improved his Swiss record by almost a minute and ranks him third in the 2008 world marathon top list.

swissinfo: How does it feel to have won the Tokyo marathon?

Viktor Röthlin: There is an unbelievable story behind that success. The preparation did not go the way it should have done. I was sick at the end of November and was in bed for more than two weeks. I went to Kenya, like every year, but I had to break up the training camp there because of the [political] problems. But in the end I won one of the biggest marathons in a country which is really crazy about running!

swissinfo: What exactly happened in Kenya?

V. R.: We came to Kenya on election day, it was quiet and after they announced Mwai Kibaki as the president the trouble started. The place I was staying has a different tribe to Kibaki and they started to burn down houses and kill people. I was never in danger, but the petrol situation was not clear, we didn't know if we could leave and we were 350 km away from Nairobi airport. That's why we decided to leave early enough so we didn't have real problems when the petrol ran out.

swissinfo: But you felt good before the race, despite all the turbulence beforehand?

V. R.: I had nothing to lose. I already had my qualification for the Olympic Games and maybe that was why I was free, I could risk something and then the race was perfect... I won with more than one minute ahead of the others. It was an incredible race to break my own record by 57 seconds.

swissinfo: So you are feeling confident ahead of the Beijing Olympics this summer?

V. R.: It's the biggest goal in my life, maybe in my running career, and with this success in my mind it will be a great pleasure to go. But the pressure will also be high. Like always it will be a new game, 20-25 runners could win a medal there and you need a good day, a lot of luck and cool mind.

swissinfo: You have just spent a few days visiting Beijing, what were your impressions?

V. R.: It was very important for me to start the preparation for these games and also to take in all the things you hear about this place... I now know what I have to pay attention to and mentally I can prepare for those things.

The course is very simple, it does not have a lot of corners and has straight roads. On the other hand, the pollution situation is very interesting. It hurts you when you are walking around, but we also had days with no pollution. That shows me we might be faced with different situations. We hope that they keep the pollution very low. In winter it is much higher than the summer because of the heating. Now I know how it feels in the winter - it will be less in the summer.

swissinfo: Marathon running is a very demanding discipline, what kind of qualities do you need?

V. R.: A lot of endurance of course... [But] in the marathon it is not only your body working, it's also more your mind and that's what makes it so interesting.

swissinfo: So you have to do battle with yourself?

V. R.: Or you have to know at the beginning what pace you can do to the finish line. At the beginning you feel a like a young boy, you could run even faster, but that will not be good at the end - and in these two hours you can enjoy your whole life, you can be a young boy and the beginning and an old man at the end! It needs a lot of mind work not to push too hard at the beginning, to stay cool if somebody goes crazy in the race, and to finish in a strong position.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson at Zurich airport

Viktor Röthlin

Röthlin, 33 years old, hails from Kerns in central Switzerland.

He has been a professional athlete since 2006. He is also a qualified physiotherapist.

Röthlin has developed his own training system called Vicsystem. For a professional runner, this entails two runs and at least one set of supplementary exercises a day. The runs add up to around 250 kilometres a week.

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Viktor Röthlin's personal record in the marathon is 2:07:23 (Tokyo 2008), a national record. A marathon is normally 42.195 kilometres long.

In the 2008 world marathon list, Röthlin currently ranks third, behind world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and Isaac Wanjohi Macharia of Kenya. In 2007 only 10 athletes ran faster than Röthlin's time in Tokyo.

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