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Swiss athletes head for Helsinki

Christian Belz (front) and André Bucher limber up

(Keystone)

Swiss athletes at the World Championships in Helsinki are taking part with little expectation that they will be returning home with any medals.

Switzerland is sending a nine-strong team to the Finnish capital, including former 800m world champion André Bucher.

The country has failed to shine on the international athletics circuit since Bucher took gold at the world championships in Edmonton, Canada, in 2001.

But the 28-year-old from Lucerne, who will be taking part in his fifth championships, has been plagued by injury over the last couple of years.

And it has been even longer since some of Bucher’s compatriots enjoyed the limelight on the world athletics stage.

Shot-put champion Werner Günthör dominated his discipline between 1987 and 1993, claiming three world-championship titles.

Other Swiss who have made their mark on the international stage include Anita Weyermann, who took the 1,500m bronze at the world championships in Athens in 1997. Two years later Marcel Schelbert also took bronze in the 400m hurdles in Seville.

Günthör and Schelbert have long since quit top-flight athletics, but Bucher and Weyermann are still competing.

Weyermann is no longer a contender at the highest level of her discipline, but Bucher has shown that he is not ready to abandon hope of a return to winning ways.

Still trying

At the recent Golden League meeting in Oslo he proved his critics wrong by clocking up a season-best time of 1'45"20.

"I have achieved what I set myself as a goal at the start of the year," said Bucher after the race.

Bucher performed better in Oslo than he did a year ago at the Athens Olympics, where he sank without a trace after failing to qualify in the early heats.

He is cautiously optimistic about his chances at this weekend’s world championships: "I have reached the point where I can keep up the pace over the last 200 metres. I have set myself the tough but realistic target of reaching the semi-finals in Helsinki."

Of the remaining eight athletes who will join Bucher in Finland, commentators say only long-distance runner Christian Belz has any hope of success.

But the Bern-based athlete has been unable to build on the momentum he achieved at the start of the season when he improved on Markus Ryffel’s age-old 10,000-metre record.

Pragmatism

Peter Haas of the Swiss Athletics Federation is pragmatic in his assessment of Switzerland’s chances in Finland.

"What we are lacking is someone who represents what we can achieve, like Werner Günthör or André Bucher when they were performing at their best," says Haas.

Amid concerns about the future, the federation is hoping that its World Class Potential Programme will turn up-and-coming athletes into medal hopefuls.

The first signs of whether the programme has been successful are not expected before the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

But there could be a fast-track route to gold-medal glory: if Cuban triple-jumper Alexander Martinez is granted Swiss nationality next year the country would suddenly have a strong medal contender on its hands.

Martinez, who recently recorded the fourth-best distance so far this year with a jump of 17.51 metres, is considered one of the hot favourites for a gold medal in Helsinki.

swissinfo, Renat Künzi

Key facts

The World Athletics Championships in Helsinki run from August 6-14.
Switzerland is represented by three women and six men:
Corinne Müller (high jump), Nadine Rohr (pole vault), Simone Oberer (heptathlon).
Pierre Lavanchy (400m), André Bucher (800m), Christian Belz (10,000m), Ivan Bitzi (110m hurdles), Patric Suter (hammer), Stefan Müller (javelin).

end of infobox


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