Swiss cyclists sparkle gold and bronze
Fabian Cancellara has claimed the first gold medal for Switzerland at the Beijing Olympics while Karin Thürig won bronze in races against the clock.
Cancellara took one hour, two minutes, 11.43 seconds to complete the 47.3km course in the men's individual time trial, earning him his second medal at the Games after he won a bronze in the road race on Saturday.
The two-time trial world champion came in 33 seconds ahead of Gustav Larsson of Sweden and more than a minute ahead of American Levi Leipheimer, who finished third.
"It was a really, really tough race. Now is the moment to be happy and proud that I won," the 27-year old Swiss said.
In the women's cycling individual time trial, 36-year-old Thürig finished third almost a minute after Kristin Armstrong of the United States who posted a time of 34 minutes 51.72 seconds. Britain's Emma Pooley, who lives in Zurich, won silver in the 23.5 kilometre race.
The second Swiss competitor in the women's race, Priska Doppmann, finished in ninth place.
Cancellara was the only Swiss competing in men's cycling after his teammate Michael Albasini suffered multiple fractures of his left collarbone in a fall last week and had return home from Beijing for treatment.
In the first half of the race, Cancellara kept switching leads with Alberto Contador. But the Spanish rider dropped off in the final lap and finished fourth.
By the halfway point, Cancellara had already overtaken Stefan Schumacher of Germany – arguably his biggest rival after the German beat him in both the Tour de France time trial stages this year.
Towards the end of the Olympic race it was Cancellara's CSC team mate Larsson who looked set for victory. But the Swiss rider made up nearly 40 seconds on the last 12.6km stretch of the race.
He said he reached speeds of up to 80km per hour on the downhill sections, but it was the long, tough uphill that taxed most of the riders.
Cancellara – a mean machine on the road with a gladiatorial physique and nerves of steel – has been nicknamed "Spartacus" by his team mates.
Thirty-nine riders from 29 countries took part in the competition, which consisted of two laps of a hilly circuit between sections of the Great Wall of China.
While Cancellara was last to set off in his race, Thürig had the disadvantage of starting early in the event so that her rivals knew what time they had to beat. But the former triathlon athlete fought hard for her medal.
"My strategy was not to go right to the limit in the climbs, so that I could push on the descents," Thürig said.
Thürig is not yet finished with her Olympics hopes – she is competing in the individual pursuit event on Friday. She came fifth in this discipline four years ago in Athens.
swissinfo with agencies
Men's individual time trial
Gold: Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) 1 hour, 2 minutes, 11.43 seconds
Silver: Gustav Larsson (Sweden)+ 33.36 seconds
Bronze: Levi Leipheimer (US)+ 1 minute 9.68 seconds
Women's individual time trial
Gold: Kristin Armstrong (US) 34 minutes 51.72 seconds
Silver: Emma Pooley (Britain) +24.29 seconds
Bronze: Karin Thürig (Switzerland) +59.27 seconds
Olympic gold medal winner Fabian Cancellara was born in Bern in 1981, and became a professional road bicycle racer in 2001. Cancellara joined Team CSC in 2006.
He has two UCI World Championship Time Trial rainbow jerseys to his name (2006 and 2007).
Cancellara managed to hold on to the leader's yellow jersey for seven days in the 2007 Tour de France.
The cyclist won the under-23 championship individual time trial in 1999, and the Paris-Roubaix race in 2006.
Karin Thürig was born in July 1972.
An economist by profession, she is known as an all-round athlete.
She is a former national league volleyball player, fitness instructor and competes in extreme triathlons. Thürig is also a keen horse rider.
The athlete won a previous cycling bronze in the 2004 Games in Athens and was world time trial champion in 2004 and 2005.
Karin Thürig was voted Swiss Sportsperson of the Year in 2004.
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