Sydney 2000: Swiss Olympians face Atlanta legacy

The heroics of Atlanta will be a hard act to follow

At Sydney, Switzerland's athletes are preparing for a difficult challenge - living up to the expectations fostered by the country's incredible success four years ago.

This content was published on September 11, 2000 minutes

The Atlanta Games of 1996 saw Switzerland win a total of seven medals, four gold and three silver. It was the best Swiss performance for half a century.

Xeno Müller, Markus Gier and Michael Gier know more than most how much pressure will be on this year's squad. Having won two gold medals in rowing at the Atlanta games, they're back to defend their Olympic titles in Sydney.

Markus Gier, who won the lightweight double scull event along with brother Michael, is preparing for the 'Atlanta effect', both from the public and from their rowing rivals.

"To win once is obviously easier than to win twice", he told swissinfo from his hotel on the Gold Coast. "More people are watching us. They know that the Gier brothers can be fast and it's clear that all the other teams want to beat us."

Markus insists, though, that he and his brother won't be beaten by complacency. "After reaching such an important target at the Atlanta Games it was hard to get back into serious training again," he admits. "But that was four years ago and now we're keen to show everybody that we can still do it."

While the experience of the rowers will be one of Switzerland's biggest assets in Sydney, the delegation will be without the services of its two other Atlanta gold medallists.

Cyclist Pascal Richard was controversially omitted from the Sydney squad, despite his incredible performance in Atlanta, where he became the first Swiss rider to win an Olympic street race.

The Chinese-born gymnast Donghua Li, on the other hand, chose to end his sporting career on a high, immediately after his triumph on the Atlanta pommel horse.

Li's only working duties in Sydney will be in a commentating capacity for Chinese television. But he'll be keenly following the exploits of his Swiss colleagues, as they try to step out of the shadow of Atlanta.

"Four gold medals is a great achievement," he told swissinfo. "As an athlete in Atlanta you could feel the atmosphere generated both by the team and by the public. After the successes of 1996 the expectations have definitely grown."

Those expectations could have a positive effect on the athletes in Sydney if, like the Gier brothers, they are happy to turn pressure into a motivating force. But if the delegation fails to come close to the benchmark set by their predecessors, the Atlanta Games could be consigned to history as a mere freak occurrence in Swiss sporting history.

by Mark Ledsom

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