A bronze medal for Simon Ehammer in the long jump and six more places in the top 8: never before had the Swiss delegation returned from the World Athletics Championships with so many significant results as this year’s Eugene from the USA. The rest of the summer promises to be just as exciting: Swiss Athletics is sending a record number of 31 youngsters to the U20 World Cup (1-6 August) and is hoping for more than 50 representatives at the European Championships in Munich (8 11-21). a goal of five medals.
For Philipp Bandi, technical director of the federation, having competed in the 5000m at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the current situation stands in sharp contrast to the discipline’s poor years in the country. And that could just be the beginning.
Le Temps: You were a long-distance runner in the 2000s, when Switzerland had little success in major international competitions. What was the problem?
Philip Bandi: The Swiss association often sets stricter qualification criteria than the international bodies. It was also more difficult to make a living from sport… It was a very different time. There was a real change when Switzerland received the organization of the 2014 European Championships: Swiss Athletics, which was going through financially difficult times, then received federal aid that enabled it to review its structures and support the athletes with various projects such as the Kids Cup , to encourage children’s practice, or the system of Swiss Starters, athletes of international level, subsidized by the Federation.
Also read: Running, throwing, jumping: The successful triathlon in Swiss athletics
Switzerland at the last Eugene World Championships: 25 athletes, 7 places in the top 8, 1 medal. Which number is the most important to you?
The 25 athletes. This record-breaking delegation means we have the quantity: many world-class athletes and women of different ages, in different disciplines. From there we can take care of the quality, and we already have that: 7 places among the top 8 are also unrivaled for Switzerland.
Is Simon Ehammer’s long jump bronze a surprise?
I was sure he had the means to get on the podium. But if we look at the historical statistics, Switzerland cannot “demand” one medal per World Cup edition. 1 centimeter was played for Simon! There is nothing. But it can make a big difference for the future. This medal tells all young athletes in the country that if they work hard enough, they too will have an opportunity to earn one. It was the same in Doha in 2019 with Mujinga Kambundji’s bronze in the 200m. It is also important for the public who only remembers the medals and for attracting potential new sponsors.
How much of a World Cup medal does the efficiency of the structures at Swiss Athletics have?
Of course, the athlete, along with his personal trainer, does the heavy lifting. The role of the association is in the background: we have to simplify the lives of our athletes, set them up in the best possible way so that they can concentrate on their performance. Today our structures are so good that they don’t prevent the best athletes from winning medals and that’s the main thing.
The Swiss delegations to major events are getting bigger and bigger. Is it a conscious strategy or the simple consequence of good results?
Both. At the beginning there is this decision to send all athletes who reach the minimum to international competitions. This has enabled many of them to gain experience, progress, achieve results and inspire future generations. We truly know that today’s successes lead to tomorrow’s successes.
In Eugene, Switzerland ranked 25th in the world and 12th in Europe when counting places in the top 8. Is this level his peak?
I’m sure we can do even better. In Eugene, many young athletes had a first experience and saw the gap that separated them from the best in the world, then returned with the desire to invest even more to do better next time. Take athletes who were born in 2000, like Simon Ehammer: They are 21 or 22 years old and can imagine eight to ten years at the highest level. This corresponds to four or five editions of the World Championships, two of the Olympic Games. You have time to build on the baggage you acquired today.
High jumper Loïc Gasch was only able to become a professional as Vice World Indoor Champion. It’s still very difficult to make a living from athletics in Switzerland…
Also read: Loïc Gasch, the great leap before the Eugene worlds
True, this is an area where there is still room for improvement. But the situations are very different. I think it’s still possible to combine certain jobs, certainly not 100%, with high level education. In addition, a part-time degree is perfectly compatible with athletics, or rather, it can help to take your mind off things. But it’s clear that in the prime of a sports career, say between 26 and 32, it’s ideal to focus fully on it, and that’s not necessarily easy. It may involve risk or a life where you don’t make much money.
Shortly before the World Championships, Alex Wilson, national record holder in the 100 meters and 200 meters, was banned for four years for doping. How do you deal with this situation?
Of course, that’s not the image we want to convey, but I believe that there are enough good things in Swiss athletics to limit the damage to the image. Still, this case encourages us not to let up in our efforts to prevent and educate about what is and isn’t allowed. After that we do not have absolute control over individual behavior and unfortunately this can sometimes occur.
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