Simon Ehammer’s bronze medal in the long jump, along with six other top eight finishes: Never before had the Swiss delegation returned from the World Athletics Championships with such significant results as this year from Eugene of the United States. The rest of the summer promises to be just as exciting: Swiss athletics is sending a record number of 31 youngsters to the under-20 world championships (August 1-6) and hopes to have more than 50 representatives at the European championships in Munich (August). 11-21), with the goal of winning five medals.
For Philippe Bandi, the federation’s technical director after competing in the 5,000 meters at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the current situation contrasts sharply with the discipline’s years outside the country. And this could be just 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: Often, the Swiss federation sets stricter qualification criteria than international organizations. It was also more difficult to earn a living through sports… It was a completely different time. When Switzerland won the hosting of the 2014 European Championship, a real change happened. Swiss athletics, which went through financially difficult periods, then received federal aid that allowed it to review its structures and offer athletes new perspectives through various projects, such as the Kids Cup to promote children’s practice, or the Swiss Starters system, international-level athletes who receives subsidies from the federation.
Read also: Running, throwing, jumping: the successful triathlon of Swiss athletics
Switzerland at the recent Eugene World Championships: 25 athletes, 7 places in the top eight, 1 medal. Which number is most important to you?
25 athletes. This record delegation means we have a quantity: many world-class athletes, of different ages, in different disciplines. From there we can worry about the quality, and we already have it: for Switzerland, 7 places in the top 8 is also unheard of.
Is Simon Ehamer’s long jump bronze a surprise?
I was sure he had the means to be on the podium. But if we look at the historical statistics, Switzerland cannot “claim” one medal in every edition of the Worlds. For Simon it was played at 1 centimeter! It’s okay. But it can significantly change the future. This medal tells all the country’s young athletes that they, too, will have the opportunity to earn one if they work hard enough. It was similar in 2019 in Doha with Mujinga Kambundji’s bronze in 200 meters. It is also important for a society that only remembers medals and to attract potential new sponsors.
What part of the world championship medal is due to the efficiency of the Swiss athletics structures?
Clearly, the athlete is lifting weights with his personal trainer. The role of the federation is in the background: we have to simplify the lives of our sportsmen and women, put them in the best situation so they can focus on their performance. Today, our structures are of such high quality that they do not prevent the best athletes from getting medals, and that is the main thing.
Swiss delegations are always larger at major meetings. Is it a deliberate strategy or a simple consequence of good results?
Both. At the start, there is a decision to send all athletes who reach the minimum to international competitions. This has allowed many of them to gain experience, progress, achieve results and inspire future generations. We truly understand that today’s success leads to tomorrow’s success.
Switzerland ranked 25th in the world and 12th in Europe when the top eight spots were counted in Eugene. Is this level its maximum?
I’m sure we can still do better. In Eugene, many of the young athletes had their first experience and saw the gap that separated them from the best in the world, then came back with the desire to invest even more to do better next time. Take athletes born in 2000, such as Simon Ehammer: they are 21 or 22 years old and can put themselves at the highest level for eight to ten years. It represents four or five world editions, two from the Olympic Games. They have time to build on the baggage they got today.
High jumper Loik Gash was able to become a full-fledged professional only after becoming the vice-world indoor champion. Athletics is still very difficult to make a living in Switzerland…
Read also: Loic Gash, the big jump ahead of the Eugene Worlds
True, this is an area where there is room for improvement. But the situations are very different. I think it is still possible to combine certain jobs, certainly not 100%, with high level training. Also, part-time studies are perfectly compatible with athletics, better, it can help take your mind off things. But it is clear that in the best years of a sports career, say between the ages of 26 and 32, it is ideal to devote yourself full time to it, and it is not easy at all. It can be about risk or a life where you don’t make a lot of money.
Shortly before the World Championships, the national record holder in the 100 and 200 meters, Alex Wilson, received a four-year suspension for doping. How do you handle this situation?
Obviously that’s not the image we want to project, but I believe there are enough good things in Swiss athletics to limit the image damage. However, this case encourages us not to relax our prevention and awareness efforts about what is allowed and what is not. After that, we don’t have complete control over individual behavior and unfortunately this situation can sometimes arise.
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