Mountain bike – Today 24 years ago, Thomas Frischknecht won the silver medal at the mountain bike premiere at the Olympic Games in the cross-country in Atlanta.
“It was not just a milestone for me, but for the sport in general,” says Frischknecht in an interview with the Keystone-SDA news agency. “The Olympics brought a different kind of attention.” Before that, the now 50-year-old was better known in Switzerland as a cyclist, although he had already had many successes in cross-country – among other things, he was runner-up three times in a row from 1990 to 1992.
This was also due to the fact that street cycling in the 90s wrote numerous headlines thanks to Alex Zülle or Tony Rominger. “The tour, the Giro, the Vuelta were important, not what we did in the mountain bike,” says Frischknecht. With Atlanta, its level of awareness changed significantly. Although he is not one who likes to be in the spotlight, “this is part of surviving as a top athlete in such a sport. When you are in the sports panorama, you have achieved more in terms of personality perception than when you have ten races The mountain bike had often been overlooked before. ” In this respect the 1996 Olympic Games were a door opener for him.
Therefore he still has “very, very good memories of the Olympic race at that time.” At first it didn’t look like a podium for Frischknecht. The Italians Luca Bramati and Daniele Pontoni got started like the fire brigade, the later Olympic champion Bart Brentjens from the Netherlands kept up the horrific pace. Frischknecht was in a group behind it. Bramati and Pontoni, however, paid for the effort, whereupon the Zurich player left the Frenchman Miguel Martinez on the last half lap and crossed the finish line in second. “It was a tough race. I drove cleverly, 2nd place was the maximum that day,” said Frischknecht.
The Olympic medal now hangs in the room on the horns of an ibex antler, which he won at the Swiss Bike Masters. In the meantime, however, it is black, “one would not expect more silver underneath.” Nothing more reminds of his great career at home, also because the daughter cut the bundles of the 15 World Cup medals to use them as coins to play with.
Atlanta is the most important success for Frischknecht, but not the most beautiful. This is the 2003 World Cup triumph in Lugano in the marathon because he won at home and defeated his arch-rival Brentjens in the sprint. “It all fit together at the time,” Frischknecht explains. It was the second world championship title after that in 1996 in cross-country. However, he was only granted this after the Frenchman Jerome Chiotti admitted to having doped. “It was a satisfaction that honesty lasted the longest,” says Frischknecht.
However, he would probably have celebrated one or the other major success without the EPO era. “I was fucked up several times. It was a difficult time,” added Frischknecht. Didn’t he ever think of quitting? “I was close once. But I realized that the lifestyle as a mountain bike professional, being my own boss, was worthwhile enough to overlook the problems in the sport.”
Therefore, the results were not just the yardstick for him. With the EPO tests – these were officially carried out for the first time at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney – his hopes for improvement were then fulfilled. “From one month to the next, I was back at the top after barely ever making it into the top ten,” says Frischknecht. In Sydney, he was well on the way to winning the gold medal before finally dehydrated because he lost a bidon early in the race. Therefore, he had to be content with 6th place. The time after the EPO test was like a second career for him, says Frischknecht. After all, he won a World Cup medal every year from 2001 to 2005 – in 2005 he became world champion for the second time in a marathon.
Even after the end as a professional athlete, he remained loyal to the mountain bike. He manages the Scott-SRAM MTB team around Olympic champion Nino Schurter. Frischknecht can be described as a pioneer who has contributed significantly to the fact that Switzerland is currently the number 1 sport.