Jolanda Neff, Sina Frei and Linda Indergand take gold, silver and bronze in the cross country event. An incredible overall result, but achieved by athletes who do not come out of nowhere
Tuesday July 27, 2021 will go down in Swiss Olympic history. The three athletes competing in the women’s cross-country mountain biking event finished with a medal around the neck. Jolanda Neff took the gold, Sina Frei the silver and Linda Indergand the bronze.
To find traces of such a Swiss treble at the Games, we have to go back to the men’s pommel horse competitions in 1924 (Josef Wilhelm gold, Jean Gutweniger silver, Antoine Rebetez bronze), floor gymnastics in 1936 (Georges Miez gold, Joseph Walter silver, Eugen Mack bronze) and parallel bars in 1948 (Michael Reusch gold, Christian Kipfer and Josef Stalder bronze tied). Since the end of the hegemony of the country’s gymnasts, no more three red flags with white crosses had flown above a podium. This is to say the feat of the three mountain bike specialists.
On the men’s side, Switzerland is the nation which, since the introduction of the discipline to the Olympic program, has the most medals: the silver won on Monday by Mathias Flückiger was the sixth. But on the female side, there had so far been only one, of the same metal, won by Barbara Blatter in 2000 in Sydney. The hat-trick this time achieved in the area of the former Izu amusement park is all the more extraordinary given that the Swiss women had not won a single World Cup event this season.
However, they do not come out of nowhere. Jolanda Neff (28), who gave Switzerland her first title in Tokyo, was the great dominator of the world circuit a few years ago. She had also approached the Olympic Games in Rio, in 2016, in the jersey of the favorite but, shattered by various injuries, she had to be content with a sixth place not very representative of her standards at the time. Since then, she has been crowned world champion (in 2017) but she has also had a lot of problems. In June again, she broke her hand. But she found a way to be on top for the Japanese event.
At 24, Sina Frei signs her first major result among adults, after having accumulated a number of distinctions in the youth category: she was notably four times European U21 champion between 2016 and 2019, and twice U20 World Champion. in 2017 and 2019. Linda Indergand (28) has two world titles in the cross-country eliminator to her credit, a successive elimination event in which cyclists compete in fours. But she was also not among the main contenders for the podium on Izu’s side.
Behind the incredible overall performance of the Swiss, there is also the failure of a few favorites, like the little French prodigy Loana Lecomte (21). Victorious in the four World Cup races contested since the start of the season, she could only take sixth place. Her compatriot Pauline Ferrand-Prévot finished tenth, while reigning Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) finished fourteenth.
On a very technical track, and made even more demanding by the bad weather, the virtuosity of Jolanda Neff made the difference. It bordered on the drama during the first round by badly negotiating the passage which, the day before, had caused the spectacular fall of Mathieu van der Poel, but it remained on its machine at the option of a prowess of reaction and balance. Then, she gave in to a demonstration, racing in the lead to win with more than a minute ahead of Sina Frei.
But in the finish area, the three Swiss women celebrated each other as if the collective harvest was more valuable than the type of metal gleaned by each. Mountain biking is an individual sport but they appreciate each other, advise each other and train with each other. Without doubt, however, they had not imagined the page of history they were going to write together.