At the age of 10 Viktor Röthlin dreamt of becoming a train driver one day. But then he watched the Olympic Games of Los Angeles 1984 on TV and changed his mind: Now he wanted to become a runner. That was because he had seen his fellow-countryman Markus Ryffel winning a silver medal in the 5000m. Ryffel became his idol from then on.
It was Ryffel, who was been quoted by Swiss media saying that he believed Röthlin would win a medal in the Olympic Marathon. It did not quite work out that way, but there was not much missing to make Ryffel’s prediction ring true. Röhlin finished sixth in the marathon on Sunday, in a time of 2:10:35. So the 33 year-old was just 35 seconds away from the bronze medal. That is still considered a huge achievement for Switzerland. It is by far the best ever placing in an Olympic Marathon for the country. Until today, the best finish was 22nd back in 1948 by Kaspar Schiesser (2:52:09).
But internationally the more significant success of Röthlin was that he was the best Non-African marathon runner in Beijing. It was already a year ago at the World Championships in Osaka, when the Swiss had achieved a major success, taking the bronze medal in the marathon behind Kenya’s Luke Kibet and Qatar’s Mubarak Shami.
“To come in sixth in an Olympic marathon as the best (non-African) is a superb achievement for me,” said Röthlin, who added that if he would have taken a bronze that would have been comparable to running’s version of an earthquake. “Unfortunately I did not quite achieve this. But I have done really well.”
Röthlin as others was surprised that the Kenyans ran so fast in the first part of the race. “I had hoped that they would run a first half of 64:30, which would have been ideal for me. But they were going much faster. It was too fast for me, because I did not want to end up in a bus! I wanted to run into the Olympic stadium, because these Olympics gave me my best chance. Four years ago I was not yet good enough (Rothlin dropped out of the Marathon in Athens) while in four years time I will be too old.”
“Because of the fast early pace I had to run my own race, which meant that I was running alone for most of the time. It was not easy since I sometimes did not know which position I was in. But I got information from team members regularly. And it was getting easier again once I started picking up runners who had dropped back.”
“I think I found a fine balance,” he continued. “I did not die out there. I ran on my limit but did not go over the limit.”
To have a longer time to prepare for the Olympic race Röthlin had not run one of the big spring marathons but had decided on the Tokyo Marathon in winter instead. There he won with 2:07:23, again improving his own national record. Afterwards he travelled to Beijing for one week to examine the Olympic course.
While in winter Röthlin usually trains with the group of Martin Lel and Robert Cheruiyot in Kenya this was not possible this year due to the political unrest in the country. Röthlin had just arrived in Eldoret, when the troubles started and was happy that as a foreigner he could get back home quickly again. But eventually he did train with the Kenyans again. They went to the Seiser Alm in the Dolomites (northern Italy) - in winter a skiing resort with emphasis on cross country - in July to prepare for Beijing. Similar to Osaka a year ago Röthlin chose to come to the venue early. “That is the best way to get used to the weather conditions with the heat,” he explained. Three weeks before the race he travelled to Beijing and then partly trained near to the city.
While today Röthlin coaches himself he had only one coach before. As soon as he came to the local club STV Alpnach as a junior he was taken care of by Robert Haas. “He guided me throughout my early career until 2000,” Röthlin said. In the early 90s Röthlin started having national success in cross country. A great motivation was when he achieved breaking the Swiss 10,000m junior record held by his idol Ryffel. Today his motto is: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF