Published: 01.03.10
Citius Project

Citius returns empty-handed

Vancouver is history and, despite Citius, the Swiss bobsleigh team failed to make it onto the podium even once. After its successes in the World and European Cup races, just why the ETH-Zurich bobsleigh found itself lagging behind the competition when it came to the crunch remains a mystery.

Simone Ulmer
Ivo Rüegg and Cédric Grand speed down the track in the two-man bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (Photo: Keystone/CJ Gunther)
Ivo Rüegg and Cédric Grand speed down the track in the two-man bobsleigh at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (Photo: Keystone/CJ Gunther)

The Swiss bobsleigh team and its Citius bobsled had a disappointing Games in Vancouver: Ivo Rüegg and Cédric Grand just missed out on a medal in fourth place in the two-man bobsleigh and the Swiss women only came in tenth and twelfth. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Ivo Rüegg and his last-minute team of Cédric Grand, Thomas Lamparter and Beat Hefti only managed sixth place in the four-man bobsleigh, where Citius wasn’t used. The result comes as a great disappointment, not least because this is the first time since 1964 that the great bobsledding nation has returned from an Olympic Games without a single medal.

On a winning streak up to the Games

The 2009/10 winter season couldn’t have gone much better: Rüegg won the 2010 overall World Cup in his two-man Citius and Beat Hefti was crowned European Champion with Citius. In all, the Swiss chalked up 18 medals with Citius in the World and European Cups, and success at the Vancouver Games looked on the cards. Switzerland was even one of only three nations to qualify for the Olympics with three teams, piloted by Rüegg, Beat Hefti and Daniel Schmid respectively. However, the controversial ice track in Whistler soon put a spanner in the works for many top athletes.

Only one out of three teams at the start

Hefti and Schmid withdrew from the competition following serious crashes in the training runs. This meant that of the three Swiss teams to qualify, Rüegg’s was the only one to brave the demanding track. In the run-up to the event, Rüegg said he felt it suited him.

Indeed, Christian Reich, Citius project manager and Olympic gold-medal winner in the two-man bob in Salt Lake City in 2002, stressed beforehand that Citius had been developed for high-speed tracks like Whistler: “That’s just the sort of track the sled needs”. However, following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritaschwili on the opening day of the Games and numerous crashes amongst the bobsledders in the training runs and during the competition, the athletes needed nerves of steel.

Stuck in a rut

Rüegg and Grand only managed fourth place in the end. Their poor start times were probably to blame as they found it hard to cope with the steep start. A visibly disappointed and dejected Rüegg hung all his hopes on the four-man bob, where, together with Hefti and Lamparter, he was looking to get off to a decent start. However, these runs also began badly for Switzerland I: eighth after the first round. In the second, the team climbed to fourth place, but was unable to make the most of the good starting point. Switzerland I began the last two runs moderately, made mistakes and slipped back down into sixth place.

But the Swiss bobsleigh team were not the only ones who had problems: in the run-up to the competition, a training run had to be called off and, after six teams crashed during the first two races of the Games from Friday to Saturday, the track was readjusted. In the last two races for Olympic medals, all the teams reached the finishing line without crashing. However, Rüegg and his team were unable to keep up with Steven Holcomb (USA, gold), Andre Lange (Germany, silver) and Lyndon Rush (Canada, bronze), and the team ended up missing out on the bronze medal by 86 hundredths of a second.

One bobsleigh, one team?

Once again, this left the Swiss television presenters wondering why Rüegg was not driving a Citius bobsled. Christian Reich, who was on location in Vancouver commentating on the bobsleigh events for Swiss television, had suggested that Rüegg’s Wallner sled was not ideal on more than one occasion during the competitions. Moreover, when communication problems cost Rüegg’s team a good start on the first run, doubts arose as to whether Rüegg’s team really was a “team” at all.

This all began shortly before the Games when the Swiss Bobsleigh Federation and Swiss Olympic caused some unrest among the athletes by switching Lamparter from Hefti’s team to Rüegg’s, whereupon Hefti also volunteered to ride with Rüegg. However, the supposed “dream team” appeared to have trouble gelling in such a short space of time. For instance, sprint whizzkid Hefti, upon whose pushing power so much hope was pinned, didn’t hear Rüegg’s command as it was too loud at the start. Even though it was noticeably quiet at the top end of the track for the Swiss from then on, they had left themselves too much to do to make up for the poor first run.

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver mark a sorry end to a project that promised so much after the successes in the World and European Cups. The exceptional conditions in Whistler and the friction in the run-up to the Games caused by tinkering with the teams obviously had an adverse effect on the bobsledders. Whistler once again confirmed that having the best bobsleigh is not enough to win if you haven’t got a physically fit and well-organized team to back it up.

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