Inside Nino Schurter’s quest for Olympic gold
On August 21, 2016, Nino Schurter completed his collection of Olympic medals by winning gold in Rio de Janeiro. (He’d already won a bronze medal at Beijing 2008 and a silver at London 2012. The five time UCI mountain bike world champion had not only set himself the biggest goal, but also put himself under tremendous pressure to succeed in his Hunt for Glory. Now that the hunt has ended in glory, Schurter breaks down the last few years for us in this revealing video.
Schurter is used to winning. With five world champion titles, four World Cup titles, and 21 World Cup victories, he is one of the most successful cycling athletes of all time. Looking back to 2012, at the age of 26, Schurter experienced the biggest “defeat” of his career, walking away from the Olympics with a silver medal after having dominated much of the race. In the end, Czech rider Jaroslav Kulhavy took gold in a race that is still considered as one of the most exciting in recent mountain bike history. However, this “defeat” got the ball rolling for setting new goals — a gold medal four years later in Rio.
Setting such a long term goal as a top athlete requires discipline in ways mere mortals like us would have a tough time comprehending. Working on his mental strength was key for Schurter. He trained four years just for one reason — to be ready on that big day in Rio. This kind of long term devotion meant that Schurter had to suffer several setbacks. It also meant to learn how to turn negative experiences into positives, and to learn to benefit from them. Beyond that, Schurter had to learn how to tune every single part of his preparation, training, and life in general. From nutrition to high altitude training, from perfect train timing to optimizing recovery – everything was diligently organized.
Schurter’s mental and physical preparation had to be maximized to perfection. However, he had to build on a professional surrounding so he could fully concentrate on achieving his ultimate goal. His trainers, physiotherapists, and coaches who were in charge of surveying his entire physical progress were coupled with the tech crew in charge of making sure that Schurter never had to second guess the tools of his trade. With the new Spark RC 900 World Cup, Schurter had access to one of the lightest full suspension race bike on the market. Still he insisted on testing back and forth to ensure starting with the best possible set-up for the demanding race track in Rio.
Schurter has learned from his past races. He knew exactly what would or wouldn’t work with regards to both his preparation and his mental strategy. Over the years, he also analyzed how his potential gold medal competitors would race. An Olympic race is always different to an ordinary mountain bike race. The pressure is tremendous, as a top athlete and as the main contender for gold, the public attention one has to handle is something which is hard to imagine even for outstanding people. Come race day, external circumstances can unexpectedly change from dry to rather wet conditions on the track. The right tire choice was key to winning the race, as Schurter stated afterwards.
His strategy for Rio was totally different to that of previous races. Alternatively to London four years ago which also saw a fight between him and Jaroslav Kulhavy, Schurter did not want to dominate the race from the beginning but let others do the work to save energy. Instead he tested his rivals during the race. “I set a bunch of small attacks to test them, especially Kulhavy. I finally knew where and when to set an attack. It worked perfectly for me,” he said.
The last pedal strokes made history. Nino Schurter set a goal, aimed to achieve it, and won the ultimate reward.