Nino Schurter had the fight of his life in London on Sunday, when he battled Jaroslav Kulhavy and Marco Fontana for a gold medal at the Olympic Games mountain bike race near London.
In a thrilling finale, Kulhavy beat Schurter in the sprint at the end of the seven-lap cross country race. It wasn't the result that Schurter, who won bronze in Beijing in 2008, had hoped and trained for, but eventually the Swiss rider realized and celebrated what he had accomplished.
"I know that this was one of my best performances ever, and I am proud to have achieved two Olympic podiums at the age of 26. We had a great team and London 2012 will always hold fond memories for me."
Having just won the 2012 World Cup, including four of the seven rounds, Schurter, who races for Scott-Swisspower, was on form. Even defending champion Julien Absalon had tagged Schurter as the man to beat prior to the race.
Schurter seemed to be faster in the technical bits and descents while Kulhavy was a slightly stronger on the flats and climbs. All three leaders tried attacks on the final lap until Fontana had to drop back following a broken seat post that resulted in his seat and seat post falling off. Schurter led into the final three turns, but on the very last small climb, Kulhavy surprised him by coming through on the inside of a long left turn. It proved to be the race-winning move by the Czech rider.
"Up until 200 meters before the finish it was my perfect race," said Schurter. "Everything went superb. I was able to ride at my best. I had no critical moments. It all looked so good for me, I was sure I would win!"
"After he passed me and I thought I could still catch him on the final straight, but it was too short."
The post-race tears in Schurter's eyes showed more bitterness than happiness, but a little time gave him some perspective to appreciate the accomplishment of winning a silver medal.
"Looking back now, I think we saw one of the most exciting races in mountain bike history," said Schurter. "My strategy was perfect and I attacked right from the beginning, never letting more than one of the other racers get in front. I was so sure I could pull it off, right up to the last 200 meters before the finish line. It's not easy to come in second after a performance like this but I have to accept it."
Schurter was caught off guard by Kulhavy's strength. While the Czech rider is the reigning world champion, he did not dominate the 2012 season the way he did in 2011.
"To be honest, I didn't expect a performance like this from Jaroslav Kulhavy since he has not had the most successful World Cup season this year," said Schurter.
"I was especially surprised when he attacked right before the finish line and I didn't have the power to launch a counter attack. Until those last 200 meters I had a fantastic race because I set the pace and could make use of my full potential, it was MY race. I had no mechanical problems. I was convinced I would take the victory. But Kulhavy was strong throughout the whole race and picked up his speed on the last round. I was out of energy on the last climb and couldn't follow his attack."
When asked if he should have blocked the inside of the decisive turn, Schurter said, "Reviewing the race I can't really complain about anything, and I would do it all over again in the same way. Jaroslav came into the last climb with lots of speed and at the bottom he was already right next to me. I wanted to keep it fair so I stayed on my racing line and accepted the fact that Kulhavy had the stronger final. In the end a victory is only worth enjoying if it’s within your own means and played by the rules."
Schurter plans to keep his Olympic hopes alive for at least another four years.
"The dream of an Olympic gold medal will definitely be motivation enough to have Rio de Janeiro 2016 as one of my main goals!"