In sport, the (re) birth of nations

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Let us avoid a useless debate from the outset: the Swiss record at the Alpine Skiing World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo will not overshadow that of Crans-Montana 1987. The 14 medals won by Erika Hess, Pirmin Zurbriggen and the others are, in the history of this sport, the exception and certainly not the rule. No nation has achieved such an overall performance before, none have since, and it’s a safe bet that it will never happen, as more and more different countries join in the fight for podiums.

Read also: This is not a team

That being said, the Swiss delegation has made a strong impression in the Dolomites over the past two weeks. At worst: his slalomers will get tangled up in the slats this weekend and his booty will remain at nine medals. At best: Wendy Holdener, Ramon Zenhäusern or others will complete it with a supplement of precious metal to approach (or exceed) that of Vail 1989 (11). In any case, it will be richer than in the previous 15 editions of the World Championships.

After winning the ranking of nations for the World Cup last winter for the first time in thirty years, Switzerland is confirming its renaissance in alpine skiing. It owes it not only to the sum of extraordinary individual destinies. The history of sport shows that the golden generations do not hatch by chance. The seed is planted by a coordinated will, watered by the establishment of efficient structures, treated with fertilizer of targeted investments. Then it takes patience, ten years, sometimes more, before the harvest.

From short-track to football

The example of the short-track in South Korea is particularly eloquent. In the 1980s, the country’s politico-sporting authorities sought to find a way to shine in a winter Olympic discipline when “short track speed skating” was about to enter the program (in Albertville in 1992). Ice ovals are being built all over the country, teams formed in schools and universities, with all the amenities and scholarships needed to arouse vocations. Result: the South Koreans have won 48 of the 168 Olympic medals distributed to date in short-track.

Read also: The short-track, a Korean passion

This is a special case because the discipline is relatively recent and the effort was particularly coordinated. But even in the most popular of sports, football, there is no shortage of cases of deep structural reforms leading to major successes, with a delay of around ten years.

In France, the National Football Institute was founded in Vichy in 1972, the country’s first training center followed in 1973, and the Blues won Euro 1984. In Spain, Johan Cruyff gave the broad outlines to create the Masia in 1979, the year he left FC Barcelona as a player. He returned there as a coach in 1989 and won a first Champions League in 1992.

In Switzerland, the money from participation in the American World Cup and the sponsorship contract signed with Credit Suisse in 1994 enabled Roy Hodgson (coach), Hansruedi Hasler (technical director), Dany Ryser (head of training) and Hans -Peter Zaugg (head of selections) to innovate, with a new concept of the next generation, based on a modern philosophy and nourished by the professionalization of coaches. We are in 1995. The Swiss under-17 team is crowned European champion in 2002 and then the world champion in 2009, while the Nati regularly participates in the final stages of major tournaments from 2004.

Also read: Professor Ryser’s philosophy lesson

Trauma and click

The prospect of hosting the Olympic Games can also be the driving force behind the development of performance sport. China reached its record for medals in Beijing in 2008, Great Britain in London in 2012, Brazil in Rio in 2016.

Sometimes it takes a sporting trauma to modernize structures that purr. In football, he performed in Germany with the elimination of Mannschaft in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup (3-0 against Croatia). In the process, the federation is reviewing its entire succession system, until then devolved to amateur clubs, and investing in the training of coaches. Philipp Lahm and his teammates reach the Euro 2008 final and win the 2014 World Cup.

In Belgium, it is a catastrophic Euro 2000 which pushes those in charge to start again from the beginning, introducing more fun training methods from an early age, just to lose fewer players in adolescence and not to exclude talents that do not fit well with the system. In 2018, the “Red Devils” climbed to first place in the FIFA rankings and in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Swiss skiing also had its click. In 2005, the national delegation returned from the World Championships in Bormio without the slightest medal. A year and a half later, the federation set up three performance centers in Brig, Engelberg and Davos to create competition between its greatest talents. Many of today’s stars are its products.

About that: In Brig, the factory of Swiss ski champions

Small rich countries

In some countries, the tradition of this or that discipline is such that champions appear almost naturally. This is the case with curling in Canada, cross-country skiing in Norway, football or beach volleyball in Brazil.

Beyond these local particularities, the quality of supervision makes the difference and the small countries of Western Europe – rich, well organized, not too corrupt – are doing better than large nations with much larger population pools. big. With the same number of inhabitants as Ticino, Iceland regularly qualifies its selections for major international tournaments (Euro football, World handball).

In individual sports, structures are necessary but not sufficient to produce top-notch champions. In tennis, Canada has seen the emergence of a very promising generation in recent years (Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime for men, Fernandez for women) after rethinking its training model in 2006. But France, the richest and most The middle structure, which produces members of the world’s top 100 chain, has not seen a Grand Slam winner since 1983.

Meanwhile, Switzerland had two, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. But here, we must not lie: the fact that two champions of this caliber are born in four years apart in the same country is still, a bit, by chance.

Collaboration: Laurent Favre