Home Sports Olympics-Cycling-Neff completes comeback with emotional gold

Olympics-Cycling-Neff completes comeback with emotional gold


By Martyn Herman

IZU, Japan (Reuters) – When Jolanda Neff crashed at high speed just before Christmas 2019 and ruptured her spleen, she thought her race-winning days were over, never mind her dream of Olympic gold in Tokyo. But the Swiss mountain biker completed a remarkable recovery from her darkest moment to enjoy Tuesday’s biggest day of her career, romping to a sensational win on a treacherous and slippery Izu circuit.

The 28-year-old gave a masterclass in bike handling to lead a Swiss one-two-three – the country’s first sweep at an Olympics since 1936 – by a whopping winning margin of one minute 11 seconds. Tears rolled down her cheeks as Neff reflected on her journey back to full fitness after she struck a pile of logs on a training ride in North Carolina.

The accident left the 2017 mountain bike world champion and winner of multiple World Cup races with fractured ribs and a crushed lung. Had the Olympics taken place as scheduled last year, she might not have made it – but the extra year gave her a chance, and she took maximum advantage to outclass the field.


“It’s a pretty incredible story, I think, and it will take me some time to realize because I had my last big win in 2018 at the World Cup final and at the test event here in (October) 2019, and that was the last time I rode with spectators,” she said. “I broke my hand six weeks ago; I didn’t ride off-road for the past six weeks; I only got back on the bike for the first time here, and I can’t say how much it means to me.”


Neff, sixth at the Rio Olympics in 2016, is used to winning. But the accident changed everything. “I had an adamant time the last couple of years,” she told reporters. “Especially when you’ve won a lot before, it’s tougher when you suddenly don’t win anymore.

“I just had to recover. I just had to get healthy again; I just had to take the time. But you know, it takes longer and longer and longer, and you don’t even know whether you will ever be able to return to that level.”

Neff said the torrential rain that turned parts of the Izu course into a skid pan had played into the hands of her team as she was joined on the podium by Sina Frei and Linda Indergand. Neff’s broken hand incredibly meant she arrived in Tokyo, having not raced at all for six weeks.

“I remember the first day here when I was out here on the track. I was buzzing and happy to ride my mountain bike again. That is what I love most in the whole world. “I just had such a good feeling for today, and when the rain came, even more.”

Neff said the Swiss had done their homework while the change in track conditions had caught other teams out. “The whole course changed,” she said. “We went early this morning and had an hour on-course practice, learning the new lines. I think all three of us cleaned it up.” (Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by John Stonestreet)


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