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Once upon a time there was a Jamaican boy who came to Basel, Switzerland, at the age of 15. When he started training at the local athletics club and broke the mold of various conventions and unwritten rules, all while making big speeches and reciting words like “Gopferdeckel” from his former coach, people could only smile. He had since acquired Swiss citizenship, and people continued smiling at him for his big words when he announced at the spring media conference of Swiss Athletics 2018 that his minimum goal for the season was a European Championship medal in Berlin. They smiled because so far he had only managed eighth place at the 2016 European Championship final in the 200m discipline – his only place in the final at a major event. What’s more, his personal best was still far away from the 20-second mark.
In Berlin, however, the hour struck for Alex Wilson, who silenced all critics and smiles. In the second half of the 200m in particular, Alex showed his strength. 50m before the finish he was still behind, and fought his way up to third place in the final meters. The finish was so close that video was used to determine places two to four. After waiting for what seemed like minutes, the name Alex Wilson appeared to the cheers of the Swiss fans. And yes, suddenly Wilson was very close to that 20-second mark: 20.04 – national record! This was 10 hundredths of a second faster than what Wilson ran at the Swiss Championship in Zofingen. World champion Ramil Guliyev, who won with 19.76 seconds, was in a class of his own.
Even though Wilson says that pressure is something that he abolished for himself after last year’s World Championship in London, the burden that fell off him must have been tremendous. This was shown by the outburst of emotion when it was clear that he had bronze in the bag. And he said: “Not everyone believed in me. But the most important thing was that I always did it,” he exclaimed in his usual euphoric way. “I’m happy to prove that my announcement was serious. My first feeling when I had the medal in the bag was: “Awesome, I’ve done it!”
For the Swiss team it’s the first medal after numerous good performances and final qualifications. Wilson joins the European Championships with bronze behind two other successful Swiss 200m athletes. In 1969 and 1978 Philippe Clerc (gold) and Peter Muster (bronze) had already had their moments. Then followed a 40-year dry spell for sprinting. Until Alex Wilson came. Gopferdeckel!
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