Nino Schurter, with 8th world title, pads claim to greatest mountain biker in history

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MONT-SAINTE-ANNE, Quebec – Tack one more title onto Nino Schurter’s already cluttered resume.

The Swiss mountain biker and reigning Olympic gold medalist won his eighth world title and fifth straight Saturday afternoon. His 10th world medal also broke a tie for the career record with recently retired mountain biking great Julien Absalon.

Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, who likely would have challenged Schurter for the world title, skipped the event amid a busy racing schedule across multiple disciplines.

Schurter called it “an amazing victory” and said, “I worked hard this year towards that goal and it’s important toward next year. I know I’m still [on] top and I can battle for the gold in Tokyo.”

The 33-year-old has an Olympic medal of every color: he won a surprising bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games as a 22-year-old, then a silver in London before completing the collection in 2016 with gold in Rio.

Schurter noted earlier this week that records within reach continue to motivate him. In addition to passing former rival Absalon’s world medals total this week, he’s one World Cup win shy of Absalon’s 33 victories.

If he makes the podium in Tokyo, he’ll become the first mountain biker to win four Olympic medals (Germany’s Sabine Spitz, who plans to retire at the end of the season, also has three).

Still, Schurter said he’s driven primarily by joy.

“I still love to race and compete, and I think that’s the most important thing, that you enjoy what you do,” he said. “On one side, it’s nice to have all those records, but on the other side, every race [is] actually enough.”

Motivation has never been an issue for Schurter. He’s careful to avoid burnout, strategically mapping out a season-long schedule that might mean fewer races than his competitors. He also spends a few weeks without his bike at the end of each season to vacation with family, though he admits his rest time isn’t spent lazily.

“After three or four days, I’m thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll go for a run,’” he said.

He’s also enjoyed passing the sport on to his daughter, Lisa, who turns 4 in October.

Schurter introduced her to cycling by adding a small seat to his bike frame so she could hold the handlebars. Now, she rides on her own and is learning how to climb from an overly qualified instructor: Schurter attaches a rope to the back of his bike to tow her uphill before they ride down together.

While a few records remain on his radar, Schurter is content with what he’s already accomplished. That means less pressure and more time to enjoy the ride.

“All those goals I really wanted to achieve, I actually achieved,” he said. “So what’s coming is now just extra.”

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

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Sifan Hassan sets marathon debut

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Sifan Hassan, who won 5000m and 10,000m gold and 1500m bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in an unprecedented triple, will make her 26.2-mile debut at the London Marathon on April 23.

Hassan, a 30-year-old Dutchwoman, said she will return to the track after the race, but how the London Marathon goes will play into whether she bids for the Olympic marathon in 2024.

“I want to see what I can do on the marathon distance, to make future decisions,” she posted on social media. “We’ll see if I will finish the distance or if the distance will finish me.”

Exhausted by her Olympic feat, Hassan reportedly went at least seven months after the Tokyo Games between training in track spikes. She finished fourth in the 10,000m and sixth in the 5000m at last July’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.

“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” Hassan said at worlds. “I was mentally crashed. I didn’t even care about running.”

London, billed as the best women’s marathon field in history, also boasts Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya, world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, 2016 Olympic 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, 1500m world record holder Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia and the two fastest Americans in history, Emily Sisson and Keira D’Amato.

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