Nottwil, Switzerland is hosting the third World Para Athletics Grand Prix of the season this week when at the Swiss Paraplegic Center.
Athletes from 46 countries are set to compete during three days (Thursday 26 to Saturday 28 May) in the Swiss track famous for being the home of some of the world’s best wheelchair racers.
While the likes of Marcel Hug, who recently received the 2022 Laureus Awards, and Mauela Schaer are generally in the spotlight, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics saw another Swiss athlete joining the pack.
In her second Games, Catherine Debrunner picked her first two Paralympic medals including gold in the women’s 400m T53. Nottwil will mark her first major event in front of the local crowd since the triumph in Japan and she will be competing in the 100m, 400m, 800m and 1500m T53.
“It’s great to race at home,” she said with a big smile. “It’s so different when there are people cheering you back, when you cross the line, or during the race. Sharing all those emotions with the people you love, it’s so much better”.
A LONG LOVE STORY
Debrunner started in Para athletics when she was only eight. The place was the same Nottwil where she will be competing this week.
“Next year, it will be already 20 years I do this sport”, she explained. “I was in a sport camp, in Nottwil. Then, I met Paul Odermatt, who was my first coach. He saw me there and he saw my potential.”
It was love at first sight for the little girl. “I sat in that little chair and it was so fun. Since then, I could not stop anymore,” she recalled.
As many around the world, she was forced to stop during the pandemic. During that difficult moment Debrunner realised she wanted to be more involved in her sport.
Past January, she decided to quit her job to become a full-time athlete. A decision accompanied by new challenges.
“I want to take part in more disciplines in the future. I was for a very long time focused on sprint. Now, I want to make more 1500m, 5000m and marathon,” the Swiss said.
Debrunner is excited about the new opportunities in road events and she is especially motivated after her success at Tokyo 2020.
“Both medals, they mean a lot for me. The bronze was my first-ever Paralympic medal. And I think it really helped me to win the gold because I got a lot of confidence, so I had nothing to lose anymore.”
By winning the women’s 400m T53 gold in Japan, she became European, world and Paralympic champion in the event.
CHOCOLATE AND WORLD RECORD
Talking about the exceptional results achieved by the Swiss Para athletics team, Debrunner said:
“The environment in Nottwil is unique, with the great support of the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation. It’s a perfect place to train, we have a very fast track, the hospital, the gym, … and it’s just perfect that everything is in one place.”
“The fact we have very good athletes is pushing each other. Marcel Hug and Manuela Schaer are exceptional athletes with great abilities,” she added.
Debrunner also has a small secret to her success.
“I eat chocolate every day, but just a little bit.”
Perhaps Swiss superstar Hug has also been eating some chocolates lately. The 36-year-old started the season as he finished the last one: achieving great results. At the opening Grand Prix in Dubai at the end of March, he set a new world record in the 5000m T54.
Hug will be in search of more medals in the men’s 800m, 1500m and 5000m T54 at Nottwil 2022.
Other local athletes like Elena Kratter and Sofia Gonzalez will also make their season debut in Nottwil. Both shined in the women’s long jump T63 last year making a Swiss one-two finish.
FIRST GP FOR TAHTI, SECOND FOR COCKROFT
Among the visitors, Nottwil will also see some of the best of Britain. Two-time European champion Fabienne Andre will compete at the GP for the first time in the women’s 100m and 800m T34 events.
In both races she will face Great Britain’s Paralympic legend Hannah Cockroft who already picked two victories at Dubai 2022.
After her two medals at Tokyo 2020, their teammate Samantha Kinghorn will be back to Grand Prix action. The 26-year-old will take on four events, including the 100m and 400m T53, in which she is one of the favourites.
Neighbours Germany will also be travelling to Nottwil with a strong team. Rio 2016 shot put F41 champion Niko Kappel will be competing on Saturday (28), the same day as 20-year-old Yannis Fischer, who made his Paralympic debut last year in the men’s shot put F40.
Tokyo 2020 medallist Leon Schaefer will take part in the men’s long jump and 100m T63 in his Grand Prix debut this season. His biggest opponent will be another Paralympic medallist, Denmark’s Daniel Wagner.
Finland’s Leo Pekka Tahti will pose the main threat to home hero Hug in Nottwil, where he will be in action in the men’s 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m T54 races. Another Finnish wheelchair racer in Switzerland will be Esa-Pekka Mattila in the women’s 100m, 200m and 400m T54.
Nottwil 2022 will be streamed live on the World Para Athletics Facebook page.
Live results of the Grand Prix will be available here.