Win, Lose or Nino | Let's put 2nd place into perspective. Win, Lose or Nino | Let's put 2nd place into perspective.

Win, Lose or Nino | Let's put 2nd place into perspective.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.” — Winston Churchill

On Saturday, March10, Nino Schurter finished in 2nd place at the opening round of the 2018 UCI Cross Country Mountain Bike World Cup. Convention would say that such a finish might only merit half a mention from his sponsors—and none of them would think about running a congratulatory ad. Sure, just about every sport that pits athletes against each other, or a clock, in a race toward a finish line, celebrates with a podium ceremony and champagne and trophies. But the distance between 1st and 2nd—whether it’s mere millimeters or handfuls of minutes—is the biggest distance in racing. So, we typically give a quiet respectful nod to the 2nd-place athlete, and then we move on to the next event.

But this is different. This 2nd-place athlete is Nino Schurter.

Schurter’s 2nd place on Saturday at Stellenbosch, South Africa, put an end to his record-setting string of World Cup wins that started with 2017’s World Cup opener. In case you need a reminder, the Scott–SRAM rider won every single round of the 2017 World Cup. That string of wins was fairly fresh on the heels of his 2016 Olympic Gold Medal performance, and was followed by a 2017 World Championship Gold. Between his overall victory in the 2016 World Cup series, the Olympic Gold in Rio and every major event in 2017, the number-1 plate on a cross-country mountain bike has become synonymous with Nino. Some have even started referring to him as N1NO.

And there’s something about a winning streak that makes fans of people who might not otherwise be fans. Let’s face it: After a few of consecutive wins, some people start to wonder if a streak is “good for the sport.” But after a few more, even fellow competitors want to see how far the streak can go. It’d be a reasonably safe bet to say that even Sam Gaze, the guy who put an end to Nino’s incredible winning run, would’ve been okay to see Nino put one more win in the streak. At least a little bit okay….

A great coach once said, “There is winning, and there is misery.” It’s probably okay to assume that—despite the smiles and gracious demeanor—misery paid at least a small visit to Nino Schurter on Saturday. It may have even repeated the visit for a bit on Sunday. Because the sum total of every armchair XC coach in the world chirping ‘should-haves’ and ‘if-onlys’ is absolutely nothing compared to what happens inside the brain of a world-class athlete who came up short.

Let’s put this into real perspective: For almost anyone else racing in Stellenbosch, finishing where Nino did would have been the highlight of a career. For everyone watching in person or online, it would be an unimaginable dream. And that’s to say nothing about what he did before Stellenbosch—and what he’ll surely do afterward.

So, we choose to celebrate Nino Schurter—even if it were a Saturday afternoon he’d rather forget for a while.

Because this is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning. It is going to be an incredible year of XC racing.

Photos by Matt Delorme. 

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