In 1992, Marc Rosset landed the gold medal at the Barcelona’s Olympics. Twenty years later, this victory seems even more beautiful. Because the Swiss, 21 years old and 6’ 7” of outspokenness, arrived on site at the last minute, missing the opening ceremony and still exhausted from a week of partying in Geneva. A soft madman who had no chance of gold at first sight. But appearances can be deceptive…
A week of partying with his mates in Geneva. That's how Marc Rosset had chosen to prepare mentally and physically for his first Olympics. Anyway, that's what he told the journalists at the time. "It was an ironic way to describe my week in Switzerland
, he admits today. This is my provocative side. No, if that's what you want to know, I didn't arrive completely drunk in Barcelona. But I didn't play much tennis, that's for sure
". In 1992, the yellow ball is still quite new at the Olympics. If the tournament is today, he thinks, "the fifth Grand Slam
" 20 years ago, it was possible to turn up at the very last second and throw his best punchline: "I came here for fun. The Olympics, it's a bit like a holiday!
" Or indulge in sporting and political analysis: "If tennis is at the Olympics, then why not bowling, surfing, paragliding and darts?
” Casual, ok, but what did this youngster of 21 years old have to lose? Not much, at first sight. The heat was unbearable; the clay was dry, slow and merciless to his boom-boom game. Medals were on the table in singles and doubles play, all best-of-three sets. Tough on the body. And finally, the table was filled by the aces of the tour. Courier, Edberg, Becker, Sampras, Chang and Ivanisevic were there. Good luck with that.
"Me, I used to call it a human zoo".
Besides, no one really noticed the giant frame of the redhead. The world number 44 didn't interest anybody. Barely even the Swiss-German press, which ran a piece a few weeks before the Games calling him "The disgrace of the country
" But he couldn't have cared less. "Personally, and you can write this, I've never been interested in what the press think
". From the beginning of the competition, despite a challenging first round against the young Moroccan Karim Alami - "maybe I needed to sweat out all that I had been drinking last week
" – he quickly found his comfort zone. Very quickly "I arrived into something I didn't know at all. Once in the village, I started to get into the game and watched the lads who were playing their hearts out for a medal. That was cool, so why not? Why not me? Appetite comes with eating
". Whereas some tennis players were still paying for their five-star hotels, Rosset lived and slept in the Olympic Village. Despite the student dormitories with really tiny beds for his size, the promiscuity, the group life and the summer camp atmosphere, suited him perfectly.
And that also was where the competition was played "How to explain my success? I think I was the guy who was the best suited to the spirit and to the Olympic Village. It's a formula that suited me
" he said. From the first rounds, some star players fall by the wayside... Exit Edberg, Exit Sampras, Exit Becker. Rosset himself took out Courier in straight sets in the second round and became at the dawn of the quarterfinals one of the favourites of an increasingly small field. A jungle atmosphere that he liked: "I used to call it a human zoo. In the evening, in the dining hall, I was watching the athletes. You had 1,000 athletes from different body-types. You could recognize the judokas with their ears ... There were giraffes, hippos, short ones, fat ones, skinny ones
"That Federer doesn't make it to the semis or the final".
In his quarterfinal against Emilio Sanchez, the public was fiery. Him also: "It was so hot that at one point, I had a smash to do and instead of playing the point, I decided to target my opponent. That didn't help my popularity with the crowd. I even left the court escorted by four cops
". The final pitted him against another Spaniard, one with an emaciated ochre face, and furthermore from Barcelona: Jordi Arrese. The fight between the two outsiders lasted for more than five hours. Rosset had to overcome a terrible physical weakness and a raging crowd. The stuff of legends. "I got a sunstroke. I had to let an hour of game slip away. I was exhausted, but it was cool!”
Cool because, at the end, there was a gold medal, snatched after an epic fifth set, won 8-6. For the press back in his country, the Helvetian had repaired his reputation. The same duck that had been buried alive was now compared to William Tell. "It was too much, in one way or the other. The sports press has always tended to get wound up for nothing!”
So, to calm it down, we play with it. "I prefer baiting the press with a good joke, a bit like Marat Safin. When I read an article from a player who says "I’ve been so good. I was the best, my victory is logical" it sends shivers down my spine!”
At a time where London is getting ready to host the Olympics, there are no celebrations planned for Rosset, just a meal with his mates to celebrate this beautiful memory. And a selfish desire: to remain the last Swiss medallist in the singles. "What I want above all is that Federer doesn’t make it to the semis or the final. So maybe they'll prepare something for me!”
Some more provocation?
By Victor Le Grand and Julien Pichené