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Mountain biking was added to the Olympic programme in 1993, as a response to the sport’s meteoric rise in popularity around the world. By the time it made its Olympic debut in Atlanta, it was still just 20 years old as an organised competitive sport, and the first world championships had been held just six years earlier.
The new discipline had a clear favourite in Atlanta. Bart Brentjens from the Netherlands was the reigning world champion and was now determined to become the first mountain biker to get his hands on an Olympic gold. He devoted himself to producing a perfect performance in Atlanta, preparing for the heat and humidity and memorising every twist, turn and bump of the contoured circuit.
In the absence of three-time world champion Henrik Djernis, Brenjens’ greatest challenge appeared to come from the Swiss rider Thomas Frischknecht, a three-time runner-up at the worlds, who was well on his way to finally winning the title in 1996.
The weather was hot and muggy – exactly what Brentjens had prepared for –and he set off at a fierce pace. Only one other athlete, Italy’s Luca Bramati, was able to match him in the early stages.
However, Bramati couldn’t maintain the required pace beyond the halfway stage and eventually dropped back.
None of the other competitors had the reserves to close the gap on Brentjens, and he was out on his own throughout the second half of the race, finally crossing the line more than two and a half minutes clear of the field.
The silver went to the talented all-rounder Frischknecht, who remarkably was back in action the following day, to compete in the cycling road race, where he finished 110th.