Schwingen wrestling: The ultimate in Swissness



AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Published — Monday 9 September 2013

Last update 15 September 2013 9:14 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

Battling to the last with sweat pouring from his brow, the wrestler winced as he lost his footing, the crowd roared and his rival flattened him in the sawdust.
In an Alpine nation that holds its traditions dear, it doesn’t come more Swiss than this, as the cowbells ring and the alphorns echo in a 52,000-seater stadium.
“Schwingen” is an ancestral form of wrestling unique to Switzerland, where hulking athletes in sackcloth shorts fight for crowns of oak leaves and prizes ranging from bulls to power drills.
“It’s like a pure extract of Swissness,” said Markus Walther, 45, his gaze locked on the seven sawdust circles in the center of the temporary stadium’s grass.
Little known abroad, Schwingen is iconic in Switzerland.
The triennial national championships — where around 300 top-level wrestlers vie for the title of “Schwingerkoenig,” or King of the Schwingers — are the country’s largest sporting event.
This year’s edition was expected to draw 300,000 people, overwhelmingly from the country’s majority German-speaking regions which are Schwingen’s heartland.
The 2013 event started Friday and wraps up late Sunday in Burgdorf, a picture-perfect community in the Emmental valley, home of the eponymous cheese.
The region’s hotels were booked solid, and demand was sky-high for stadium tickets priced at between 165 and 225 Swiss francs ($177-242) for a two-day pass.
The remaining fans watched outside on big screens, or soaked up the atmosphere with the help of some of the 80,000 sausages and 210,000 liters of beer expected to be wolfed down.
Like football supporters in their team’s replica kit, many in Burgdorf sported peasant-style shirts in the colors of their home regions.
Swiss national television broadcasts the bouts live, and top-level Schwingers are big names, with 2010 champion Kilian Wenger, 23, and rival Matthias Sempach, 27, both big crowd-pullers.
“These are young guys, and real idols,” said Fabio Lorenzet of the championships’ organization team.
Star-struck youngsters dream of emulating their success.
“I’d love to be the King myself one day,” said 13-year-old Pascal, who, like Wenger, has been wrestling since he was nine. Other fans admire them for different reasons.
A typical Schwinger, Wenger weighs 106 kilos, is one meter, 90 centimeters tall and is as fit as a firefighter.
“Of course I like it because it’s a great part of our tradition. But also because of these are really manly men, not pretty boys,” said Seraina Derungs, 25, as she chuckled at suggestions that Wenger was the David Beckham of Schwingen.
The comparisons with stars of global sports like football also fall short because Schwingers are amateurs, do not receive cash prizes, and must give a cut of any sponsorship back to their club.
There are ways and means to get by, however.
For example, selling the Burgdorf bull would rake in 22,000 Swiss francs, and the big-name wrestlers are often tapped by advertisers.
“You can’t live from Schwingen, but I know a handful of them don’t have to work so much in their day jobs,” said Lorenzet.
Despite the star power and smartphone apps for fans, Schwingen has its feet rooted firmly in the past.
It emerged among mountain herders and woodsmen centuries ago, and has been seen as a national sport since featuring at gatherings held in reaction to French rule during the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s.
It took off big time after Swiss-wide rules were set down ahead of the first national championships in 1895.
The basics include having to grip the opponent’s Bermuda-length Schwingen shorts with at least one hand throughout a bout, and to bring his shoulders to the ground within six minutes in order to win.
“It’s a test of physical strength plus quick thinking and composure,” said Walther, who competed at the 1995 championships and runs the Schwingen federation of Mittelland, a region near the Swiss capital Bern.
Unlike boxing, there are no weight categories.
A bout between a 142-kilo, two-meter Schwinger and one who weighs 49 kilos less and is 24 centimeters shorter might seem a lost cause, but turning a rival’s apparent advantage against him is part and parcel.
“It’s a complete sport, because you use not only your strength but also your technical skills to offset drawbacks,” 26-year-old competitor Vincent Heiniger told AFP.
“The goal is to beat your opponent. But there’s also a huge amount of respect, and that’s part of the tradition too.”
Championship Schwingers may well be nicknamed “Boesen,” or bad guys, in a nod to their toughness.
But that label is belied by their behavior: the winner always helps his defeated opponent up and brushes him clean of sawdust.

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

Huge projects change the faces of cities and great ambitions help create such projects. Madinah had its date with a quantum leap to usher in a new era of urban development. Such huge projects help achieve formidable civilization advancements and sign...
RIYADH: The Japanese ambassador to the Kingdom, Noriheiro Okoda, has held a meeting with Hashem Abdullah Yamani, president of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE), and discussed bilateral cooperation in the fields of atom...
AL-BAHA: Forty three percent of Al-Baha cannot be developed easily because of the region’s mountainous terrain.This is the view of Khaled Al-Sayegh, undersecretary for construction at the municipality, who was speaking at an event held at the College...
JEDDAH: An official at the Council of Saudi Chambers said the council’s members are discussing a regulation to submit to the Ministry of Labor and other government agencies to deny a number of privileges to companies that force its labor to work unde...
ABHA: With many families wanting new furniture during Ramadan, furniture and interior decorating shops are raising prices to more than double what they were before the month.Homeowner Zaina Mohammed says she used to change her home furniture every Ra...
RIYADH: Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) President Prince Sultan bin Salman described the first visit by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman to Madinah as “historic.”In his comments following the visit which saw th...
MADINAH: Economists expected the volume of investments in Madinah’s economies during the coming few years to reach SR500 billion.The forecasted growth in the population, to reach 2.6 million people after 25 years, and the number of visitors to 12.2 m...
JEDDAH: It seems that many Saudi families are gradually coming to terms with the new reality of living in apartments, as building villas is not possible due to shortage of appropriate land.With the increasing display of housing units by the Ministry...
RIYADH: Migrant rights advocacy group Migrante-Middle East (M-ME) has lambasted their country’s leadership over the claim that the number of overseas Filipino workers are declining due to sustained economic growth in the Philippines.The group has cal...
RIYADH: A charitable foundation called “Smile” will be launched on Sunday night at the Al-Hokair Land in the Saudi capital to make people happy. “The foundation will be launched to make Saudi Arabia a center of smiles,” well-known television host and...
MAKKAH: The Kingdom has seen a sharp rise in the number of Umrah pilgrims to around 6 million from 1.5 million in the last 16 years. Moreover, the number of pilgrims overstaying their visas has come down to about 1 percent. The Ministry of Haj has be...
RIYADH: The King Khalid Foundation (KKF) said here recently that it has financed small enterprises (SMEs) run by 130 widows in some of the Kingdom’s provinces.KKF hosted an iftar party last week for local media at its headquarters in Riyadh at which...
JEDDAH: Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz bin Musaed, governor of the Northern Borders province, has died.He will be buried after Taraweeh prayers in Jeddah on Saturday, the Royal Court said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. No other det...
RIYADH: The Ministry of Education has suspended all parallel education programs, except in medical and engineering specialties, as well as bridging programs for health diploma certificates.Education Minister Azzam Al-Dhakil gave directions to the rec...
RIYADH: The Cooperative Health Insurance Council said it had suspended operations of six medical insurance companies for violating health insurance regulations by issuing insurance policies without completing the required documentation and violating...

Stay Connected

Facebook