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Maire and Grab win glory at Unspunnen

Markus Maire demonstrates the Swiss way of romancing the stone

(Keystone)

Stone thrower Markus Maire and Alpine wrestler Martin Grab took the honours this weekend at the Unspunnen festival in the Bernese Oberland resort of Interlaken.

The festival, the largest of its kind in Switzerland, brings together sportsmen, yodellers, flag throwers, alphorn blowers, singers, dancers, as well as those wearing traditional costume.

The Swiss Traditional Costume and Alpine Herdsmen Festival attracted around 120,000 visitors from all over Switzerland and plenty of tourists keen to see Swiss folklore at its best.

Maire, who is a 35-year-old carpenter, threw the 83.5 kilogramme Unspunnen stone 3.89 metres after lifting it above his head, running and hurling it as far as he could.

Although breaking a record for Unspunnen at the first throw, Maire did not manage to beat his own stone-throwing record of 4.11 metres achieved in Lucerne in 2004.

"He fully deserved to win," commented Peter Michel, who organised the contest and came second (3.57 metres). "Anyone who can throw the stone over 3.5 metres is an excellent athlete."

King of the Schwingers

The much-coveted Alpine wrestling contest at Unspunnen saw Grab from Rothenthurm crowned king of the wrestlers (called Schwinger) after defeating the favourite, Jörg Abderhalden, spectacularly in the final encounter.

Grab, aged 27, was champion of the Alpine wrestling contest held in Murten during Switzerland's national exhibition in 2002.

In a speech earlier on Sunday, Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid said Swiss folk culture lived on with the spirit of Unspunnen.

He commented that it was "a spirit of meeting, mutual respect and self-confident tradition", which was open to new ideas.

The 200-year anniversary Unspunnen festival should have taken place last year but was postponed for 12 months after heavy storms and flooding in the region.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Unspunnen festival 2006: September 1-3 in Interlaken
4,000 active participants
120,000 visitors
1,500 helpers
Budget: SFr2 million ($1.62 million)

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Unspunnen stone

Stone throwing is one of the great attractions and traditions of the festival and the stone itself has had a turbulent history.

People from Appenzell brought the first stone to the festival in 1805. It weighed 184 pounds but disappeared after the event and was never found again.

The second stone was made for the 1905 festival and weighed slightly less at 167 pounds.

In 1984 the stone was stolen from the tourism museum in Interlaken by Jura separatists who wanted a complete separation from canton Bern. As a result a duplicate was made.

In August 2001 the stolen Unspunnen stone was handed over to Shawne Fielding-Borer, wife of a Swiss diplomat. It was identified as genuine.

Jura separatists stole the stone again in August 2005 when it was on show at the Victoria Jungfrau hotel in Interlaken. The duplicate was therefore used at this year's event.

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