Switzerland has a new king: Matthias Sempach has won the Swiss wrestling – or “schwingen” - championship, which ended in Burgdorf, the capital of the Emmental region, on Sunday.
The best wrestler at the Federal Wrestling and Alpine Games, which is held every three years, is known as the king schwinger. In Swiss wrestling, which has become enormously popular in the past few years, the fighters compete in a sawdust ring, and have to throw their opponents onto their backs. The sport is more or less unknown outside Switzerland.
Sempach, who is a local boy, received an ovation from the crowd after his victory. His emotion was such that he burst into sobs in full view of the televison cameras.
The various winners are presented with prizes, worth a total of about CHF800,000 ($860,000). The “king” is traditionally presented with a bull – but in practice this is only symbolic. The bull is returned to its field, and the winner gets a cash prize of CHF22,000 instead.
In this case the bull might be especially relieved, since Sempach trained as a butcher.
This year’s event attracted more than a quarter of a million spectators over the course of three days. It was also shown live on Swiss German television.
The games were a massive undertaking, with a budget of CHF25 million. The army put in 5,000 man-days and the 4,000 helpers put in 70,000 hours.
An arena was specially built, with seating for about 50,000 – the biggest in Switzerland. Construction started on July 1. It is now due to be dismantled.
The organisers made sustainability a priority. For example, visitors were encouraged to use public transport, with extra trains laid on; rubbish was sorted for recycling; the wood chips used for the area surrounding the arena were untreated and are to be given to local garden centres and all the material used in the construction will be reused, unless it is damaged.
Although the major crowd-puller is the schwingen, two other traditional Swiss sports were also on the agenda.
One was stone-throwing, which entails throwing a heavy stone as far as possible. In the lightest category, the stone weighs 20 kilograms, but the heaviest is the so-called Unspunnen stone, which weighs 83.5 kilograms. The winner in this category, Peter Michel, managed a distance of 3.83 metres, 17 centimetres further than his nearest rival. Michel had also won at the two previous games, in 2010 and 2007.
The other was the team sport of hornussen, in which a player from one of the teams slices a tiny puck through the air, which has to be stopped by men wielding by what look like large shovels or bats.
The event opened on Friday. The accompanying programme included a procession on the first day to show off the Emmental region and parties until well into the night. In the area surrounding the arena itself visitors could enjoy other Swiss folk traditions – alphorn music, yodelling and displays be groups in traditional costume. Beer, sausages and other culinary delights were on sale in the many specially erected marquees.
An official ceremony on Sunday morning was addressed by Ueli Maurer, who holds this year’s rotating Swiss presidency. He told the crowd that “roots, values and foresight” were the recipe for the future.
Tickets were only required for entrance to the stadium, where the main events were staged. The area around it was open to the public for free. The atmosphere was reported to be relaxed and friendly.