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Swiss soldiers

Off-duty Olympic hopefuls

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Meet the three athletes who are the Swiss army’s hopes at the Olympic Games in Rio this summer. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)

Since 2010 the Swiss army has a special unit made up of eighteen professional sportsmen and women. Hired on a 50 per cent basis, their task is to train and to be successful. It’s all about prestige. Five medals have been won in the Olympics so far. The next goal is to win in Rio this summer. 

Mountain biker Jolanda Neff says it’s a great privilege to be trained by the army, as well as a huge psychological support. On the other hand it also gives her some social and financial security.

Despite cuts to the military budget, the head of Switzerland’s armed forces André Blattmann wants to hold on to this unit. He claims that the army has a lot in common with the sports professionals. The army too must win when it is forced into action.

This kind of support is especially important for athletes in disciplines that lack funding, like rowing. However, rower Mario Gyr points out that the 50 per cent salary is not enough to live on. As a professional athlete you have to have an entrepreneurial spirit, he says.