The federal gymnastics festival which gets underway in Basel on Thursday is one of Switzerland's biggest and oldest sporting traditions.This content was published on June 14, 2002 - 19:07
Held every six years, the national contest has a history going all the way back to 1832. This year's edition will see some 65,000 men, women and children competing in dozens of disciplines ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre.
While traditional gymnastic events remain a key part of the festival, the ten-day spectacle has expanded in recent years to include team games such as korbball and volleyball as well as such relatively obscure sports as wheel gymnastics and indiaca.
The latter resembles volleyball but is played with an oversized shuttlecock instead of a ball, while wheel gymnastics sees competitors jumping, circling or making patterns while strapped inside a turning wheel.
"We always look to see what people are interested in when we choose the programme," Swiss gymnastics association spokeswoman Christine Althaus told swissinfo. "The main elements of gymnastics, athletics and games have always been included in the festival. But there are also plenty of activities that visitors can try out themselves without having to register in advance."
With those activities ranging from throwing boulders to milking cows, the organisers are keen to go beyond the more narrow definitions of gymnastic activity.
"The desire to compete is of course a strong part of the festival, but the whole thing is also about encouraging people to get healthy," Althaus explains.
A fair bit of movement will be required just to get around the festival with this year's event spread out over nine locations in the Basel region. Free use of the local railway system is being offered to those with festival tickets, however, to ensure that no-one gets cramped legs before the competition itself.
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