The top players of Hornussen, a traditional sport in Switzerland, are meeting this weekend and next for the federal Hornusserfest, the "Olympics" which are usually held every three years.This content was published on August 18, 2000 - 14:58
About 5,500 players will be competing in the eastern town of Frauenfeld in canton Thurgau for one of the highly-prized drinking horns, the Hornussen equivalent of an athlete's gold medal.
The rules are simple. The members of one team, which comprises 16 to 18 men, take turns at hitting a round puck placed on a ramp with a long, flexible club. The other team is deployed in the playing field, the Ries, and tries to intecept the puck, or Hornuss, with wooden boards.
Decisive for winning a game is mainly the number of hits which ended up in the Ries without being intercepted.
The game is thought to have its roots in medieval war games, and was for centuries primarily a peasant pastime. Hornussen is increasingly becoming a serious sport, although most Swiss still associate it with farmers.
One indication of how serious it has become is the scale of the preparations for this year's Hornusserfest, which runs until August 27. Contracts for the use of the land were signed with at least 10 landowners in 1997, who were required to co-ordinate the crops grown in the fields over the past three years to ensure the best quality playing field.
Sixty-five hectares of land are being used for the "fest" and the accompanying events, 1.4 hectares for the playing field alone. With a budget of SFr2.8 million, this year's event is more than twice as expensive as the last one three years ago (SFr1.2 million).
One of the favourites for the top prize is Zuchwil, who will be looking to win their fourth Hornusserfest in succession following victories in 1991, 1994 and 1997.
Other potential winners are Wäseli, Swiss champions in 1998, Oberönz-Niederönz, last year's champions, and the current leaders of this year's championship, Bern-Beudenfeld.
by Malcolm Shearmur