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Federal wrestling championships Keeping a Swiss tradition alive in America

How do young people with Swiss heritage stay connected to their roots when they live abroad? One way is through learning a traditional sport like Swiss wrestling, and even travelling to Switzerland to take part in the championships.

Eight participants from the United States and Canada are among 276 wrestlers competing at the federal "Schwingen" championships, a traditional festival dating back to the end of the 19th century that's held once every three years. It's a major date in the Swiss sporting calendar with a high level of media coverage. Up to 300,000 visitors are expected at this year’s event in Zug, central Switzerland. which started on Friday and runs until Sunday.

Wrestling tradition

Swiss wrestling has been around since the 13th Century. It was originally practised by farmers in Alpine areas. After practically disappearing, it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 19th century and became a Swiss national sport.  

The competitors wear special shorts and the battle takes place in a circular sawdust ring. The objective is to lift your opponent off their feet and pin them on their back on the ground, while keeping a firm grip on the shorts.

There are around 100 different moves, five of which are particularly popular. Each fight lasts about five minutes and is evaluated by a field judge in the sawdust and two referees at the table. Before the duel, the "schwingers" shake hands and at the end, the winner wipes the sawdust off the loser's shoulders. The two wrestlers with the highest score after seven rounds go to the final.

The winner is called a king and receives a bull as the main prize. The best 15% of the wrestlers receive a wreath and a special title: "Eidgenoss" or "Confederate".

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