The Swiss women's ice hockey team have qualified for the Winter Olympics for the first time in their history.This content was published on February 3, 2006 - 17:07
The team is aiming to finish among the top six after scraping through a nail-biting qualifier against China.
Four years ago the Swiss failed to qualify for the Salt Lake City Olympics by just one goal.
But this time they were luckier. A single goal against the Chinese team in a pre-Olympic tournament made all the difference.
"Ten seconds before the end of the match the score was still 2-2," recalls Yasmine Monteiro, a student who plays for Swiss champions Lugano.
The 18-year-old was watching the action from the stands sitting in a wheelchair, having suffered a serious injury during a previous match against Norway.
"The last seconds of the game ticked by when there was a stoppage of play and a face-off in front of the Chinese goal," she explained.
"The Chinese were sure to have qualified with the draw but then we scored the winning goal within the ten seconds of overtime," she said.
Dream come true
Monteiro has recovered from her injury, but she might not be ready to play for Switzerland in Turin.
"There will be other opportunities for me," she said.
Her club teammate, Sandrine Ray, was not in the Swiss line-up either for the decisive match against China, also owing to injury.
But the 23-year-old has played 100 times for Switzerland and will be on the ice in Turin.
"I'm really proud of our feat. It's a dream come true and a reward for all the sacrifices I've made for the sport," she said.
Ray took a six-month leave from work to prepare for the Games.
During her career as an amateur she often attended training camps with the national squad during her holidays, and as a junior she had to play on boys' teams.
But travelling with the squad and being part of it all, feeling the buzz of top-level sport, makes up for the grind.
"I think there's something magic about the Olympics for an athlete. Even more so for us as amateurs," Ray said.
Coach René Kammerer is convinced that his side can keep up with the best at the tournament.
"We're aiming for a place among the top six in Turin. We will give our utmost in Italy and want to do Switzerland proud," he said.
Kammerer is realistic enough to know that a place among the top two of their group is out of reach against teams such as the United States and Finland.
But he hopes the Swiss will beat their rivals Germany to secure sixth place in the overall standings – a remarkable sporting achievement in its own right.
swissinfo, Mathias Froidevaux
Eight teams have qualified for the Olympic tournament in Turin: Canada, US, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
Women's ice hockey was only made an Olympic discipline in 1998.
The US clinched the title in Nagano in 1998 and Canada won the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
In Switzerland, there are about 700 women competing in three leagues.
At the junior level, girls play on teams with boys of the same age.
Women's ice hockey is only played at the professional level in the US and Canada and partly also in Germany.
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