Democratic Switzerland is celebrating a king every three years, one who is known by everyone, – in “Schwingersport”, also known as “Swiss wrestling”. It is less well known that in this country even a queen is chosen annually. The current one already for the third time.
The sympathetic Sonia Kälin has successfully won this title already for the third time. She is a down-to-earth farmer’s daughter, from the district Egg near Einsiedeln playing Schwyzerörgeli (type of diatonic accordian) and at the same time sportily well-conditioned, a modern young woman, who competes in Zwilchhosen (“wrestling breeches”) in the saw dust ring, at times provocatively with varnished nails and make-up.
‘Schwingen’ is a king class in Swiss sport and popular magnet. For this national sport with its earthy customs is both competition and popular festival. This was once again reflected in the Swiss “Schwing- und Älplerfest”, held in Estavayer-le-Lac only every three years, the “Olympiade der Schwinger” (Olympics of the wrestlers). The arena with a capacity of over 50,000 spectators was the largest temporary stadium in Switzerland (St. Jakob-Park Basel: almost 40,000). Whereas women’s wrestling still takes place in the slipstream and separated. Sonia Kälin now wants to fight for this to change.
When the first women’s wrestling festival took place in Aeschi near Spiez in 1980, there was a proper trouble. Dora Hari, the organiser, was snowed under with threats, and the ‘Schwingers’ (wrestlers) in the village were not allowed to lay hands on the preparations, since otherwise they would have been suspended by the association. Many men, but also women themselves, thought the “Wyberschwingen” (women’s wrestling) was misplaced.
Perhaps they thought of women’s wrestling matches bathing in dingy mud in the red light establishments in the amusement parks of European port cities. They would have been able to think of the traditional cow fights of the herens Cattle (Eringer breed) in the Swiss Canton of Valais, where the “Reine à la corne et au lait”, that is, the “queen of beauty, power and dairy power” (‘queen of queens’), is chosen in bloodless fights. The horned crowned queen then remains the leading animal on the alp the whole summer.
At this animal tourism spectacle quite demanding and honourable criteria determine the competition, compared to the wrestler women in the harbour districts, or even in comparison to the banal beauty contests of today’s style: These angels are supposed to be beautiful, too, but not at all sturdy, and apropos milk, among these the shell counts only. Therefore the natural ranking fights of the Herens Cattle have more similarity with the hard, but fair duels of the women’s wrestling (Frauenschwingen).
Despite the refusal and condemnation, the first women’s wrestling festival in Aeschi in 1980 with 15,000 spectators was a full success. As early as 1992, the Swiss women’s wrestling association (Eidgenössischer Frauenschwingerverband) was established, which has already more than 130 active female wrestlers. With the acceptance also the public interest and the support increased. Whoever has already been part of a women’s wrestling festival: Here, exactly as with the men, everything is given and nothing is donated. Moreover, this sport has style: first you shake hands, then you fight, and finally the victor cleans the sawdust off the loser’s back, symbolising that wrestling is a trial of strength and not a fight.
Nothing of bad boys or girls: in the wrestling sport the evil ironically are the good ones; for only those are considered evil who have won a wreath at a Swiss wrestling festival. While in the case of the men the king is only chosen at the end of the three-year’s cycle at the Swiss, the women know a different evaluation procedure. Here, there is an all-time ranking throughout the year, so that the queen (if not to catch up) is known before the end of the season.
This was the case with Sonia Kälin, who was on her way to her third queen’s title passing four out of six women and girl wrestlers and not being caught up. Thus, Federal Council Ueli Maurer could congratulate her “on behalf of the whole nation” for her third title as queen of wrestling at the concluding Swiss women and girls wrestling festival in Siebnen. She has also won wreaths no less than 37 in her previous career, the first as an eighteen-year-old. This makes the 32-year-old athlete the idol of the upcoming generation of Schwinger.
Since 1989, 13 queens have been elected, one of them five times, one four times, two three times, four twice and five once. The total of 28 titles are from the following cantons: Berne 8, Lucerne 7, St. Gallen 4, Schwyz 4, Uri 3 and Valais 2. Whereas, for example a Miss Switzerland will become an ex after an annual run, the Swiss queen title remains a lifetime. The funny thing about the association of the Schwinger: the president is a man from a Schwingerfamily, Benjamin Beyeler from Mägenwil, who, as he laughingly says, “came as the Virgin to the child”.
Dora Hari, the founder of women’s wrestling, at a time when there were no queens, today says, that “it would be better to choose a queen only every three years, like the men do, so that the title does not become inflationary, namely at the end of the Swiss Schwing- and Älplerfest (Swiss Confederation wrestling) so that the tension is maintained”. Of course this would be detrimental to those who want to get ahead of former title collectors. It is therefore interesting to see how the discussion will continue.
While the king of wrestlers (Schwingerkönig) receives a Muni as prize (which he can exchange for money), Sonia Kälin as a queen was given a cow of the breed Herens Cattle named Nina – symbolic sends the regards! – now standing in her brother’s barn. The Swiss model wrestler is currently the only one supported by sponsors. This is not enough for the livelihood, which is why she still has to manage a 100 per cent pensum as a secondary teacher in Einsiedeln – besides hard training and competition.
As incumbant wrestling queen (Schwingerkönigin) she performs her function as ambassador with passion: “We women love wrestling sport just like the men and exercise it equally passionately. Therefore we should be able to participate in the same wrestling festivals as the men. This would require a rethinking of the structure of associations, but it would be an advantage for both sides and an additional incentive for the audience.” She places her hope on the new Schwinger king , Matthias Glarner, whom she regards as progressively minded. “Finally, his sister also plays football” she adds mischievously.
Despite the three-times queen’s title, Sonia Kälin is not tired at all. At the time of publishing this article (the federal Schwingfest lies ahead) she is still in a promising position. What does she wish? “That it is taken for granted that we women take part in this sport. I would like to see the number of female Schwingers doubled; but this also requires an opening up of the clubs.” When asked about her marital status, the Queen being not at a loss for answers: “This is not always easy with us; men do not necessarily like strong women. “That is why my prise for the third title, the Herens Cattle, Nina, is well ahead of me; it is already pregnant,” she adds laughingly. •
HH. For the “trying to throw the opponent onto his back“, the natively Swiss wrestling sport has its own vocabulary: the most commonly used swing is the “churz”; it refers to a body swerve. Often the “Stich”, a turning away of the opponent over his own foot, can be seen too. If one is physically inferior to the other, the “Brienzer forward” has its offcoming. The “Wyberhaagge” (also used by women and girls) is a hook-and-loop movement from the stand. In the “Plattwurf” both shoulders simultaneously touch the ground, without having to press. This gives the maximum score of 10. And a “supporter” is a draw over time.
HH. “Schwingen“ is not at least a sympathatic sport, because the competitors are no living advertising pillars full of advertising. In the case of “Schwing“ festivals with a federal character and in the case of “Kranzschwingfesten“ (wreath“schwing“ festivals), advertising in the arena and on the competition floor is simply forbidden. The only difference between the two genders is the “Sennenschwinger“ (dark trousers and often an “Edelweiss” shirt) and the “Turnerschwinger“ (white trousers and a white T-shirt).
The bib number is not worn on the back; it is only in the festival guide. In order for the audience to know who is going to play together, “Täfeli buebe“ or -”meitli“ (from the swinging juniors) show the numbers. There are three referees for each sawdust ring, one competition referee and two board referees. The grading is a majority decision.
The overcoated “Zwilchhose“ (jute trousers) with a leather belt inserted, where you can grab the opponent when accessing, is extremely robust and holds forces up to a ton. It is mainly produced in Emmental. The sawdust ring (diameter 14 m at the federal level, otherwise 12 m) consists of sieved, dust-free sawdust (fir or spruce), is rolled and at least 15 cm high. However, the upper layer remains loose to reduce the risk of injury.
The competition is divided into swinging on (gears 1 and 2), swinging out (gears 3 and 4) as well as the “Ausstich“ (gears 5 and 6). On the Swiss side – and only among the men – there is also the “Kranz“ (wreath) “ausstich“ (gears 7 and 8). The grading scale ranges in quarter points from 8.50 to 10.00. Lowest grades are only given for passive or unfair behavior. King and Queen don’t wear a crown, but a wreath of oak leaves.
1989 Helene Schürpf, Schwyz SZ
1990 Eva Holenstein, Nesslau SG
1991 Pia Arnold, Unterschächen UR (3 x)
1992 Pia Arnold, Unterschächen UR
1993 Ruth Wüthrich, Trubschachen BE
1994 Melissa Varone, Savièse VS (2 x)
1995 Pia Hofer, Buttisholz LU
1996 Melissa Varone, Savièse VS
1997 Pia Arnold, Unterschächen, UR
1998 Franziska Lacher, Kaltbrunn SG (2 x)
1999 Erika Hautle, Gommiswald SG
2000 Eveline Fankhauser, Eggiwil BE (2 x)
2001 Eveline Fankhauser, Eggiwil BE
2002 Jeanette Arnold, Hochdorf LU (4 x)
2003 Jeanette Arnold, Hochdorf LU
2004 Jeanette Arnold, Hochdorf LU
2005 Jeanette Arnold, Hochdorf LU
2006 Brigitte Kunz, Trubschachen BE (5 x)
2007 Brigitte Kunz, Trubschachen BE
2008 Brigitte Kunz, Trubschachen BE
2009 Franziska Lacher, Kaltbrunn SG
2010 Brigitte Kunz, Trubschachen BE
2011 Brigitte Kunz, Trubschachen BE
2012 Sonia Kälin, Egg/Einsiedeln SZ (3 x)
2013 M. Vetter-Fankhauser, Escholzmatt LU (2 x)
2014 Margrit Vetter-Fankhauser, Escholzmatt LU
2015 Sonia Kälin, Egg/Einsiedeln SZ
2016 Sonia Kälin, Egg/Einsiedeln SZ
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