Switzerland is home to some of the world’s best athletes. From the now-retired tennis champion Roger Federer to the rising star of skiing Marco Odermatt. Switzerland’s favorite sports are soccer, alpine skiing, and ice hockey. Nevertheless, a myriad of peculiar Swiss sports exists, from the more atypical to the nostalgic; Switzerland has a tradition in some very unique sports.
Schwingen — the Swiss form of wrestling — is very popular in Switzerland and is considered the national sport. In recent times, it has experienced an upsurge, drawing large crowds at the so-called Schwingen festivals. The sport involves duels between powerful competitors following specific rules, grips, and throws. Matches are organized by judges and bouts last for five minutes. The winner is determined when a wrestler’s back touches the ground within the sawdust circle. Despite its popularity, Schwingen remains an amateur sport, with winners receiving accolades and prizes like bulls, cowbells, and rustic items. Its origins date back to the 13th century, and it gained significant momentum in the 19th century with the aim of strengthening the Swiss national identity. The sport is organized nationwide by associations, including the Swiss Schwingen Association, with over 5,000 active wrestlers, predominantly in rural, German-speaking areas.
Associated closely with Schwingen is the sport of stone-throwing called Unspunnen, which employs the Unspunnen stone, an 83.5-kg (184-lb.) glacial boulder. Athletes take a running jump and attempt to throw this heavy rock as far as possible. In August 2004, Markus Maire set a new record by throwing the stone at a remarkable distance of 4.11 meters (13.5 feet). The Unspunnen stone, named after the village of Unspunnen in the Interlaken region, is of such an immense weight that it’s a challenge for most individuals even to lift it. This tradition traces back to the first major Alpine herdsmen’s festival in 1805, held in Unspunnen after the departure of the French.
Another traditional sport that has been popular among devotees since the 19th century, especially in the Mittelland region, is Hornussen, although it remains a mystery to many Swiss people. This peculiar national sport involves two teams aiming to strike a small object called the Hornuss into the opponent’s field using sticks. The opposing team, armed with a shovel-like tool called the Schindel, must stop the Hornuss, which travels at speeds of up to 150 km/hour (approximately 90 miles/hour), before it hits the ground. The Hornuss weighs just 78 grams (2.7 oz) and is a central element of the game. Fielders attempt to intercept the Hornuss with well-aimed throws as it flies through the air. Enthusiasts and beginners alike can experience this intriguing sport in Hergiswil bei Willisau, close to the city of Lucerne, where novices are warmly welcomed.