Lights, Camera, Swiss Cup
The Swiss Cup is quite a unique experience. Ten teams of one MAG and one WAG battle it out for a whopping total of 100.000 US dollars in prize money and appearance fees in a competition that seems to have found the perfect balance between actual competition and the showier side of the sport.
The competition uses light effects and music, but manages to entertain without props or cheesy show routines. It’s just gymnastics – and a lot of it is really good. Fabian Hambüchen and Elisabeth Seitz took home the Swiss Cup and 30.000 US dollars in prize money. Hambüchen watered down his high bar routine in prelims but wowed the crowd with a Kolman in the final to clinch the title. Seitz left out her Def on bars but was very solid and confident. Swiss duo Claudio Capelli and Giulia Steingruber , the defending champions, had to settle for silver this time. Steingruber arguably pulled out one of her best handspring rudi vaults ever in the second round but had to step off the mat in the final. The second German couple Kim Bui/Marcel Nguyen had looked like sure winners in the earlier rounds but had to settle for third when Nguyen fell on his full-twisting double back dismount on parallel bars.
Elsewhere, Belarus surprised with a fourth place and some very solid gymnastics. Andrey Likhovitskiy, formerly of Russia, impressed with strong showings on all of his events. Ukrainian Oleg Stepko (18) and Russian Igor Pakhomenko (20) demonstrated why both teams are expected to excite the gymnastics world in the next quad. Pakhomenko matched Hambüchen’s 6.9 D score on high bar.
The format allows for basically any team to win. The ten teams compete two events in the first two rounds, after which the teams in ninth and tenth place are eliminated. The other eight teams advance to the semi-final where all gymnasts perform another routine, the scores from the preliminary round carry over. The four top teams advance to the final where they perform once more – but everything starts at zero. The competition is judged by real – and very experienced – judges but keeping with the relaxed theme, there are only four WAG and four MAG judges.
13 of the twenty gymnasts in Zürich were also on the floor in London, with Olympic vault champion Hak Seon Yang headlining the field. The quality of the field is important to the organisers, Swiss Cup president Jürg Stahl says: “If we pay to have them flown in then we think we have the right to expect their best athletes.” The organisers approach both federations and athletes directly. “It used to be really strict that the federations were officially invited, and then they would select the athletes. But we have been a little more active. I was in London as a representative of Swiss Olympic and tried using these contacts there.” Stahl said that Brazil had been high on the list of desired competitors. “They promised to send their two best athletes. But then they cancelled three weeks ago. You need patience to not ask too many athletes, but also need to be able to replace ones [who cancel] from the pipeline at short notice.”
100.000 dollars is serious money in gymnastics and Stahl admits he is “very proud of our prize money. I see how hard these athletes work every day and how little they earn in comparison to football players.” The 100.000 dollars sees 30.000 awarded for first place, 15.000 for second, 10.000 for third and 7000 for fourth. The rest of the money is handed out in appearance fees. 50 percent of the budget comes from sponsorship money, 20 percent from contributions in kind and 30 percent is secured by ticket sales.
The gymnasts don’t scoff at the money but also enjoy the atmosphere. An audience of 6000 cheered them on this time and all competitors take a lap of honour together after the competition before signing autographs for fans in the foyer. “It’s a great arena, great audience. It was just fun,” Marcel Nguyen said. “Of course it’s cool to get some [money] but it doesn’t influence how I compete. I would probably have competed the same without the prize money.”