Lucrative mixed tournament in gymnastics: the show about the money box

Do little gymnastics and earn a lot: The Zurich pairs tournament is not only a pleasure for the winners Hambuchen and Seitz. 100,000 euros are paid out.

The winning pair at the Swiss Cup takes home 30,000 dollars. Picture: dpa

Lights off, flourish, spotlight on, applause, start of the performance. The scenery in Zurich’s Hallenstadion this Sunday is somewhat reminiscent of a circus ring, as if the program had been borrowed from Circus Knie, which is based down by Lake Zurich. The performances surrounding the prestigious invitational tournament are extraordinary, as is the budget, and the mode of the pairs tournament is unique.

"It’s actually more of a show here," judges Marcel Nguyen, most recently decorated with two Olympic silver medals and here third in the pairs with Kim Bui after a fall from the parallel bars. Nguyen thinks positively, "super hall, good atmosphere, that was just fun". The Swiss Cup is always a lot of fun for everyone involved. There’s not much gymnastics here: gymnasts each choose a piece of apparatus and perform a routine, followed by a second round on a different piece of apparatus.

Then eight of the ten couples move on to the semifinals and after another routine the final of the best four couples takes place. That makes a maximum of four routines on three apparatuses of one’s choice. The light show ensures that every single routine gets the full attention of the 6,000 applauding spectators.

A dream for every gymnast, who usually competes on six apparatuses, has to complete up to four full rounds in a World Championships week and yet is rarely the sole focus of attention. It is "something very special," says Fabian Hambuchen, who won the Swiss Cup with Elisabeth Seitz for the second time after 2010.

Money is not a motive

This tournament is also special because 100,000 dollars in entry and prize money are distributed. Hambuchen denies that the money is a motive to compete here or to make an effort, which he undoubtedly must have done with his successful second high bar routine (raised to a 6.9-D score). They are "very happy" that there is such a highly endowed tournament, "but in the end we do gymnastics because we like it.

Money is not so important, according to the official attitude of the German participants. The Swiss organizers see things differently. The program booklet proudly refers to the budget for the event: one million Swiss francs. Jurg Stahl, head of the organizing committee, says that the costs of all delegations are completely covered and that he has already lured the best – such as the Korean Olympic vaulting champion Yang Hak Seon – during the Games in London.

"I’m so proud of our prize money!" He sees it as "recognition of the hard work", but stresses that the athletes "don’t just come for the prize money". One might think the Swiss Cup is one of the latest inventions to popularize gymnastics, given that mixed-sport events are en vogue right now.

"Uniqueness" of the Swiss Cup

Far from it, the first pairs tournament in Zurich took place thirty years ago and was described in the press at the time as the "advance of feminists on a broad front". From 1994 to 1999, the tournament was part of the World Cup series standardized by the international federation. But then the focus returned to what Stahl called the "uniqueness that makes the Swiss Cup special".

A good idea, because the current World Cup series is also rather a flop, the pairs tournament, on the other hand, has been posting growing revenues for years and is broadcast live by Swiss television. The winning couple takes home $30,000.

The distribution of the money is "a bit of a celebration" at the closing banquet, says Stahl, "where our head of finance comes with his suitcase like a Swiss accountant. The bottom line is that the Swiss Cup is really about nothing except the fun of gymnastics and the money. And why not? Everyone enjoyed it in Zurich.