Ice hockey icon Florence Schelling: “There’s no such thing as women’s hockey. It’s just hockey”
The stadium, the atmosphere, the athletes – for Florence Schelling it is clear: “The Lausanne 2020 ice hockey tournament is worth watching.” The four-time Olympian speaks about her passion, the Olympic dream – and what Lausanne has in common with the NHL.
In reality, the ice hockey goalie has a destructive role. When in 2014 the then national goalkeeper Florence Schelling played an aggressive defence leading Switzerland to an Olympic bronze medal, her role as goalie was a highly destructive one given the number of chances the opposition had that she kept out. The 30-year-old, who hails from Zurich, exudes an almost unmatched positivity.
We meet her at Lausanne’s Vaudoise Arena, beaming as usual. “The arena is fantastic. It’s got everything you could wish for,” says Schelling, excitedly. “The players are going to love the fact there are seats right to the edge of the ice, like in the NHL.”
For spectators, too, the Winter Youth Olympic Games ice hockey tournament definitely has it all, in Schelling’s view. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the men or the women out on the ice,” the trainer of the Swiss U18 national team says. “The atmosphere will be amazing, and the athletes will be amazing.”
Only marginal differences
Schelling has never sought to highlight differences between men and women on the ice. “We talk about hockey when it’s men, and women’s hockey when it's women,” she says. Ultimately, though, it comes down to one thing: the sport itself.
If there are differences, they are marginal, and often in the context of physical contact. “While for men body checking is a crucial tool, for women skating and making tactically astute moves play a more significant role,” Schelling says, always a passionate promoter of her sport. The women’s game could possibly be the more technical, Schelling believes. “For hockey fans, it’s all just a game of hockey,” she says.
The spotlight on the Olympic Games
The main difference between the men’s and women’s games is apparently in their popularity. This could change, at least if you believe, like Schelling, in the positive effect on sports that the Olympic Games can have. “The impact and scope of the Olympic Games are huge, especially today with social media,” she says, as matches are broadcast on TV and many players are interviewed.
This could be the key to future success: “Women's hockey just needs to be more present,” she says, well aware of her role-model status not only during Lausanne 2020 but also in her everyday life. “The more of us who are out there, visible, the more popular the sport will become,” she says.
“Experience is everything”
So what does taking part in the Olympic Games mean to an athlete? “Everything,” according to Schelling.
Having competed at the Torino, Vancouver, Sochi and PyeongChang Games, between 2006 and 2018, Schelling is clear on her career’s highlight.
“Of course, winning a bronze at Sochi in 2014 was the absolute pinnacle,” she says of the tournament where she was also named the most-valuable player.
Particularly for less well-established sports, the Olympic Games can provide a rare opportunity for athletes to operate in an elite-sports environment. “Alongside hockey I’ve always either studied or worked,” Schelling says. “The Olympics were the opportunity for me to live like a pro for a month, surrounded by the greatest athletes in the world.”
That is what is special about the Olympic Games, and the young athletes at Lausanne 2020 would do well to enjoy this aspect. Schelling has her fingers crossed for all of them, perhaps a little more keenly for the Swiss women’s hockey team.
Tickets still available
Marvel at the next generation of goalkeepers – and players in other positions – from Friday. The 6-team tournament starts with a day for the women’s teams when Sweden play Slovakia (17:00) and the Czech Republic take on Switzerland (20:00).