Ray shines bright on the Olympic stage
Sandrine Ray was only eight when she dreamed that she would one day play ice hockey for Switzerland at the Olympic Games. It was a dream that magically came true at Turin 2006, as she recalls in this latest episode in our Words of Olympians video series.
Born and brought up in the Swiss town of Yverdon-les-Bains, Sandrine Ray has loved ice hockey for as long as she can remember. She first picked up a stick at the age of four and was only eight when she dreamed that she would one day play for her country at the Olympics and walk out before a packed stadium at the opening ceremony.
Recalling that childhood premonition, she said: “It was such a vivid dream that when I woke up, I said to everyone: “I want to go to the Olympics”, even though it was completely impossible, because women's hockey didn't exist as an Olympic sport at that time. But I believed it with all my heart.”
Throughout her career Ray pursued her passion as an amateur player, devoting the rest of her time to her studies and work. Making her name with Lugano, she broke into the Switzerland team as a teenager and saw her dream become even more of a possibility when the IOC included her sport on the Olympic programme in 1998.
She came within touching distance of making it a reality in 2001 when, at the age of 17, she formed part of the Switzerland side that took on Japan in the final qualifying match for Salt Lake City 2002. Playing in front of their home crowd in Engelberg, the Swiss needed to win to go through, but were held to a frustrating 2-2 draw. “We missed out on qualification by a single goal,” lamented Ray. “Everything went wrong for us that day. We didn’t lose the match. We even managed to equalised, but it was all too much to take. I felt so low when I left the rink.
“Four years later we had a second chance to qualify for the Olympic Games, in Turin,” she went on to explain. “We were up against China that time and we scored the winning goal just four seconds from the end of the match. That was it. We were through. Well, for me, in my career, it was the cherry on the cake. I started playing hockey when I was four. I was 23 by the time I went to the Games, so it had taken me practically 20 years to get there, with lots of highs and lows on the way. Making it to the Games was awesome. And, it was just after my 100th international match.”
The dream she had had as an eight-year-old finally came true on 10 February 2006, when she stepped out with the Swiss team at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin for the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Games. Reliving the moment, she said: “What most struck me was everything that there is around the Games, all the sports that have come together. That's something unique, because I'd already been to five world championships. But the experience of the Games… the solidarity that emerges, is really unique as all the sports come together. You see scenes at the Games that you never see anywhere else.”
Switzerland acquitted themselves well on their Olympic debut, finishing second in Group A with two wins, two draws and one loss to advance to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten 6-2 by Sweden en route to finishing seventh overall. In doing so, Ray and her pioneering team-mates blazed a trail for Swiss women’s ice hockey, one their successors have followed, qualifying for Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, where they collected a much-deserved bronze medal.