Nicole Bullo from the Swiss women’s national team made the start and became the sixth female ice hockey player to compete in five Olympic Winter Games. No player has participated in six Olympic women’s ice hockey tournaments yet. The 34-year-old defender joined a group of legends such as Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser (who has six Olympics including one participation in softball) or Finland’s Emma Terho (nee Laaksonen)
Then Andres Ambuhl followed with the men’s national team. The 38-year-old is now among an exclusive circle of male hockey players who have five Olympics under their belt. Only two Finnish legends participated more often: Raimo Helminen and Teemu Selanne took part in six Olympics.
Both started in Turin 2006 where Switzerland was for the first time qualified with the women’s national team and where the men celebrated historic victories against Canada and the Czech Republic.
IIHF.com met with Switzerland’s record holders at the Olympic Village.
How do you feel about setting a record for Swiss ice hockey with your fifth Olympic participation?
Ambuhl: It’s something one doesn’t really think about right now. Maybe later after the career you notice that it was special. But at the moment it’s the Olympics and I’m happy to be here. Whether it’s the first or second doesn’t matter.
Bullo: He said it right. Now we’re just enjoying the moment and the fact that we’re representing our own country at the Olympics. It’s awesome to be here and to be able to play at the best level.
You both had your first Olympics in Turin 2006. How was that event for you?
Bullo: I remember the opening ceremony. Everything was new and I was walking in such a packed stadium. It was an awesome feeling. It was the first Olympics of the Swiss women’s national team so it was awesome to be there. We enjoyed the moment to be at the Olympics.
Ambuhl: It’s a while ago. I remember the opening ceremony. It’s fantastic when you see that the first time, also the rinks, the big dining hall. It was very special and we were successful with the team. It was a cool experience especially at that young age and being there the first time.
Your paths have crossed especially at Olympics. When have you talked to each other?
Bullo: I don’t remember actually. (laughs)
Ambuhl: Probably the last Olympics.
Bullo: Yes, it could be the last Olympics. Our programs back in Switzerland are way different than theirs. In women’s hockey there are not many clubs from the men’s league.
Ambuhl: The paths basically don’t cross during the season. We don’t have a women’s team [in our club] so mostly we see the women’s hockey players at the Olympics.
Bullo: For me it was Nagano that I remember.
Ambuhl: For me it was Lillehammer 1994. I remember Canada and Sweden played the final and it went to a shootout. But the first I really followed was for me Nagano 1998 as well.
Bullo: Nagano had an impact for me and women’s hockey in general because we had the dream of one day being able to go to the Olympics because before Nagano there wasn’t an Olympic women’s tournament so we didn’t think about it but after Nagano we started dreaming about it.
What would you call the top moment of your career?
Ambuhl: Internationally for sure when we managed to win the silver medal [at the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship]. You always remember when you win something, also the Swiss championships. That’s what you look back at. You don’t remember the bad things.
Bullo: For me it was in 2004 when we qualified for the Olympics, here in China, and in 2014 when we won the bronze medal at the Olympics. These were my best moments.
How did you follow each other’s medal wins, Olympic bronze for the women’s team in Sochi 2014 and the two World Championship silver medals for the men in 2013 and 2018?
Bullo: I usually follow hockey and the men’s World Championships, also the juniors. I like to follow international hockey and in particular when they won the two silver medals.
Ambuhl: I’m very interested in hockey and during the Olympics we were at the arena and watched live how they won the bronze medals and when they play at the World Championships I check the scores and what happened.
You have in common that you spent almost your entire career for one club.
Ambuhl: It’s easy. I grew up at this place [Davos] and have a strong bond with the club and the region. That’s the main reason why I mostly played hometown and that’s where one usually feels most comfortable.
Bullo: It’s similar for me. I didn’t grow up in Lugano but in Biasca but I’m from the Ticino, I’m from the region. I played one season in the Swiss-German part but in the end I belong to Ticino and believe in the growth of women’s hockey in the region where I grew up.
Ambuhl: In the meantime we have got used to the situation but just our home-ice World Championship [in 2020] that didn’t happen. You feel you lost. We are lucky that we are a bit older and have experienced a lot but for the younger players it’s even more difficult who have missed two years. That’s the worst part.
Bullo: It has been tough but we had a lot of experience and success where we enjoyed the moment. Now it’s a little bit different but we do what is needed to do. I’m happy to be here and that the Olympics could take place in this special situation.
What do you do beside the ice when you’re not busy with hockey? It’s also a bit different since most play full-time hockey on the men’s side while there are limited opportunities to be a full-time pro in women’s hockey.
Bullo: I work full time from Monday to Friday and in my free time I play hockey. I work for a company that is organizing events although now it’s a bit tough. I don’t know where my future is going to be but for the moment I also focus on my business career. That’s also why I never went abroad because studying and opportunities for work were important.
Ambuhl: The process of thinking about the future has already started. I have certain ideas and in which direction I want to go. At home I have a family, I have a dog, it’s never boring but the older you get, the more you’re thinking what to do after the career as a player.
What’s your impression of the Olympics and Beijing?
Ambuhl: I’m happy. It lacks nothing here. We have great facilities and food. Just that it’s in a bubble, so unfortunately we don’t have the chance to experience much of the Chinese culture due to the circumstances but to sometimes read a book is also not bad and to watch other sports. In the end we are here to compete in our sports.
Bullo: They make a lot of effort to make us happy. You see how everyone is helping. If you need anything they are there to help you. It’s a positive impression I have from China. I was here 18 years ago [for the Olympic Qualification] so I remember how it was. In the end we are here to compete and play hockey. It’s a pity we are in a bubble but in the end we have to focus on the next game.
Last but not least, what are your goals here and what can your teams realistically achieve here at the Olympics?
Bullo: Our goal is to win the quarter-final. We are going to give everything to win the quarter-final and then dream for a medal.
Ambuhl: We have the similar goals. In the end it’s about winning, that’s what we play for and it’s the best if you win the last game.