This priceless article from the Washington Post, filed at the time of the Beijing Olympics, takes the biscuit – or maybe, as it concerns Iceland, the rúgbrauð. It charts the country’s progress towards the men’s handball final at the 2008 Summer Games, but somehow the actual physical act of sport itself hardly comes in for consideration.
Instead we have the following:
1) The country’s President and First Lady as they were then (and still are now) suggesting between them that every Icelandic person who is not dead was transfixed by the team’s endeavours. We just can’t stop wondering why they needed to cover their bases and make this distinction. It got us thinking that long-gone heroes from the sagas and modern heroes in the struggle for independence were possibly watching as well. Surely even they wouldn’t have been ambivalent about the possibility of gold in the handball if they had a relaying channel, televisual or spiritual, in the afterlife?
2) The President doing his best to see the handball as inspiration for Iceland’s artistic and scientific communities – and actually sounding quite credible in the process. We’re used to individuals from sport trying their hand in business motivation or in business full stop, and it’s pretty obvious that links between sporting and commercial prowess have been mediated in rather exhaustive fashion in modern times. But to say that artists and scientists could take heart from what had happened? How often would other heads of state even bother to think about this in the standard ‘the boys done good’ victory spiel?
3) A team captain who discusses handball within the context of, in his own words, fifteen or sixteen other subjective realities. This is the point at which life transcends art rather than imitates it and where Monty Python’s Philosophers’ Football Match is gloriously upstaged forever. Our own discussions here at Worldly Scandifriend about the pre-eminence of Nordic men and women of all talents seem to enter a whole new dimension – especially at a time when competitors in a better-known ball sport are forced to discuss the reality of what they did and didn’t say and mean in rather different circumstances.
4) Reflections by the team on ethnic heritage that seem bonkers, self-aware, erudite and totally uplifting all at the same time. If a player tells you that the success of the team is due to the fact that they are Vikings, and therefore by definition crazy (and he’s not the one with Germanic runes tattooed down his back), how does one suggest this is anything other than an unimpeachable truth? (We guess that 2008 gold medal winners France, who beat Iceland in the final, have an answer – but we leave them to elaborate.)
Suddenly Iceland’s men’s handball campaign at London 2012 assumes a new significance – especially with the Scandi derby with Sweden tonight and a rematch with France on Saturday. Who will come out of the blocks quoting Voltaire, Strindberg or Jónas Hallgrímsson first? Should adjudicated artistic merit and cerebral discourse not be melded with the prosaic act of scoring goals in order to determine a winner?
We think that this news agency feed suggesting that Iceland are trying to defend their second place from Beijing is ever so slightly condescending. Surely any team or individual that has previously won silver (or indeed any team or individual full stop) wants to win the whole event in which they are competing?
But wait, there’s more. Surely it would be Providence if the very same captain who waxed existential in 2008, Ólafur Stefánsson, were to cap a twenty-year international career with more than three hundred goals and a fair few subjective realities by going one better and, as he might say, going off to cultivate the most verdant retirement garden of them all blah blah blah? If he doesn’t fancy cultivating the slopes of Corcovado and merging the Literary Olympiad with the athletic and sporting one in Rio 2016 of course.
The Icelandic team, from a country with a population smaller than the Croydon borough within the host city at this Olympics, are already superheroes (but not Nietzschian supermen) in their own right. What have they got in store for us this time?