Tag: Story

Saturday night’s alright for fighting

 

On Saturday, 1st April, there was an event which gave you a few more stories than most Saturday nights. It was the 22nd, and my 2nd, instalment of Dynamite fights, a series of boxing matches organised at the TNT Boxing Academy in Guelph, Ontario. Read a rather breathless summary of the last one here. If it was anything like that last one, this means the potential for thrills and technical kills, displays of superior skill and brutal power. This one carried an extra special edge to it however, as TNT got international. Thanks to Boxing Canada, one of the fights featured a boxer specially flown in from England. Jade Ashmore arrived Thursday to face Canadian Olympian Mandy Bujold. Given that Bujold is a ten-time national champion and a two-time Pan-American champion, while Ashmore has recently been elevated to the GB Podium Potential squad, expectations and excitement were running high. A sprinkle of glamour to complement the scent of canvas and sweat.

GM TNT pic.png
Full house at TNT. Picture from twitter.com/MercerRecord

The promise of a trans-Atlantic war wasn’t the only thing that had got the locals excited. Got them skipping dinner to head down to the ring at 5:00pm to grab the last of the seats. Got them snapping up every ticket left, right and centre. Some 200, maybe 250 in attendance. They were drawn by the prospect of epics, of grudge matches, of super heavyweights, young unknowns and old favourites. It’s a heady cocktail, and the place was buzzing. Standing room only, onlookers jostling on benches at the back, craning necks round corners to catch a glimpse of the action. Hungry for a taste of it, feeding off the glamour, the aggro, the coiled energy from the boxers stalking though their warm-up routines. There are many different routes to a properly entertaining fight, and we were blessed with a full range of match-ups.

 

First there are the unknowns. Three fights featured two out of town fighters, so their prospects were harder to judge prematurely. We scrutinised the fighters beforehand, trying to judge who was faster, cleaner, meaner, by their warm-up and the set of their jaws, like watching thoroughbreds out in the circle before the Derby. The bell rings and we lean forward eagerly, keen to have our hunches upheld or quashed. In the first we’re proven right, Dustin Howick of Caged Dragon, living up to the gym’s name, came out like a hurricane, flying into Hansel Espino, Gideons, from the off, cashing the cheques his uber focused warm-up wrote. This brutal assault won applause from the crowd, but a puzzling lack of response from Espino in blue. His corner exhorts him to get over his trigger shyness, but he never does, and Howick takes the unanimous decision.

The other two fights involving non-TNT boxers follow similar patterns to each other. Jean Benoit, Celtic Hammer, and Daniel Payne, Battle Arts, both had a reach and a class advantage over their opponents: Erik Hodgons, Paschtime boxing, and Adrian Calestani-Winacott, Celtic Hammer respectively. Payne looks good, fast and with some crunching blows that lead to three standing eight counts in the 2nd round, the last of which ends the fight. Benoit also looks tidy, ripping out rapid strikes that repeatedly have the crowd groaning. Hodgons, in his first fight, does well to last it, having some success when he gets in close, but ultimately is unable to pin down his opponent. He takes an eight count, and a call from his corner to “walk in with something, not just your head”, while Benoit takes the unanimous decision.

A good match has ebb and flow, attack morphing to defence, big leads cut down by resolute resistance. The first fight of the night followed the latter path, getting the crowd going, suggesting the pre-night promise would be met. Kyle Allen, TNT, gave us a scare against Mathankan Ivanjan, Gideons. For the first two rounds crashing over-hand rights weren’t quite enough against the slicker Ivanjan’s rapid combos. Still Allen came on, his connections drawing roars from the crowd, Ivanjan’s corner bawling at their man: “Don’t stand in front of him!” (“Stand in front of him!” is the reply from a wag in the crowd). For my money Ivanjan is up heading into the final round, but Allen digs deep in the third with a heroic effort, chasing him around the ring, giving everything. Was it enough? We wait on tenterhooks. Yes, by split decision. Thrilling.

DC Bynol pic.png
Bynol takes the win against Bongelli; picture from twitter.com/Deborah_Currie

Unfortunately, two TNT fighters can’t quite pull off such comebacks. Craig Bongelli probably needed one more round to complete a turnaround, but as it was his giant (225lb/102kg) opponent, Randy Bynol, Battle Arts, took their super heavyweight contest after some heavy blows in the 2nd led to a standing eight count, and ultimately the win. There was a case for Greg Holley, TNT, having done enough at the last against the tall, cocky O’Neil King, Dewith’s. In a classic clash of styles King evidently did just enough off the back foot to take a split decision. Desperately unlucky for Holley, but definitely an improvement over his last fight.

Contrast the raucous crowd for these duels with the pin-drop silence for our international events. Sheer anticipation gagged the crowd for two fights featuring TNT’s past and prospective Olympians. In the latter category, Sara Haghighat-Joo is a big draw, the gym’s golden girl, having won a recent international event in Sweden, and generally considered a medal chance that the next Olympics. She faced Ali Rosen, representing Caged Dragon, who flew up from Miami. Rosen is taller and heavier than Haghighat-Joo, and perhaps this worries the crowd, who are deathly quiet. They needn’t have been, Haghighat-Joo is clearly faster, and stays on top throughout a cagey encounter to take the unanimous decision. Her career marches resolutely on. Mandy Bujold, Team Canada, also looks faster than Jade Ashmore, Team England, in the eye-catching trans-Atlantic bust-up. At one point Bujold darts in an in a flash delivers a three punch combo the English woman can’t even get her gloves up to. The crowd, whispering at the start, get louder as the result becomes more clear: Bujold on all cards.

DC Bujold pic
Bujold takes on Ashmore; picture from twitter.com/Deborah_Currie

This was not lacking from the remaining two fights. What adds a bit of spice to any encounter is a touch of history, and that came in the fight between home favourite Carolyn Redmond and Max Turcotte-Novosedlik, Celtic Hammer. They had previously met in the provincial finals, with Redmond beaten to gold by Turcotte-Novosedlik. A bit of a grudge match then. Huge roar from the crowd for this one. Its a hell of a fight too; two very good, very well-matched, very committed boxers putting it all on the line. Perhaps it’s the desire for vengeance, perhaps it’s the roar of a home crowd; Redmond takes the fight to her opponent, demanding that gold back. She never lets up. Turcotte-Novosedlik was the champion. Past tense. Redmond takes the unanimous victory, crowd going wild, 10/10 on the volume.

Somehow though, it went up again for the final fight. Before the night, and aside from the international element, this was main thing people had been talking about. Brock Stumpf, TNT, and reigning Canadian heavyweight champion, against Daniel Akota, Dewith’s. We had been promised entertainment the value of the entire admission alone from this one by half a dozen people. Appetites whetted by the previous nine courses, we still hungered for a 10th. They didn’t disappoint; I’m not sure its in them to fight cute. Even all the little extras were there to make it particularly enthralling; chest bumps after the bell, sparks of outrage when it is his punches, but not yours, that are slightly out of order, corners adding their words of the maelstrom of action. Alongside this side-show the fighters are doing their best to drop bombs on each other, that one huge punch to fell a man and make the crowd howl. Stumpf gets his gum shield punched out, but to the tune of 200+ people chanting “Brock, Brock, Brock” he launches himself forward in a flurry of punches. We double up with nerves when we hear it’s a split decision, but Stumpf takes it. The crowd roar with delight for a final time. We grin at each other, and eventually start clearing out. A fitting end to a dynamite night.

MB team TNT pic.png
Competition coach Stevie Bailey, and boxers Carolyn Redmond, Sara Haghighat-Joo, Mandy Bujold and Brock Stumpf after their wins. Picture from twitter.com/MandyBujold

Coyote and Squirrel Camp

 

Time was, before social media, global warming or Donald Trump, that there were a lot more dangerous animals around squirrel camp.  10-foot beavers would chomp off campers’s heads, giant mosquitos would drink their blood with a single slurp, great ostrich-sized predatory grouse would ambush campers with a loud thud and peck out their large intestines, and terrifying whuzmucks would prowl the highways at night, waylaying trucks and dragging the drivers into the ditch. Bears were the least of ones’ worries. This was altogether too much for the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short), as students were expensive and their parents were beginning to ask questions, so they decided to do something. They resolved to send up one of their students to deal with these problem animals. This student was known as Coyote.

8d26a82bab33bb5d0f823b675b40ee6f

Coyote was smart as a fox, swift as a hare, as playful as a bear cub and as loving of practical jokes as a frat boy. Coyote loved the forest and all its wonders, and they loved Coyote back, even if the animals were sometimes the victim of one of Coyote’s practical jokes. Coyote once stuck some fallen gray jay feathers into the rump of a chickadee, giving the small bird a hilariously long tail. Oh how Coyote laughed as the chickajay tried to fly, and how Coyote roared when it becme stuck amongst the twigs of its nest. Puzzlingly the female birds seemed to like the stupidly long tail, but Coyote decided enough was enough and removed the handicap from the poor bird. Coyote even created a study grid all to itself, choosing the best location with the finest view of the whole valley. From here Coyote would frolic and plan the next set of practical jokes. Around the grid Coyote scampered playing tricks on the squirrels by swapping babies between nests and crying with silent laughter as mother squirrels raised young from another mother squirrel entirely!

Eventually however, the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short) rang Coyote to remind it its duties, and so Coyote set to work. Alongside its other qualities Coyote possessed magic in a small amount. The typically proved useful when playing jokes on the animals or convincing people to fund more research. This time however Coyote used its magic to make the forest safer. Coyote first cast a great spell to make the fearsome whuzmucks disappear. It worked, but a little too well, wiping out every whuzmuck around the world and even removing all mentions of them from textbooks or scientific articles. Hence to this day, you can find no whuzmucks anywhere, nor read about them any place. This great spell drained Coyote’s magic, meaning spells to get rid of the other animals were less potent. Rather than wait to be magicked away, beaver, mosquito and grouse tried to trap Coyote and stop the spells. Because of this, Coyote had to be very wary when moving around the forest, avoiding anything that looked or smelt like a trap, a trait Coyote’s descendants still possess to this day. While sniffing out and avoiding traps, Coyote cast spells to shrink each of beaver, mosquito and grouse. This made them far less dangerous to anyone in the woods. Mosquito was still incredibly annoying however, so Coyote shrank it further, and made mosquito susceptible to the cold, ensuring it would only be in the forest for the few short summer months. This second spell diminished Coyote’s magic even further, leaving enough for only one final piece of magic. For this final spell Coyote made beaver and grouse vegetarian, so that they would not take even teeny-tiny bites out of the campers. And so the forest was made safe.

852456-bigthumbnail
artist’s impression

With all of Coyote’s magic gone, it decided to stay up in the woods it loved so much, and start a family. Coyote’s descendants live there still, and on cold clear mornings you can hear them talking and yammering in high tones as they try and remember the words to re-cast some of Coyote’s original spells. Beaver, mosquito and grouse are now amiable members of the forest, although Mosquito still nips a bit of blood now and again from campers, for old times sake. And whenever grouse has been reminiscing most strongly, it sneaks into the long grass, wait for a camper to walk past, and then springs an ambush, flying between their legs with a great thud and terrifying the poor soul, leaving the grouse to chuckle and smile and remember when they were great predatory beasts long ago, before social media, climate change, Donald Trump, and the one called Coyote.

How Squirrel Camp got its bear fence

Squirrel camp, like many wilderness camps, has an electrical fence surrounding it. Normally they are called bear fences, but they can in fact keep many kinds of animals out. There was a time in fact, where there was no fence at all. The bears knew all the food in camp was safely locked away in coolers or tupawares or tins or other containers that require opposable thumbs to open. Therefore, they did not bother camp, and the campers were happy. Occasionally the camper would spot a bear opposite a grid, browsing for berries or inspecting a dead porcupine, and they would wave to the bear, and it would wave back, and everyone would continue with their days. However, an unfortunate series of events would cause this homo-ursine utopia to unravel.

People of all shapes and sizes come to work at squirrel camp, and some of these people are of particularly dashing shape.  Ones of these dashing types was walking along the highway after a morning of squirrelling, when a family from a nearby town pulled up. They enquired as to whether she was lost, and upon learning that she was not, enquired about her motivation for being in the Yukon. She explained what Squirrel Camp was and their research goals in a manner interesting and accurate but not complex or condescending, bid them good day, and strolled back for her lunch. Now it may have been her charming manner, it may have been her good leg tone and core stability after days of trapping in the field, or it may have been the way the autumnal sun caught her auburn locks in a frankly heavenly manner, but the eldest son in the family was captivated. While she talked he stared, while she gestured he drooled, and when she walked off she had already stepped into his dreams. They went back to their home town and all he could picture was her face, her hair, her luminous trapping vest! She had said they were others, and before long he had convinced himself there was a whole group of dashing young ecologists holed up in the woods. If only he could get back to her or find one like her he would be truly happy. But devoid of a car, much charm or practically any redeeming features, it seemed hopeless. 

However, one of his few qualities was cunning, and after a few nights spent sleepless in his box room under the staircase, he hatched a plot. Our desperate teen, “Chet”, assembled his cronies, “Chad” and “Chez”. He carefully slipped the keys to his father’s new truck into his pocket and stole into the night. Chet, Chad and Chez gathered in the dark of the garage. The others were scared and timid, but Chet bribed them with promises of a harem of dashing women, and threatened them with jabs of his hockey stick, and eventually they got into the truck. None of them knew how to drive, but fortunately this was an automatic, so after some squabbling, bickering and tedious name calling, Chad wrenched the truck into drive and off they went. Fortunately it was dark, so no police officers noticed them rolling past stop signs, and none of the teens had watched Nascar, meaning turning both left and right was not alien to them. Once out of the town they became giddy with excitement. Chad revved the engine, Chet pounded the horn, and Chez turned their obnoxious nu-country up to the maximum. This cacophony of noise and raging hormones careered up the road through the woods. This disruption greatly disturbed the bears foraging on the roadside berry bushes, upsetting them greatly. To discover the source of this irritant they followed the truck up the road. Of course this then meant that when Chet, Chad and Chez arrived at Squirrel camp, a posse of bears was not too far away.

Chet, Chad and Chez tumbled out the truck and began hooting and hollering. Chet yowled and cried for his love, while Chad and Chez yelped and wailed for anything at all. Alarmed by this noise, the campers tumbled out of the cookshack to see what was amiss. Unfortunately, at this moment the posse of bears arrived at camp. It was chaos. Chet, Chad and Chez scattered. Bears growled and prowled around the camp after them, and the campers tried simultaneously to find and eject Chet, Chad and Chez, while dodging around pissed-off bears. There were many near-misses, close scrapes and on more than one occasion a bear’s maw was only a hair’s breadth away. Finally though, Chet, Chad and Chez were corralled by the bears and the campers into their truck and sent packing. The bears dusted themselves off, took a couple of swigs of some cider they had unearthed in the chaos, and returned to the forest. Camp was a bit of a mess, and everyone was a bit shaken, but ultimately all was ok. The campers then agreed that such a thing could never happen again. Therefore, to preserve the chastity of camp from further bands of horny teenagers, the campers erected a crotch-high electric fence around camp to keep out those directed by their genitals. The bears however misunderstood this gesture, thinking it was directed at them after the cider pilfering. This mistrust grew between the bears and the campers, which was a sad outcome from such an unfortunate night.

So that is Squirrel camp got its “bear” fence. Over time Chad and Chez were forgotten, and the original purpose of the fence lost, so its ability to keep bears out was recognised as its function.  The bears largely stayed away from camp,  but occasionally they would sneak back into camp, looking for a sip of delicious  cider.  As for Chet, he became a psychology major, and spent his days diagnosing his infrequent dreams of a loud truck, angry bears, and shining auburn hair by the side of an open highway.

Squirrel camp and the great storm

Squirrel camp today is not completely like the camp first built. The original lacked a place to store new vs old eggs, or a spot for each persons’ electrical wires, or a place for hare poo, or other essential things. The original did however have all the huts to sleep in arranged together in a block. This provided warmth and security to the camper, who slept soundly. This was how the nights passed, with the days of spring, summer and autumn filled with work on all the animals of the boreal forest, from caterpillars to grouse, moose to wolverine.

One year in the not too distant past, as years tend to do, turned into winter. Oh my, what a winter. The wind howled, the snow blizzarded, and even the snow-shoe hares could be seen wearing little boots and mittens to keep warm. The campers huddled closer and closer around their stove each day to stay warm. One night of this dark and foul winter a particularly terrible storm blew in. The spruce trees heaved and swayed and the boreal animals hunkered down in their earthy homes. A particular strong gust swept through camp, and with a great crash picked up the sleeping huts and tossed them into the air. They were tumbled and tossed together, before being thrown back to the ground; scattered through the woods. Never had the camp seen such devastation.

The young ecologists were miraculously unharmed. But as they stepped out into the night, they moaned and wailed at what had become of their sleeping quarters. They slept the rest of the night in an awkward pile in their cookshack, and in the morning their gathered their tools and set to work. Seeing their great struggle to rebuild their homes, some of the animals of the boreal forest came out to help. The squirrels, being energetic with nimble paws and obsessed by neatness, dashed around gathering nuts and screws, which the humans ate or used to repair their huts appropriately. The snow-shoe hares hopped out of the woods and, being soft and fluffy and of calm dispositions, packed themselves around the campers, keeping them warm and soothing their worried brows. The lynx, being excellent and stealthy hunters, disappeared into the forest and fetched meat for the campers to sustain themselves while working hard on their huts. To all these animals the young ecologists were very grateful. However, other animals were not so helpful. The bears never rose from their hibernation, and slept through the whole ordeal. The coyotes snuck in through the unguarded date and stole away all the meat the lynx had collected, leaving the campers to subsist on the nuts the squirrels had bought. The moose and the wolverine decided they would prefer to go mountaineering instead and so only returned after all the work was done. And the less said about what the jays did with the chickadees when the ecologists’ backs were turned the better.

Despite this, working with the squirrels, the hares and the lynx the ecologists repaired the camp. They were greatly pleased with the help from the squirrels, hares and lynx, and so decided from then on to focus all of their research efforts into these majestic, helpful and interesting critters. The other animals would be left to their own devices in the woods, as they had left the campers. And it was ever thus

And so due to the great storm, that is why the ecologists at squirrel camp only study squirrels, hares and lynx, why all the sleeping huts are scattered around the woods, and, due to the to the coyotes’ deceit, why there is no meat to be found in the camp.

Squirrel camp and the northern lights

In the beginning there were three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short). In the boreal forest. Before that there were squirrels and lynx and bears and other such creatures, but as they cannot hold pens to write their stories down we can hardly start with them, so we will start with the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short). They conducted research in the boreal forest ad all its mysteries, and they were very happy with their work. They worked all day, and some nights, and the other nights they drank beer or told stories round a fire or avoided discussing that one time they all went skinny dipping as it was terribly embarrassing for all involved. They enjoyed their work so much and discovered so many interesting things that they decided to start bringing their students up to the forest to share in the discoveries. For this they needed a camp for their students to live and eat food out of tins and to conduct research, as that is how ecologists are made.

For this camps they drove an arbitrary distance along a road out of Haines Junction in the Yukon, Canada and turned left. They looked around but decided it was not quite right. They then drove another kilometre and turned right ad decided that this spot would do. The three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short) were skilled builders and craftsmen, but there were limited tools and a small budget. Still, they constructed buildings to eat in, sleep in, enter data in and other necessary things for young ecologists. After they were done the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short) looked at the camp they had created and saw that it was sufficient. They called down to their respective universities and summoned their students to the camp. They came in ones, twos and threes, bright eyed and bushy-tailed and excited to live and learn in the boreal ecosystem. The tall ecologist and the medium-height ecologist were optimists and, convinced they had keen and resourceful students in the same mould as themselves, were happy that all would be well. They smiled, clapped each other in the back, and went back to their permanent homes.
The short ecologist however was a little more pessimistic. He too knew he had keen and resourceful students, but was worried that up in the boreal, a long way from the city of Whitehorse and an even long way from civilisation, mishaps might befall the students. This possibility worried him greatly, and he paced up and down, wearing through three pairs of shoes in the process, which only increased his disquiet. He could not abandon the students he cared for so greatly, but he could not live in camp as he had his duties down south. Eventually, he hit upon a solution.Squirrel camp and the Northern Lights
In the beginning there were three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short). In the boreal forest. Before that there were squirrels and lynx and bears and other such creatures, but as they cannot hold pens to write their stories down we can hardly start with them, so we will start with the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short). They conducted research in the boreal forest ad all its mysteries, and they were very happy with their work. They worked all day, and some nights, and the other nights they drank beer or told stories round a fire or avoided discussing that one time they all went skinny dipping as it was terribly embarrassing for all involved. They enjoyed their work so much and discovered so many interesting things that they decided to start bringing their students up to the forest to share in the discoveries. For this they needed a camp for their students to live and eat food out of tins and to conduct research, as that is how ecologists are made.

For this camps they drove an arbitrary distance along a road out of Haines Junction in the Yukon, Canada and turned left. They looked around but decided it was not quite right. They then drove another kilometre and turned right ad decided that this spot would do. The three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short) were skilled builders and craftsmen, but there were limited tools and a small budget. Still, they constructed buildings to eat in, sleep in, enter data in and other necessary things for young ecologists. After they were done the three ecologists (one tall, one medium height, one short) looked at the camp they had created and saw that it was sufficient. They called down to their respective universities and summoned their students to the camp. They came in ones, twos and threes, bright eyed and bushy-tailed and excited to live and learn in the boreal ecosystem. The tall ecologist and the medium-height ecologist were optimists and, convinced they had keen and resourceful students in the same mould as themselves, were happy that all would be well. They smiled, clapped each other in the back, and went back to their permanent homes.

The short ecologist however was a little more pessimistic. He too knew he had keen and resourceful students, but was worried that up in the boreal, a long way from the city of Whitehorse and an even long way from civilisation, mishaps might befall the students. This possibility worried him greatly, and he paced up and down, wearing through three pairs of shoes in the process, which only increased his disquiet. He could not abandon the students he cared for so greatly, but he could not live in camp as he had his duties down south. Eventually, we hit upon a solution.

As you all know, each person is made up of good and bad, dark and light, yin and yang. The short ecologist knew this too, and that was his solution. He took his good side firmly in his fist and, in one motion, tore it out of himself and threw it into the sky above the camp. There it stayed. From the sky above camp his good side could watch over all the students and help them stay safe. This satisfied the short ecologist, and so he left to return to his permanent home. However, now he only had a dark side, and so was always grumpy and saying “harrumph” and tearing down others’ ideas. This made everyone slightly crotchety to him but he accepted it was worth it to keep the camp safe. And it was ever thus. Back at camp in the high, still Yukon, on cool dark nights, camper who turn their eyes skywards may catch a glimpse of the short ecologist’s good side, dancing and curving across the sky in pinks and reds, greens and golds, keeping them safe.

And that is why the short ecologist is always grumpy, why those in the camp in the woods are safe, and why there are sometimes there are colours dancing across the sky at night.

The Charismatic Megafauna

The journey continues in Hungary, and I’m doing my best to get to know the people and what makes them tick. That involves talking to as many as possible, seeimg what they like to do and looking into their history. Seems that Hungary has something of a heroes culture. Go to Budapest and you find Heroes Square, in Szeged there is the Bridge of Heroes. But it goes deeper than that. My friend Janos explained to me how Hungarians are known for being a bit individualistic, that the pinnacle of success is to be that lone start shining brightest in the night. I imagine that this could be a bit problematic in some contexts, but now is not the time to be diagnosing a country’s psyche. Instead I will combine this idea with my favourite topic: sport. So let’s talk about individuals in sport.


A quick bit of back ground first. Hungarians are especially fond of a couple of sports. One is football (of course) but I will not dwell on that here. The other is water polo. Two teams attempt to drown each other while manoeuvring a ball into a net. Classic invasion game, just in water. Despite being a landlocked country Hungary is actual quite strong for water sports due to their extensive network of rivers. Water polo holds a special place in particular, thanks to some history. In 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics the Hungarian water polo team were putting in a strong showing as usual, and made the semi-final. Here they faced the mighty USSR team. More than a classic underdog story, Hungary had recently had an uprising crushed by the soviets, and so feelings were not positive. The match therefore was a momentous, nation-personality defining occasion. The game itself proved titanic, known afterwards as the Blood in the Water match or the Bloodbath of Melbourne.

_54698120_zador_ap224
Perhaps you can see why

To a nation’s external joy, they won 4-0. They then went on to clinch gold, and so seal their position in the history books as Hungarian heroes. This game even inspired two films: “Freedom’s Fury” and “Children of Glory”. Thus, given the sport’s importance here, while in Budapest I resolved to go watch some water polo for myself. Down at the Alfred Hajos swimming complex I watched two teams do battle. It was enjoyable, end-to-end stuff, with goals less common than scores in handball or basketball, hence each generating quite a lot of excitement. Much of each player is hidden below the water, so aside from their numbers you only really get to know players by their play and when they are rotated out of the pool and clamber onto the side. But still some stand out. The visiting team (Kerteszeti Egyeten Atletikai Club)’s number 12 was prominent in this regard. Sturdy defence, implacable offence, the team surged into a 4-2 lead around him. When taking a breather poolside he still commanded a presence. Barrel chest, thick arms, a powerful form that said “You shall not get past or move me, no matter how you try”. He strutted without walking, bellowed without speaking, glared without looking.

IMG_20160501_181246836.jpg
A menacing presence

You get these individuals in every team sport. Not so much the star player, although they are certainly good. But they command respect; things happen around them. They may look the part or sound the part but often you simply fucking know it when they walk onto the pitch or dive into the pool. They are the Charismatic Megafauna* of their sporting arena: visible, impressive, heroic even.
It happened at the basketball in Valencia. Valencia Basket’s number 41: Hamilton. Young, American, and at the centre of everything good the team did. You were alerted to his presence when the player’s names were being read out; a little extra whoop, the added flavour of anticipation and belief. In the handball too, this time there was Morrell for BM Canyamelar Valencia. She was a leader, calm in defence, precise in attack, a veritable heartbeat. And we loved her for it. We love them for it.

Imagen 1079
Morrell attacks in a blur of dynamism and bad camera work

Every culture has its myths and epics, everyone their heroes. Achilles, Beowulf, Mulan. We love to weave fact and myth, the real and fiction, creating part dream part genuine figures to tell our friends and our children about. Sport’s great for this. Generating legends constantly. Every weekend there are new heroes to celebrate, new epic deeds to reveal in, new stories to tell. That star performance, that comeback, that last minute penalty save. I don’t think we would like sport as much if it did not create this situation. It must appeal to some part of our psyche that loves stories, that was weaned around campfires in the dark swapping tales of triumph through storm and strife.

Can-Leicester-City-win-the-Premier-League-title-this-season-2
Can anyone think of any recently?

Back at the water polo, and there was a momentum shift. The home side (UVSE Continental) came roaring back. 3-4, 4-4, suddenly 5 and 6 goals without reply. And a change came over the Charismatic Megafauna, the no. 12 of KEAC. No longer glaring but gazing wistfully. No long immovable in defence but lumbering after shadows. No longer powerfully built but heavy, possibly even a little tubby. His leading light extinguished, his charisma depleted. He was still the same man, same number, same terribly continental European little green swimming trunks. But he was also so much less.
What was the cause? How had the home team brought an end to his spell? There was no rival sent out to duel, no nemesis unleashed to bring about his downfall. Instead the home side all reached that little bit higher. They all put their hands up to be counted, and together they overcame the deficit to win. What magic. What a story for the next day. What a set of heroes.

 

* this term is borrowed from conservation biology, and refers to the often big and impressive animals like lions, elephants and even pandas that attract most peoples interest. This leads to their use as flagships by conservation organisations to draw interest to their cause, and so often helping other animals as well.