By Dan Steinberg The Beijing Sports Smog
Sunday, August 24, 2008
"Whew," Matti Leshem said yesterday. "I'm nervous."
It was a few minutes before 8 p.m., Beijing time. We were in Club Bud, a massive convention hall that, for this month, was serving as a shrine to beer, scantily clad dancers and athletic excellence. Soon, the Olympic stars would breeze in. But now, two American reporters, a handful of photographers and cameramen, and a scattering of Budweiser employees had gathered in front of a stage to watch competitors from four countries form their hands into the international symbols for rock, paper and scissors. (Well, "stone, paper and scissors," if you're of the British persuasion.)
"You're going to see a level of rock, paper, scissors play that is unprecedented," promised Leshem, the commissioner of the USA Rock Paper Scissors League, who had spent three years planning for this moment. "When we play in the U.S., we play for money -- oh, how fitting! But at the international level, we play for glory."
Truth be told, I spent most of the night trying to figure out whether this whole thing was an elaborate put-on. If it was, none of the principals broke character. Not when the U.S. entry, Sean "Wicked Fingers" Sears, turned redder than Mao toward the end of his bronze medal victory over Guam. "I was so focused and so zoned in on the match itself that I think I forgot to breathe," he later said. "Like, literally, I think I forgot to breathe."
Not when the Canadian entry, 29-year-old Sebastian Gatica, stared in the face of his Irish opponent throughout their gold medal showdown; "I believe the eyes can't tell lies," Gatica told me after it was over.
Not when Ireland's Mark Cleland -- who jumped out to an 8-2 lead over Gatica and held on for a dramatic 10-9 gold-clinching win -- described the proper mindset of a RPS champion. "People have their different ideas," he said. "Personally, I just focused on 'I was going to win, I was going to win,' and hopefully my mind would make the right decisions." . . .
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, this is my last entry from Beijing. It's just as well, really . . . the Olympics are a bunch of people agreeing to ignore obvious absurdities -- the grown men jumping on trampolines, the little girls swinging on bars, the inflatable panda mascots dancing with thunderstick-wielding cheerleaders to the soundtrack of "High School Musical" -- and to agree that, for some reason, the Olympics matter.
It's like what Iceland handball captain Olafur Stefansson told me when I asked whether people in his country actually believe in magic elves. "It's not so much a matter of believing in the regular sense of the word, it's more of enjoying the possibility of it actually existing." he said.