LONDON — Few of you will ever know what it feels like to represent a country in international competition — to have to perform under great pressure, carrying on your shoulders the hopes of an entire nation.
Notice I say few of YOU. I, on the other hand, know exactly how it feels, because on Wednesday night I did indeed represent a nation in an international tournament. The nation was San Marino; the tournament was the International Rock, Paper, Scissors Team Championships.
Needless to say this happened in a pub. Specifically it was the Knights Templar on Chancery Lane, which I highly recommend, as it is one of the few pubs I have been to (and I have been to a few) with non-scary toilet facilities. In most pubs, the restrooms are dark, dank, mossy, cramped medieval chambers with plumbing installed in 1243; you would not be surprised to see a prisoner chained to the wall next to the condom-vending machine. But the restrooms at the Knights Templar are large and almost semi-modern, which is good, because if you’re competing in Rock, Paper, Scissors at the international level, you need to visit the restrooms often, if you get my drift.
The tournament was organized by Sally Raynes and James Bamber, who run a company called Wacky Nation (“If it’s mad, stupid or idiotic, we’ll be there”). Among the other events they run is the World Wellington Boot Throwing Championships. For the Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament, they wore referee shirts and handed out a list of official rules, which included these:
“Fire, water, sticks, The Fonz, lizard, Spock and elephants are all banned.”
“No faux pumps i.e. where you release on the second throw.”
“No ’cradling the pump’ or ’speed-pumping’ please.”
Perhaps now you are beginning to grasp how subtle and competitive Rock, Paper, Scissors can be at the international level. Consider this: One of the players in the tournament was former professional soccer player Neil “The Razor” Ruddock, who once broke BOTH of an opposing player’s legs. (In Neil’s defense, he later said he had intended to break only one.)
The tournament had approximately 16 teams, consisting of approximately four players per team. (Things got more and more approximate as the evening wore on.) Most of the competitors were British, but they elected to represent a variety of nations, including Vatican City, Somalia, Lichtenstein, Indonesia, South Sudan and Lapland (which had two teams, despite not being, technically, a nation).
I wound up on a team representing San Marino, which is an actual country, occupying about the same total land area as a queen bed. My teammates were Richard and Emily Gottfried of Luton, England, who have also competed in thumb-wrestling and once represented the United Kingdom internationally in miniature golf. Rounding out our team was my daughter, Sophie, who has come to deeply regret being brought to the Olympics by her father.
What was the tournament like? Without exaggerating, I would say it was the most exciting and wonderful event of any kind ever held anywhere in the history of the world.
Picture it: You and your opponent are standing across from each other over a low scoring table. On one side of you is the referee; on the other side, capturing every moment of action, is a BBC cameraman. (Yes, the BBC covered this; eat your heart out, Bob Costas.) All around you are people cheering, drinking beer, booing, arguing, drinking more beer, shouting suggestions (“Watch her! She throws early!”) and drinking still more beer. You and your opponent stare at each other. The tension mounts. The referee gives the start signal. Together, you and your opponent pump your fists once, twice. Then, on the third time (this is how it’s done in international competition) you make your throw, and...
Moment of Truth, baby.
I frankly cannot describe to you, using mere words, the thrill you feel, the adrenaline rush, the sense of accomplishment that comes from defeating an opponent — especially one representing a power such as Lapland, which is sometimes called “The New York Yankees of international Rock, Paper, Scissors” — by making a randomly selected hand gesture. It was incredible. It was so good that even Sophie admitted she did not totally hate it.
Team San Marino was on fire through the first round. People were actually doing a San Marino cheer — “San Ma-RI-no (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).” Granted, these people consisted of us, but still. We made it through the qualifiers to the knockout round, where, unfortunately, we got knocked out (although not, fortunately, by Neil “Razor” Ruddock).
We ended up finishing fourth. Lapland — whom, for the record, San Marino defeated twice head-to-head, not that San Marino is bitter — won the gold. This victory was greeted with much hugging and some falling down. It was a great night for international sports, and I hope the effort put forth by me and my teammates will be appreciated by the citizens of San Marino. Assuming there are any.
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