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Soup of This Day #115: Flew In From Miami Beach BOAC

January 2, 2012

Brodskiy's Lenin
Lenin, from Isaak Brodsky’s circa 1925 painting. Vladimir Ilyich was apparently a decent swimmer. He probably liked relays, where everyone contributed in classless equity – Image: Isaak Brodsky, c1925. Image cropped by Longworth72.

You’d think that communism and sport would go hand in glove. There’s that whole collective working for the common good stuff that just seems like it’s tailor made for team sport. Experience though has shown that communism as advertised has a few flaws.

Like people.

See, people get involved and before you know it the proletariat is working for the common good of Kim Jong Il.

At least they were, with emphasis on the past tense, because Kim Jong Il is now kaput. His over-indulgence in the finer things of life has caught up with him via the slow vengeance of diabetes and heart disease. Apparently the medical terminology for this is ‘mental overwork’. Fortunately for his grief-struck people his son Kim Jong Un is ready and able to carry on his old man’s socialist legacy, filling the void that his dad’s capacious arse left in his bespoke movie theatre chair.

It’s not just in his private theatre that the Dear Leader will be missed – Some video footage of the extended funeral arrangements for Kim Jong Il has been doing the rounds of Boston Red Sox fans:

Skip to 5:04 and 6:07 and you’ll see 1 young mourner in Yankees headgear.

Evil Empire. Axis of Evil.

Yeah, I’ll pass this round.

Instead, driven by the irony of a kid mourning the death of a Marxist leader while wearing the merchandise of a seriously cashed up baseball team from New York, I thought I’d take a look at the colourful relationship that sport has with communism.

If you’re a student of political science a fair warning – When I said ‘take a look’ I mean ‘jump around like a toddler in a toy store’. There’s nothing for your upcoming theses here.

Let’s start with the North Koreans, who like to be called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, despite having not a lot to do with democratic principles. They have a population of just on 24m, of which a phenomenal 9.5m are militarized. This should be good from a sporting point of view – Militarized means able to march as 1, disciplined and organised. Pretty much the opposite of the Red Sox this past September as they played video games and washed down fried chicken with beer. The problem for the North Koreans is that they could use a little more fried chicken themselves. Or rice. Or flour. Or just any food really.

Yep, less military @#$% and more sustenance.

Maybe it’s drawing a long bow from there to their lack of sporting success. Either way they haven’t set the competitive arena on fire in some time. They did make a splash in the 1966 World Cup in England. The ‘Diddymen’, as they were affectionately known, defeated Italy 1-0 in Middlesbrough, qualifying for the knockout round from Group 4 along with fellow commies, the USSR. They then went within a whisker of beating Portugal in the quarters, leading 3-0 at the 22 min mark, before succumbing to Eusébio’s magic in a 5-3 loss that was no disgrace. The match was played in Liverpool, at Everton’s home ground of Goodison. The great Bill Shankly, who had taken over as Liverpool FC boss 7 years previous might have approved – In his 1976 autobiography:

‘The socialism I believe in is not really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life.’

Of course Shanks also said that if Everton, ironically nicknamed ‘The Peoples Club’, were playing at the bottom of his garden, he’d draw the curtains so maybe a trip to the Toffees’ home ground wasn’t on the cards, even if they weren’t playing that day.

Sadly the North Koreans didn’t return to a World Cup until the 2010 edition in South Africa. After a 1st up narrow 2-1 loss to powerhouse Brazil, hopes were raised back in Pyongyang to such an extent that their next match, with historical foes Portugal, was televised live to the masses back home. Or at least to those who could afford a tv.

Unfortunately for the propaganda guys it didn’t go according to script and the North Koreans were pantsed 7-0 by a classy Portugal outfit. Apparently Mr Kim was pissed. Which mattered for naught – They lost their final game 3-0 to the Ivory Coast and went home without a single point.

Where I think the North was missing a trick here was in not juicing their guys to the eyeballs. This has been used as a legitimate socialist tactic for combating the evils of capitalism for some time.

That’s right, Rocket was fighting the inequalities that beset a class-driven society. And you thought he was unprincipled.

In the mid-1990’s North Korea’s neighbour and sometime friend China employed doping as a mechanism for dominating swimming. At the 1992 Olympics they came from nowhere to win 4 golds and at the 1994 World Champs they snatched 12 of 16 women’s titles. Le Jingyi was 6th in Seoul in 1992 in the women’s 100m freestyle, clocking 55.89s. By the 1994 Worlds she was 1st, shattering the World Record down to 54.01s. She won the 1996 Olympics 100m freestyle gold but by then a number of Chinese women had been caught with more hormones in them than you’ll find in a pregnant blue whale. A skeptical world made note of her comically large shoulders and the bit where some of her colleagues were carrying off the bearded lady act without props and the scrutiny increased. She raced at the 1998 Worlds in Perth, Western Australia, under a new testing regime and could manage just a 57.59s in a relay team that came home in 8th.

At least she got off the secret sauce, possibly limiting the unhealthy side-effects. The same can’t be said for a generation of Soviet Bloc athletes whose doping led to world records galore, shrunken testes and short lives. Take Ivan Drago:

Juiced to superhuman levels he brutally defeated the American boxer Apollo Creed, in the process fatally injuring the former heavyweight champion. He then fought Creed’s compatriot Rocky Balboa and was narrowly defeated in a war of attrition slugfest in Russia. His career over he wasn’t to survive much longer, killed in a militaristic cyborg experiment that went awry.

Some or all of that last bit may have come from a movie mashup.

It wasn’t all bad and it didn’t have to involve performance enhancing drugs – Nadia Comăneci became the 1st gymnast to roll out perfect 10s in an Olympic event, bagging Olympic gold times 3 in 1976 and quite a few hearts into the bargain.

The Soviet Water Polo team at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne tried to bag some hearts via a different approach – Primarily by ripping them out. They faced a Hungarian team in the semis who had dominated the sport at the elite level for the past 4 Olympics (3 gold and 1 silver). The Magyars were a touch upset with the Soviets as they had a. Forcibly copied everything the Hungarians did by virtue of ‘owning’ their proud country and b. Brutally suppressing a democratic uprising with tanks and bombs only days before.

The resultant fight that featured some water polo became know as the ‘Blood in the Water’ match after the Hungarian attacker Ervin Zador was knocked for 6 towards the end with a bloody gash to show for his troubles. He had provoked a Soviet player by angrily suggesting that the USSR was bombing his people. Which is true – They were. He may also have insulted the guy’s mother.

The Hungarians lost the revolution but won the water polo 4-0 before accounting for the Yugoslavs 2-1 in the gold medal match. Zador missed that 1 with his ears still ringing from the blow in the semis and he subsequently headed into exile in the US, where he still coaches swimming. 1 of his former charges was Mark Spitz, who won 7 Olympic gold medals in 1972.

Maybe the Soviets should have just kidnapped the Hungarians – Kim Jong Il’s regime had form for kidnapping notable citizens and forcing them to assist with bringing the North up to speed. They didn’t need to kidnap a golf star though – It turns out that they had 1 of the world’s greatest natural talents right at home – Kim Jong Il apparently shot 11 holes-in-1 in his very 1st round of golf, a majestic 38 under par that is a world record by some margin. Thereafter he routinely knocked in 3 or 4 solo shots per round, making him the greatest ever golfer to have played the game.

I won’t cynically question the veracity of such figures. Instead I’ll leave the last word to the twitterverse, Nick Howell tweeted the following at the news of Mr Kim’s passing:

‘Could’ve been even better if his ball hadn’t stuck under the windmill on the eleventh.’

Yep. To be fair though that windmill hole is a bastard.

Flew In From Miami Beach BOAC

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