Elf power, Viking rites fire up Iceland
Sat Aug 23, 2008 6:45am EDT
By Sophie Hardach
BEIJING (Reuters) - Happy elves, Viking rituals and a back rub from the first lady are powering Iceland's handballers on their way to what could be a first Olympic gold for their frosty island.
Iceland's handballers usually struggle to attract 500 spectators when they play at home. But their formidable performance has fired up the entire nation of 300,000 people -- when they played against Spain in the semi-finals, every single television set on Iceland was tuned into the game.
Then there are the make-believe supporters who are adding to the atmosphere before the final against France on Sunday.
"Yeah, the elves are on the streets, having fun with the people there," left back Logi Geirsson told Reuters on Saturday, laughing. "Of course our elves celebrate for us. It's Iceland, there are many people who believe in elves."
On an island where some construction projects have been blocked due to fears of destroying rocks inhabited by elves, positive energy from magical creatures is not to be sneered at.
Before the game against Spain, Geirsson also received some more down-to-earth support.
President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson visited the team in the athletes' village a day before that match and first lady Dorrit Moussaieff gave player Geirsson a massage.
He thought his back was being kneaded by the team's usual masseur until he looked up and recognized the president's wife.
"It sounds weird but it was very cool. She massaged me for ten minutes before the game against Spain and it was the best game of the tournament, I shot seven goals, it was unbelievable," he said.
Iceland has dazzled handball fans with its beautifully coordinated attack and picture-perfect jump shots. The players say the perfect chemistry is the result of more than a decade of playing together, as well as rituals evoking the fighting spirit of the Vikings who came to Iceland many centuries ago.
"We are all Vikings. Before the game we form a ring and take each other's hands like the Vikings did 500 years ago. And we say we're going out on a ship to fight for our lives. We can stay alive as a team or die," Geirsson said.
(Editing by Keith Weir)