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Post details: Unexpected Body Czech

Unexpected Body Czech

Sports are like jazz improvisations. The individual plays are specific and unique to each game, and yet they operate within a familiar framework of rules and similarity to previous games. The riffs and solos of a jazz quintet, while firmly grounded in classical tonality and previous listening experiences, also serve melodies and harmonies hitherto unheard and seemingly spewing forth directly from the frothy ocean of the musicians' subconsciousness. It is the uniqueness of perception, the patterns etched onto the surface of a lake with a wooden wand, which creates this magic. Like rare fish they briefly emerge and soon disappear. And the same is true for those magical moments in sports. They will never be seen again.

The improvisational aspect of sports, of course, is brought to you by the forces of randomness. That mystery coin toss lurking behind most of the plays is in fact large part of their allure. In physics, a heavy object always outweighs a lighter one. No exceptions. In sports, anything can happen. And we love it. The unadulterated surprise is the main asset they bring to the ping pong table of human entertainment, for nothing lifts our spirits like a good upset story. Think of the the US Olympic Ice Hockey team in 1980 or the Danish soccer team on EURO 1992.

Today, Czechs consummated their own version of the Miracle on Ice by beating the mighty Russians at the IHF World Ice Hockey Championship. The unfancied Czech side was mostly composed from young players recruited from the local league and featured about as much NHL talent as the Sarasota High School Marching Band. At the start of the tournament, it even seemed that a relegation from the A group might be in the offing. Czechs lost their games to Switzerland and Norway, two teams not exactly known for their ice hockey prowess, and back home many fans braced for an untimely exit. However, improved performance against Canada in the group and then against Finland in the Quarterfinals sent the Czech squad into the semifinal against all odds.

The last two matches featured two power plays that I will never forget. They were sort of mirror images of each other.

In the semifinal, the score was 2:1 for Sweden, and Czechs had just swapped a field player for a goalie. One of the Swedish defenders managed to grab the puck and send it towards the empty Czech goal. That puck slowly coasted forward and passed about 10 inches to the left of the gaping net, like an asteroid on a near collision course with Earth. At that point I realized that Gods have chosen their side. The funny thing about sports is that once the Gods make up their mind, there is no going back. The Swedes were still up by one goal, but 7 seconds before the end, Czechs scored an equalizer and after a victorious shootout advanced to the final.

In the final against their Russian archrivals, Czechs kept tirelessly withdrawing from their luck account, but contrary to all laws of physics the account got never overdrawn. They managed to come to the final third with a small lead so the mighty Russians lead by NHL prodigy Alex Ovechkin had to turn up the heat. And turn up the heat they did. Czechs could barely cope with their offensive. The climax came 90 seconds from time, when two Czechs were sent to the penalty box for fouls and Russians called off their goalie. You don't see a 6-on-3 powerplay in ice-hockey very often. Defending it is like building a circus tent in a category 5 hurricane. Russians soon scored and the lead diminished to 2-1. What ensued were fifty seconds of pure hell. But somehow or other, the score held. Gods never change their mind fifty seconds from the end.

As soon as the final siren blew, the Prague main square turned into a gushing fire-hydrant of cheering and celebrations. The team that was written off well before the tournament started won it all. In sports that happens.

For sports aficionados in my little hometown, this Sunday was doubly sweet. After 7 years spent in the soccer desert, a local team FC Hradec Kralove, advanced into the Czech premier league. The team whose games I used to go to with my grandpa when I was growing up will again bring the big names from Prague to my hometown's soccer pitch. Tak zdar, Votroci!

hockey

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