SPECIAL REPORT: THE MIDDLE-EARTH OLYMPICS
by Aliana, HA Sports Correspondent
GONDOR-- Olympic fever has hit Middle-earth! The past twenty-four hours have been another exciting and action-filled day in the prestigious Games, brimming with the thrill of competition, the triumph of victory, and the agony of defeat. Thousands of spectators converged on such venues as the newly-built Pelennor Stadium and the Dol Amroth Aquatic Center to cheer for talented athletes from all corners of Middle-earth as they vie for the coveted Mithril medal.
In a sweep that surprised exactly no one, Team Rohan easily snatched up all of the first-place wins in every event in the Equestrian category. "It's been a fine day for the Mark," said a beaming Coach Elfhelm, watching his Riders ascend the podium as Rohan's green standard was raised and the Rolling Stones' “Wild Horses,” the Rohirric National Anthem, was played. Elfhelm declined to comment, however, on top athlete Lord Éomer's controversial refusal to compete in the Dressage event.
"Horses dancing? It's just too…girly!" the young Marshal declared shortly after the medal ceremony. His remark earned him a sharp jab in the ribs from the Lady Éowyn, his sister and teammate.
The Lady herself was not available for comment following the Equestrian events, as she had to rush off immediately so that she could arrive on time for the preliminary rounds of the Women's Fencing at the Minas Tirith Sports Center. It turned out, however, that the shieldmaiden's haste was all for naught—she was awarded the Mithril by default after officials discovered that none of the other countries had managed to send any female athletes to this event. While thanking the Olympic Committee and saying she was glad that Rohan could claim another medal that day, Éowyn also expressed frustration at the lack of competition.
"The same thing happened four years ago in Esgaroth [the Games' previous venue]," she said. "Sometimes you have to wonder what all that training is for, if you never get to use it. Honestly, I don't know what I could do, short of dressing up and throwing my lot in with the guys."
On the male side, however, there was no dearth of talented fencing competitors. Hometown favorites, Captain-general Boromir and his brother, Captain Faramir, both won in separate preliminary matches to advance to the quarterfinals. While Boromir has often been known to inadvertently overshadow his younger sibling, today it was Faramir who claimed one of the most memorable moments so far in this year's Games, narrowly edging out a Champion of Team Harad in a thrilling victory that brought an already-screaming crowd of spectators to its feet.
"It was just amazing!" exclaimed ardent fan Beregond of the Guard, who had come to the Sports Center with his equally excited ten-year-old son. "Captain Faramir is, like, the greatest!"
"I'm very proud of Boromir, today," said Denethor, Steward of Gondor, when asked to comment on his sons' victories. "Oh yeah…and what's-his-face did okay, too. We'll see if he lasts another round." Gondor's ruler was looking pleased, but understandably frazzled due to the stress of hosting this year's Games.
"There have been a lot of logistical issues so far," he explained. "For instance, we practically had to rearrange the entire Olympic Village setup last week, when Team Imladris complained that the windows in their guest quarters didn't admit enough starlight. On top of that, the Mirkwood team absolutely refused to be housed next door to the Dwarf athletes, and vice versa. And don't even get me started on the culinary situation. When the Rohirrim found out that the chef in Team Orthanc's housing was planning on serving horse-meat for dinner last night, I practically had to deploy the entire City Guard to stop them from charging in and slaughtering all those Uruks in a blind rage," he sighed.
"Still," the Steward concluded, "it's a tremendous honor to be hosting the Olympics this year. It's an amazing experience, and we're really hoping it will boost Gondor's struggling economy, too. I mean it had better, what with the amount we had to shell out for that damn stadium. I encourage everyone in attendance at the Games to stop by the Olympic Gift Shop on the Fourth Circle of Minas Tirith and buy an official commemorative keychain or a potholder or something. For the love of Eru. Please."
Meanwhile, many miles away in the sparkling blue waters of Belfalas, a group of athletes from the Grey Havens took the Mithril in the Sailing competition, followed closely by Gondor in second, with Team Umbar in third.
"It feels good to win, especially knowing we had such worthy and talented opponents," commented a very happy Coach Círdan of the Havens. In addition to coaching his athletes, Círdan had also designed and built the winning team's vessel especially for these Games.
"They're terrific sailors and gracious competitors," remarked Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, one of the athletes who represented Gondor out on the waters, "but I swear to the Valar, if those Elves sing one more song about sea-longing or the cry of the gull or any of that other crap, I'm gonna hurt somebody."
She added, "I was planning to go and cheer for my brothers in the swimming events, but if there are any First-born in that pool, I just don't think I'll be able to handle it."
Sailing, it turned out, was not the only area in which Elves excelled today. Living up to all expectations, heavily-favored athlete Legolas Greenleaf scored a Mithril medal for Team Mirkwood, taking first place in the Archery finals. The competition faced unexpected complications when silver-medal winner Bard of Esgaroth insisted on using the same black arrow for every shot he took, walking repeatedly back to the target to retrieve it on each turn.
"We've all got our quirks," said bronze-medalist Mablung of Ithilien, when asked to comment on his opponent's behavior. "Whatever twangs your bowstring, you know?"
And the Mithril winner? He was ecstatic.
"Maybe Dad won't get drunk and beat me tonight!" the Elf-prince exclaimed after receiving his medal.
At the Pelennor Stadium, Legolas's friend, Aragorn of Team Dúnedain, expressed joy when learning of his buddy's victory. The Ranger regretted that he had not been able to attend to Archery competition; his training schedule for the 5K, the 10K, and the Marathon would simply not permit it.
When asked if he had a strategy for his first event, the 5K, which will take place tomorrow, Aragorn said, "Well, I guess I'm more of the stealthy type, not really so much of a front-runner during the early stages of a race. I like to place my opponent in my mind, and then track him down."
"Old Strider [a nickname for Aragorn] could probably run forever," another friend, Gimli of Team Lonely Mountain commented. "He's meant for great things, and I wish him the best." Gimli himself had been a long-distance runner, struggling along in low-profile races until very recently, when, he said, "Some bloke called Peter remarked to me that Dwarves are natural sprinters. Something clicked, and so when the next local track meet came up, I thought, `Hey, why not try the 100-meter-dash?'" And the rest, as they say, is history: the Son of Glóin is currently the favorite to win that highly popular event in this year's Games.
And in what was perhaps one of the most stunning upsets in Middle-earth Olympic history, the Team Shire soccer team routed heavily favored Team Mordor 1-0 to advance to the semifinals.
"This is just so amazing!" rejoiced center forward Meriadoc Brandybuck, who scored the decisive point against Mordor in the final seconds of a heart-stopping overtime round. "I mean, sure, the other team was really scary and dark and all, but all of our squad's hard work and team togetherness and slow-kindled courage has really paid off! The whole team was just on 100% today, and it really showed. And what about my buddy, Pippin [goalkeeper Peregrin Took], huh? Wasn't he terrific? If something's round and cool-looking, he'll get his mitts on it one way or another, you can be sure of that!" Even more remarkable about this victory is that the hobbit soccer team has consistently insistent on playing unshod, without the aid of cleats or even shinguards.
"I just don't understand it," muttered Mordor's dejected goalkeeper, the Witch-King of Angmar, of whom it has been prophesized that “No Living Man” can get a ball past. "I mean, they sure looked like Living Men to me. Really tiny, hairy-footed Living Men, but Living Men all the same."
Despite all the excitement and attention that this year's Olympics have garnered so far, many feel that the best is yet to come.
"I'm just about going crazy waiting for the Ring-toss," admitted Gandalf, a member of the Imladris-based International Olympic Council. Though the Ring-toss competition is brand-new to the Olympics, having been approved by the Council just last year, many are already hoping it will become a new Olympic favorite. "I mean, I'm predicting it's going to be the event of the year," Gandalf continued. "Trust me, people are going to be talking about it a long time from now."
Because of the newness of the event, only a handful of athletes are taking part in it this year. One such athlete is Frodo Baggins of Team Shire. Since Baggins was not available for public appearance today, Samwise Gamgee, his personal trainer, gardener, chef, and masseur, took it upon himself to field journalists' questions.
"I won't lie, Mr. Frodo has been getting very, very anxious about this competition," said Gamgee. "But I just keep saying to `im, `No, don't give up Mr. Frodo, you can do it, you can do it.' And I really think he can. I believe in Mr. Frodo."
Baggins's main competitor in the event will most likely be Gollum, representing Team Slimy-Creatures-Who-Talk-in-the-Third-Person-and-Crawl-Around-in-the-Bowels-of-Mountains. "We wantsss it, yessss, Precioussss, we wantsss it," the emaciated gangrel-creature was heard to remark, presumably describing his fervent desire for the precious first-place Mithril award, an obsession, to be sure, that is shared by many of the world-class athletes at these games.
Through it all, however, more breathtaking and astonishing than any feat of athletic skill, is the overwhelming sense of goodwill and fellowship that surrounds the Olympic Games. It is a time when even countries at war put aside their conflicts for two weeks in the summer, to come together to peacefully compete in the spirit of good sportsmanship.
"Yeah, it's really, really amazing," marveled Shagrat, an athlete from Team Mordor. "I mean, at any other time, if I saw all these bunches of tarks and elves just walking down the street, my first impulse would be to burn their houses and fields, slaughter their men, ravish their women, and basically just wipe them out in the most unspeakably painful and horrific ways I could possibly think of before feasting on their uncooked flesh. But now, because the Games are going on, I…well, no, actually I guess that still is my first impulse. But I don't think it would be good for me to act on it. Somehow it just doesn't seem to be in keeping with the Olympic spirit."