Rise of the Minnows

Review of the week: 5 – 11 October 2015

Cubo Torres

Mexico is not a minnow. It is the reigning Olympic champion in football, having shocked Brazil in the final in 2012. This week’s 2-0 victory against Canada, with a goal from Cubo Torres (above), has given it the opportunity to defend its title, in less than a year’s time.

But Mexico aside, small countries have been making a disproportionate impact. Wales, Northern Ireland and Albania qualified for Euro 2016, with Iceland already having done so. And Honduras stunned the United States in Utah, to join Mexico at the Rio Games.

Honduras may be small but it is consistent – Rio will be its third consecutive Olympic tournament. Apart from Brazil, none of the other qualifiers so far can make that boast.

This week’s only world championship was the Kimberley Diamond Cup. Skateboarding is a sport whose stock is rising after its proposal for inclusion in Tokyo 2020. The blue riband street event was won by the 2013 champion, Nyjah Huston of the United States.

The African championship was also held and the three medallists were all from another tiny place, Reunion, a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.

Réunion Demi-Piton PlaineDesSables

Why Reunion? I think it has a lot to do with its volcanic landscape. The empty twisty roads (above) make it a perfect location for practicing the sport, and it is becoming an increasingly popular destination with the skateboarders of other countries as well.

This is not a unique phenomenon. Consider the fact that Switzerland is often where triathletes go to train but the country’s athletes also perform rather well in the sport.

This week’s triathlon was the Ironman in Hawaii, a gruelling event which is far longer than its Olympic counterpart and typically attracts a different type of athlete. But, in a rare feat, it was won this year by the 2008 Olympic champion, Jan Frodeno of Germany.

The European Men’s Sitting Volleyball Championship was claimed by the holder of the Paralympic title, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which reached the final without losing a set.

Many of Bosnia’s volleyball players are rehabilitated victims of its civil war, and the land mines which it left behind but, if we look behind this grisly explanation, there is another which more generally applies to small nations who perform much better than expected.

Despite its past, Bosnia has few bladerunners or wheelchair athletes. These sports are simply too competitive and too expensive for it to stand a chance. Instead, it focuses all of its attention on volleyball while its larger opponents spread themselves more thinly.

In a world of too much choice, the limitations of small size might even be an advantage.

Next week: World boxing, European track cycling, para table tennis and 470 class sailing


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