Monday Superlatives
May 04, 2020

Some actual athletic feats happened this weekend, for a change

"Game Of Thrones" Season 8 NY Premiere

Jeff Kravitz

There are very few, if any, sports happening around the world at this moment, but that doesn't mean human (or animal) endeavor has ceased entirely. Somewhat amazingly, this past weekend, we had some legitimate sports happening . . . or at least legitimate athletic endeavors. The two most prominent ones lasted about four minutes collectively, but it was a welcome break from the sports blackout anyway.

1. Horses named Charlatan and Nadal won real-life horse races

Secretariat may have won the virtual Kentucky Derby (as someone who has participated in and enjoyed simulated versions of real events, let me just say that a horseracing simulation is stupid, since it's based only on time), but there were real horse races happening this past weekend. In Arkansas, at the Oaklawn track, real horses and real jockeys are gathering to stage real races, and people can gamble real money on them. This past weekend, the horses who would have been contesting the triple crown in a normal year raced in two divisions of the Arkansas Derby, and Bob Baffert's horses Charlatan and Nadal won the big races. Here's the end of both:

Did they really expect a horse named Nadal to lose on (what appears vaguely similar to) clay?

2. The guy who played The Mountain on Game of Thrones set a new deadlift record

Hafthor Bjornsson was one of like nine actors to play Gregor Clegane on Thrones, but the Icelandic hulk will go down in history now as the first man to deadlift 1,104.52 pounds, a true athletic feat. Watch him pull it off:

The sad part is, even though Bjornsson is one of the great deadlifters of all-time, he'll be far more well known for popping a guy's eyeballs out of his head on a television show. But I see you, Hafthor . . . I see you.

Pity Objects of the Week: Liverpool

The English Premier League hasn't yet announced if it will declare Liverpool the league champion yet, though that seems likely to be the case. The club, which hasn't won the title since the '89-'90 season, was so far ahead that any other outcome beyond them taking the crown was basically impossible. The French league has already declared a winner based on standings at the time of interruption, so it's only a matter of time in England.

Still, what a letdown. Part of the triumph of breaking a drought this long is having the actual victory moment on the field. Granted, the drama was basically over already, and the act of clinching would be over long before the season ended, but they would have had a victory lap, and when the whistle blew in the critical match, they could have celebrated like maniacs, players and fans alike. Now? The governing body will meet, they'll make their decision, their will be an announcement, and it will be the height of anticlimax. The supporters won't even be able to meet at the pub, in all probability!

Stories like Liverpool's will be common across the world, and if they are declared champions, it will be marginally better than if the season was simply declared lost. But none of the teams who were cheated out of a championship by COVID-19 have had Liverpool's history, and none were on the verge of overcoming three decades of frustration. It's brutal for the reds, and believe me...as somebody who decided to become a Liverpool guy last August, I'm going to pretend to care a lot more than I actually do.

The Best NFL Thing of the Past Decade, At Least: Will Ferrell

My favorite thing about this clip, which features Will Ferrell posing as Greg Olsen in a Seattle Seahawks Zoom chat, is the total absence of laughter, minus a few random chuckles, from the rest of the team:

Come on guys, that shit's funny! You can laugh! There was barely any reaction when he showed his "yoga body." Maybe a bunch of them were muted, in which case I apologize. But I choose to believe the Seahawks are humorless, and the New York Giants would be cracking up in true appreciation of great comedy.

Best Thing of Quarantine Athletics: The Pole Vault Challenge

I know I highlighted an athletic feat or two above, but they were not the best sports-themed entertainment of the past week. That honor goes to three of the world's best pole vaulter, Mondo Duplantis (world record holder), Sam Kendricks, and Renauld Levillenie. Based in Louisiana, Mississippi, and France, respectively, the three greats set a bar at 16 feet and attempted to clear it as many times as they could in 30 minutes. You can watch the whole thing here (or, more sensibly, part of it), and be warned . . . it's strangely engrossing:

Someday, I'm going to write a 9,000-word essay on the magic of pole vault, despite knowing virtually nothing about it, and if this quarantine continues, that day will come in like...a week.

Shocking Winner of the Magnus Carlsen Invitational: Magnus Carlsen!

Speaking of things that are more fun to watch than you might think, world-historic chess genius Magnus Carlsen won his own invitational tournament, an online event with a "rapid" format, which is no surprise since Carlsen is the long-reigning world champion and the highest-rated chess player ever. But there's something about organizing your own tournament, in your own name, to invite other players and then own them, that feels particularly dominant even by his standards.

If you get really desperate, the semifinals were the highlight of this competition, and you can watch four hours of them here:

Now that's some rapid chess!