From Iceland — It Wasn't All Bad: Highlights From Last Year In Sports

It Wasn’t All Bad: Highlights From Last Year In Sports

Published January 13, 2016

It Wasn’t All Bad: Highlights From Last Year In Sports
Photo by
Art Bicnick
Nanna Dís

Athlete of the year: Eygló Ósk Gústafsdóttir
by Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir

On the second to last day of 2015, twenty-year-old swimmer Eygló Ósk Gústafsdóttir was crowned Iceland’s Athlete of the Year, becoming the fifth female winner to win the title since it was first awarded in 1956. She earned it, too, having swum the 200 metre backstroke in just 2:09.86 minutes this past March, breaking the Icelandic and Nordic records. Furthermore, she was the first Icelandic athlete to earn the right to participate in this year’s Olympic Games, which will commence in Rio on August 5.

Photo by Art Bicnick

Upon receiving the award, Eygló noted that it was a huge honour that would encourage her to do even better in 2016. Eygló will be warming up for her eventual, inevitable Olympics triumph at the 17th biennial Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE) in San Marino this June, where she will no doubt crush the competition. Go Eygló! You’re the best!

Photo by Art Bicnick

Iceland’s year in: football
by John Rogers

Supporting a shit football team is an emotionally gruelling activity. When it’s a club team (let’s say, for argument’s sake, Chelsea FC), people often root for a sneaky “second team” affiliation, like Barcelona, to get a vicarious taste of victory. However, you’re stuck with your national team, for better or worse. As such, followers of Iceland’s national men’s team have suffered almost a century of hurt, never once qualifying for the finals of a major tournament.

That changed in 2015, as a new “golden generation” of male Icelandic footballers finally broke through into the 2016 Euros. Literal generations of Icelandic football enthusiasts have prayed for this, and now that it’s happened, they still seem to harbour a sense of disbelief. Wise footballing heads cited everything from the building of indoor training facilities to a retention of former players in coaching, to the plain old indomitable Icelandic spirit as possible reasons for the breakthrough. Whatever it was, 2016 is the biggest year ever for Icelandic men’s football. Áfram Ísland!

It wasn’t such a vintage year for Iceland’s famously competitive women’s team, which has historically been far more successful than the men’s one. After some steady progress into the European Cup finals in previous years, they failed to qualify for the 2015 Women’s World Cup, held in Canada. Shame—it was a surprise hit and reached a record-breaking TV audience, with an estimated 25.4 million Americans tuning in to watch Japan beat the US side 5-2 for the title. But 2016 is a new year…

Gunnar Nelson by Nanna Dís
Photo by Nanna Dís

Iceland’s year in: cage fighting
by Gabríel Benjamin

Following a disappointing loss to Rick “The Horror” Story in 2014, Gunnar Nelson, Iceland’s premiere cage fighter, took some time off and went back to the drawing board. Gunnar had earned a name for himself for his prodigious grappling and his methodical approach to fighting before getting signed onto the UFC, and he displayed exactly those qualities when he returned to the octagon in July to fight and beat Brandon Thatch in just two minutes and 54 seconds.

With fresh wind in his sails, he accepted a match against another skilled grappler, Demian Maia, only to find he had bitten off more than he could chew—Gunnar lost the match, receiving 193 punches in the exchange. Gunnar has reassured his fans, however, that this setback won’t stop him, and that he still aims for the top. Also, he and Demian have remained friendly after the match, and plan to meet up and train together later in the year.


Iceland’s year in: basketball
By Sveinn Birkir Björnsson

What a year it was for Icelandic basketball. Admittedly, the domestic competition was concluded in much the same way it usually is, with teams being crowned Icelandic champions, but that’s not what’s important. All the glory fit to print should be reserved for the Icelandic national team, which made its first ever appearance at a major tournament. Yes, last summer’s EuroBasket was very much a coming out party for Icelandic basketball. Granted, the team lost every game. But every game was lost in a heroic fashion. The team held its own in a historically strong group including hosts Germany, eventual champs Spain, semi-finalists Serbia, as well as powerhouses Italy and Turkey.

As brave as their performance may have been, the team was still outdone by the Icelandic fans who accompanied them to the tournament—they would have been awarded the tournament’s MVP trophy, if that were possible, on the strength of their unbreakable spirit.

On the women’s side, the Icelandic national team returned to international play after years of inactivity on that front, somewhat sweetening that acid taste of seeing prominent teams withdraw from league play for financial reasons and/or lack of enthusiasm.

Hafþór as Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane

Iceland’s year in: being super strong
by Gabríel Benjamin

Hafþór Júlíusson, AKA “The Mountain,” broke two things in February: A 1,000-year-old weightlifting record, and the Grapevine’s website (our story about that ancient record was Iceland’s most read news article of 2015).

Alongside winning the World’s Strongest Viking competition for the second time in a row, Hafþór also took on another challenge described in the Sagas. The previous record holder had carried a monster wooden log that was 10m long and weighed 650kg for three steps, but Hafþór managed to improve on that by a further two. He then took to his Instagram, exclaiming he was on his way to his ultimate goal: becoming The World’s Strongest Man. “NOTHING CAN STOP ME!! NOTHING CAN BREAK ME!”

The legend of the Icelander Orm Storulfsson says that he walked three steps with this MONSTER WOODEN LOG which weighs over 600kg’s/1320lbs! It took 50 mere mortals to help him placing it on his back! After he took his third step his back broke under the enormous pressure and he was never the same after that! Well today my friends I made history!! As well as winning the title of The World’s Strongest Viking for the second time in a row I carried this MONSTER LOG 5 steps! My back held up fine!! As I’m on my way to my ultimate goal to win The World’s Strongest Man! NOTHING CAN STOP ME!! NOTHING CAN BREAK ME!!

A photo posted by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (@thorbjornsson) on

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