Have you ever watched that movie „Cool Runnings“ about a Jamaican bob sleigh team? Well we might have something similar happening inside of our ever growing community. The Vikings of the north have decided to take the water polo world by storm and lets hope that they never become as good as the best of them. Why, you ask yourself? Why would I want the Icelandic water polo players to not become excellent water polo players? Because if they do, the rest of us are truly doomed. I mean if the temperature outside gets bellow 15 degrees Celsius the little pussy that writes this article is freezing his ass off. I like when my life and everything around me is above 15 degrees with a little to no wind. Those are my measurements of life and I feel little to no shame.
I have been keeping a close eye on the ever escalating situation on the European north. From the tournaments they have started to organize, to the training that they have been having whilst having Aurora Borealis as a part of their scenery. Yes you read that correct. Water polo under the Northern lights. You know what they say. Keep your friends close, but your future enemies even closer.
Or maybe they just like to play this game of ours and maybe I am just too competitive. Let us find out. Shall we.
Greetings Glenn. It really is a pleasure to do this interview with you. Could you explain our readers and me how your love for the game of water polo was born?
Hi Tomo, thanks for taking the time to show an interest in Iceland water polo.
I grew up in New Zealand and started off swimming as a kid from the age of 6. In New Zealand we have so many water sports and it is not hard to fall in love with the water there. I was thrown a ball at the age of 10 and asked if I wanted to play schools water polo and that is where my love for the sport grew. I joined my school team and also a club team and I was lucky to have a good group of kids who became very good friends of mine to grow up with and play the sport with. We went through the age groups together and made regional and national teams together so this was a big help to keep my interest going in the sport.
We were coached by a Dutch guy, Peter Paul Metz during our early teenage years and he installed a great competitive nature into us as well as a great comradery between us all.
We trained in the pool 7-8 x per week and also did beach running, circuit training, surf lifesaving and so many other things that kept us interested and kept the friendships going over these critical years. I was hooked on the sport but also hooked on the feeling of being part of a team.
Are you the first water polo player on Iceland, or was there water polo on Iceland before the social media era? Could you tell us a short history of the Icelandic water polo?
I am not the first water polo player here in Iceland. Icelandic water polo has been in and out of hibernation since the 1930s. Believe it or not they actually went to the Berlin Olympic games as a guest to compete in 1936. The sport then went into hibernation again and then was reborn again in the 1960s I believe. There were 4 teams competing for a national champions for some years. The league however dismantled again and then the sport has been bought back to life again in the last 15 years.
What caused this? What caused this last burst of water polo energy on Iceland and do you think it will only be that? Just another short burst before it is dismantled again.
Water polo came back again to Iceland due to the hard work of a couple of expats and locals fighting for pool time and getting the space needed to bring it back. Then once they had the pool time it took a lot of dedication to keep the members happy and enjoying themselves. Over these last 15 or so years we have really had so many ups n downs and it has flirted with the possibility that it would die out again. However I do believe that water polo here is stronger today because of the rocky ride and that it is in a very healthy phase at the moment. We have some dedicated coaches who only wish for the sport to grow and for the sport to be healthy again. Positivity breads positivity.
I sincerely hope that water polo doesn’t disappear again from the Icelandic sporting scene and I truly believe that it will not and I believe that it will see growth in the next years. The more events we can have on our calendar then the more chance we have of keeping players active and interested in the sport. So this is a big thing we are working on. To have regular events and competitions going on.
Could you tell us how does Water polo fit the Icelandic way of life?
Well for me its easy. There are 180 swimming pools in Iceland the the pools are for me the best in the world that i have been to. The whole concept around water up here in this Nordic country helps us survive the winter months. The hot water literally comes straight from the ground and is as pure as can be. Also the cold water comes from the taps like it is melting straight from a glacier. So with pure water coming straight to us from all angles it is not unusual that we feel drawn to the swimming pools. The best thing about the pools for me is that it is compulsory to take a shower before entering the pool complex and this enables the pool to have less chemicals and chlorine in the water which makes the eyes less sore after a grueling water polo session. A great luxury. I remember the days as a youngster getting out of the pool after a match and finding everything blurry from the chlorine doesn’t happen here.
So in saying this lots of people here visit the swimming pools regularly. Each pool has hot tubs , steam rooms and cold pots to enjoy as well as lane swimming pools and kids pools… our local pool where we train consists of 2 x 50m pools, 1 huge outdoor kids pool, 7 x hot tubs including 1 made from salt water, 1 steam room, 2 beach volleyball courts, outdoor obstacle course and huge grass area to enjoy during the summer months. Laugardalslaug. A wonderful facility and one of the best i have ever been to.
Laugardalslaug. Now there is a word you definitively have to copy/paste if you want to put it on google maps haha. Tell me, how do people on Iceland react when you say to them that you play water polo?
Well water polo is not that common in Iceland yet. The 2 most common sports in Iceland are football and handball although in the last 10-15 years there are so many new sports here in Iceland that we are spoilt for choice now. Football has of course grown to unprecedented levels. Due to the success of their national team the last years.
When I say I play water polo most people have a story about how they played when they were younger and nearly drowned and they say it was the hardest thing they have ever done. So I would say a lot of people here have a complex that water polo is to tough for them…I mean water polo is of course tough but this is the land of Gunnar Nelson (the famous UFC fighter) and the worlds strongest man.
But the reason why people find it tough is because we don’t have a kids and teenage programs yet established in Iceland. This is the reason why our development hasn’t yet reached the levels of where the sport can sustain itself.
Were there any attempts of promoting our sport on Iceland?
I once organized a water polo match here for a charity to support disabled kids in Iceland and we got an MMA team from a local gym and a cross fit team from another gym to compete in a game against each other. This was an eyeopener because these guys were some of the toughest competitors in Iceland and here they were nearly drowning in the pool and trying to put the ball in each others goal. It was a lot of fun and it was great to see the enthusiasm of the guys and how competitive they were to win..but one of the MMA guys got out of the pool and said: ”I’d rather fight five rounds in the octagon than endure the punishment of a water polo match again”. He said it with a beaming smile on his face, but it showed to me that water polo is a bloody tough sport and it is played by very special people and these special people have such a great connection wherever they are in the world with like minded water polo players.
The problem with MMA fighters is that even when our sport could really be harder then their sport, there is really no point in “fighting” the issue haha. Never mind. Let us move on with our interview. Sports in general and not just football (soccer for my American readers) will become the second most important thing in the world again. In more ways then one. Sports are needed in a our daily lives now more then ever. How does Island „make“ their kids do sports? How does it make it accessible for the kids and affordable and manageable for the parents?
Sport in Iceland is so accessible and easy for kids to begin. I have 3 kids aged 10, 8 and 5. The oldest one does basketball and park-our, the middle one does football and MMA and the youngest one has been playing football, but will start basketball in the winter. The city of Reykjavik gives each parent a grant to help pay for their kids activities and also each suburb in Reykjavik has their own indoor stadium with football, basketball and handball arenas. So in a city of 140,000 people there must be around 10 stadiums like this so the facilities are amazing. Another thing is that these clubs pick up the kids from school by bus and drive them to their sports training after school so the parents only have to worry about picking them up after their training. It’s such an incredible thing for parents to know that your kids can be involved in sports or activities and it doesn’t take too much effort driving them around to all their different training at different times.
However in saying this, this service is really only given by these big clubs who offer the football, handball and basketball and occasionally some other sports as well but it is not included in the swimming pools. So it has been very hard to start a kids program when we have to compete with this.
How many clubs are there on Iceland? Do you have a women team also, or not yet?
So back in the hey day of the 1970s we had 4 clubs competing… which was great to have a competition going for the last 15 years we have had just the 2 clubs but this year there has been a new club begin and so now we have 3 cubs going here in Iceland. ARMANN, S.H. and K.R.
As yet we don’t have a women team or a national team however we are encouraging this and we hope to have these teams up in running when we can.
In an ideal world. How do you see the development of water polo on Iceland?
In an ideal world to help with the development of water polo here in Iceland we would like to secure some funding for us to help run a kids and teenagers water polo program. To help set this up would take peoples time and also the cost for the facilities and equipment.
The club teams we have going at the moment have mostly been for the senior guys and we need to get some feeder programs going for the clubs to be able to sustain themselves in the future. However of course it takes time to set these programs up so in my opinion we need to have someone who is with a lot of time on their hands or someone who is funded to set these programs up.
Also we need to get a national team set up going so that we can send teams to tournaments abroad and promote our water polo here in Iceland. I have been doing a lot of work on social media to try and raise the awareness that water polo up here does exist and that seems to be working a bit.
What does Iceland bring to the water polo community that we can’t find anywhere else?
Iceland brings a lot to the water polo community in my opinion. I started an international tournament in 2016 which is held around end of may time. It has been a huge success and for this years edition I had 12 teams confirmed until covid put a halt to everything. I had teams from USA, Germany, Serbia, Ukraine, Iceland , Sweden, UK, Luxembourg, Croatia, and Spain competing so I am pretty proud that after 3 years we had so much interest to come to Iceland to play water polo with us. The tournament is more than just a bunch of games and a party at the end. It is more like an Icelandic adventure with water polo included and a gathering of polo players from around the globe. The atmosphere has been incredible and each year it has been improving immensely.
During the tournament I organize an adventure on a mountain bus into the Icelandic highlands which is a real highlight for the teams. Last year we took 100 players across rivers by bus into an area in between 3 glaciers and I cooked for them a real traditional Icelandic lamb soup. It was an amazing day and it was amazing to have water polo players from around the world in Iceland and be able to show them our water polo, our facilities and also our beautiful country.
The dates for next year are 27-29 may and I already have so much interest about competing in the 2021 edition.
In an ideal world again haha, how did you planned to develop your situation? You plan to organize only one tournament pro year and that’s it, or…?
After the success of this event i had planned to host an autumn event with a northern lights tour included over the weekend but covid stopped this idea so I will plan this one for 2021, or if something changes then I might try to organize it for October/November2020
I am also trying to organize kids training camps here in the summer months. I understand so many kids teams travel around the world to camps in the summer months and I am trying to make a package here to come and train and play and also see a bit of the country as well.
What do you think water polo as a whole should do in order to help the game of water polo grow on Iceland?
We are also open to hosting teams during the year who wish to come here and make training camps and play against our teams or our national team. This would raise our profile here in Iceland a lot and give us so much ground for growth..
So i think we have a lot to offer here. If anyone is interested in helping develop the sport here or if anyone is interested in bringing a team or club here then they may contact me and we can begin discussions. We are open for all ideas to help the sport and community grow here.
And the last question. You have already mentioned the MMA scene that Iceland has. Is it true that Connor McGregor once came to Iceland to prepare for one of his matches? From what I know Gunner Nelson is one his regular sparring partners. Sorry, I know its not water polo related but had to put this one in there. It’s a myself related question and that’s all haha.
Haha, yes Connor has been here numerous times. His gym in Ireland(SBG) is like a brother club to the Mjolnir MMA gym here. The fighters have been going back n forth between Ireland and Iceland and honing their skills together.
Gunnar Nelson is the legend of the sport here and is also a top role model for the community. He took the time to come to our charity event and mixed with some of the kids there. What a gentleman! If you’re an MMA fan then watch out for the next generation of Icelandic fighters as there are some really talented ones coming through. The MMA scene here is growing as well due to Gunnars popularity.
I will just pretend like I didn’t already knew that information haha. Thank you for your time Glenn. We from dance.hr wish you and the whole Icelandic water polo all the best in the times to come. Stay healthy and warm.
Thanks Tomo, its been a pleasure to take the time to speak with you, if anyone is interested to know more about the water polo scene here or wants to come and visit they can contact me firstname.lastname@example.org or through Armann waterpolo club direct.
Wish you all the best and stay safe