Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nighttime Snack: It's Pal Joensen Time

Lest there be any doubt about who I am rooting for in the men's 800, let me state it now: Pal Joensen. If you're new to my blog, then you may not know the history I have with Pal. I probably shouldn't state it like that, because I've never had a direct conversation with him. It's more appropriate to say I have a history of writing about Pal. I hope to someday interview him (in Danish, of course). If you haven't heard this amazing story, let me give you a quick catch up.

I first wrote about Pal back in my floswimming days, which feel like just yesterday but is now over two years ago. I saw him in some results and was completely amazed. As I've referenced many times in this blog, I am Danish, and Pal comes from the Faroe Islands, officially a part of Denmark but culturally it's own identity. The Faroe Islands sit northwest of the British Isles, and up until very recently it was almost impossible to drive from one town to another. It is one of the most isolated countries in the world. It is home to roughly 40,000 people, and the sheep far outnumber the humans.There are no 50 meter pools in the archipelago. In fact, as recently as five years ago Pal was training in one of the country's several 16.6 meter pools. Since then he's been upgraded to a 4 lane, 25 meter pool in his home town of Vágur.

For a world class swimmer to emerge from these conditions is phenomenal, or so I thought when I started following Pal. What I discovered is that Pal had a very able coach, Jon Bjarnason, who I consider a friend
and who has been very gracious in talking swimming with me. The Chief Faroese swim blogger, Rókur Í Jákupsstovu, author of, has also been instrumental in helping me better understand where Pal is from. Beyond those two are many people who I don't even know but undeniably play a role in Pal's success. Pal is certainly the first Faroese swimmer to compete at such a high level but I feel fully confident that he will not be the last. The Faroese have constructed an exceedingly efficient swimming system out of harsh circumstances and are outpacing big brother Denmark in the age group ranks in many events. They make the absolute most of what they have.

In the end I realize I have a lot of reasons to cheer for Pal. For one, to be Faroese and Danish are not mutually exclusive. He will be one of Denmark's chief medal favorites in the 2012 Olympics. I also hope that his success will open a lot of eyes to what is happening in the Faroes so that others will emulate their success. Even though it's not entirely true, my last reason is the underdog story. I would love to see a man from the tiny Faroes battle the best in the world and come out on top. He's set himself up well with an excellent prelim 800. He proved he had the mettle for finals last summer in Europe, now its time to see it on the world stage.

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