I have a new Australian sporting hero. It’s been a long time since Steve Waugh’s retirement, but finally, the former cricket captain’s steely-eyed place in my heart has been filled. When I grow up, I want to be Feliks Zemdegs, even though at 17, he’s 19 years younger than me.
On Sunday, Feliks won a gold medal – yes, gold, a colour largely unknown to, say, Aussie swimmers in recent years – at the World Rubik’s Cube Championship in Las Vegas. He solved the cube that was a feature of just about every birthday party during the 1980s in a mere 7.36 seconds. Go and watch the video, it’s awesome. And it’s not like it’ll take up much of your time.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Feliks also went on to win gold in the 4×4 category. That doesn’t mean he somehow solved the cube while bumping up and down in an all-terrain vehicle – it turns out there are extra-hard cubes with 16 squares on each side, and even 5×5 ones known as “The Professor’s Cube”.
Now, I don’t know how Feliks got so amazing at solving Rubik’s Cubes in only a few short years. I’d rather believe that he’s prodigiously gifted than believe that he’s spent just about every waking moment of his adolescent life playing with plastic toys that most of the rest of us abandoned forever at around the time of the bicentenary. And I’d like to know whether he chose the Rubik’s Cube or whether, like the wands in Harry Potter, the Cube chose him.
Perhaps his parents had a Cube dangling above his crib from an early age, or perhaps he picked one up from a coffee table as a toddler and never put it down. Perhaps he took it up to impress girls, ultimately discovering that it only impressed those very few girls who were also into rapidly solving Rubik’s Cubes, if indeed there are any.
It doesn’t ultimately matter, because he’s the best in the world at his art, and which of us can say that?
If his time wasn’t so thoroughly impressive, I might even have wondered whether his win was largely a result of Rubik’s Cubes’ relative unpopularity nowadays. At first I wondered whether his victory might be akin to winning the World Championships of Solving 900,000 Piece Puzzles in that very few people could be bothered competing.
But no – the kid’s a pro. Well, I doubt he’s literally a pro, in that he can make a living merely at being good at Rubik’s Cubes. But it was extremely impressive nevertheless. I still remember spending literally hours trying to solve those things, and I never even came close.
With our cricket and rugby teams losing in recent weeks, and the Brits triumphing at Wimbledon and in the Tour to boot, we Aussies need to take our sporting icons where we can find them, and that means in the sport of Rubik’s Cube. If we have the world’s fastest competitor in a sport that seems more or less to involve organised finger-twiddling, then I say congratulations, Felix – and long may your fingers twiddle. In fact, so prodigious is his ability at using those dancing digits to spin the Rubik’s Cube exactly the way he wants it, I’d seriously consider drafting him into the remainder of the Ashes series.
I’d like to see the Australian Institute of Sport hire Feliks to set up some kind of Centre of Excellence in the sport of Rubik’s Cube, and perhaps other childhood leisure pursuits. Who knows – perhaps within Australia’s 23 million inhabitants there might also be lurking a potential gold medal winner in the sports of yo-yo, elastics or hula hoop.
And there are world championships in chess – so why not other board games like Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit or Hungry Hungry Hippo? I was pretty nifty at Pictionary back in the day, I’ll have you know, and I still rate my skills at manufacturing plausible ridiculousness while playing the greatest board game of all, Absolute Balderdash. We could probably unearth a Dungeons & Dragons champ somewhere in the suburbs too, lurking well away from natural light.
Finding new sports to compete in needn’t be restricted to merely sedentary activities. Bullrush is another juvenile pursuit that should have been played to world championship level. It was always one of my favourite pastimes, and it should be developed to the level of a televised, professional pursuit. I’m sure that some of my former classmates are more worthy of being paid for their skills at ducking and weaving than, say, the NSW State of Origin team.
And I would have loved to keep playing handball after primary school. If handball courts around the country were like those public basketball courts they have all over America, I’d gladly head down there to try to hustle the locals in a scene reminiscent of White Men Can’t Jump. The tough-talking locals would assume that Pudgy Balding White Men Can’t Hit Power Shots, and I’d prove them very, very wrong.
Feliks Zemdegs, I salute you and I only wish there were more like you. Because the more gold medals and world championships in unusual activities there are, the greater Australia’s chances of winning some of them.