News Item

Russian University Games medalist

Russia uses ringers to turn the World University Games into one huge game of Tecmo Bowl

By John Teti • July 18, 2013

Every Tecmo Super Bowl player has done it on a lark. You play an exhibition game as the NFC All-Stars and saddle the computer with a lousy team, maybe Indianapolis. (The Colts were terrible in the Tecmo era.) Over the course of four lopsided quarters, you unleash a piping hot bowl of whoop-ass on the floundering “CPU” squad. Unfair, sure, but satisfying and good for your self-esteem.

Russia just pulled the same trick with real-world athletes, which is so very Russia of them. The biennial World University Games are, according to The New York Times, traditionally treated “as something of a good-will exchange for amateur athletes.” But instead of doing that boring thing, Russia—this year’s host nation—larded its teams with elite competitors for the purpose of running roughshod over everybody else. The Great Bear’s ringers won 155 gold medals at the Games, leaving second-place China in the dust with a trifling 26 golds. The Times’ Andrew E. Kramer describes the scene:

With people in the stands cheering and stomping for the home team in the Volga River city of Kazan, the Russians took victory lap after victory lap, leaving their winded and bewildered student competitors from around the world to stagger off the field in defeat.

I have sympathy for the upstanding student athletes who had to play the role of the 1991 Indianapolis Colts, but I also find this whole affair wonderfully stupid and hilarious. It’s made even funnier by the fact that Russia went to all this trouble in order to dominate the World University Games—a revered competition, I’m sure, but I’m also willing to bet that you’d never heard of it before today. And then the Russkies even have the brass to deny there was any hanky-panky: “We came well prepared,” a Russian spokesperson said by way of explaining the gargantuan medal count.

Do you have any stories of purposely lopsided competition? Whether you were on the Harlem Globetrotters or Washington Generals side, share your tale of ill-gotten victory in the comments.

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35 Responses to “Russia uses ringers to turn the World University Games into one huge game of Tecmo Bowl

  1. His_Space_Holiness says:

    The only thing that comes to mind is my time playing Quiz Bowl in college. In high school my team was pretty good, but the playing field was even. High school nerds took on other high school nerds, you win some, you lose some, you lose at nationals to the team that practices three hours a day, and that was that. But in college, grad students remain eligible, so you would wind up with teams of guys in their thirties going for their second doctorate versus a gaggle of freshmen. Of course, organizers would make an effort to avoid matchups like that, but after a while I’d see the one guy breezing through a tournament by himself and think “I’ll never be that good — and I really don’t want to.”

    • Cloks says:

      Ah, college Quiz Bowl. My proudest moment was being matched up against some guy who had been hyped up as the best player we’d likely face and repeatedly beating him to the answer. After doing this three times in a row, he blew a fuse and started yelling at one of his teammates. I left the sport soon after because so many of the players had weird mental … tics? and I didn’t really enjoy it but I’ll always remember that moment with pride.

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        Yeah, by its nature the game attracts a lot of weirdos. If you’re going to spend your time memorizing world capitals or kings of Thailand, you’ve already got one foot in the crazy door.

    • Rob_ says:

       My proudest moment was getting a string of X-Files related questions and just nailing all of them, to the other team’s disgust.
      Of course, I got everything else wrong.

    • CNightwing says:

      University Challenge provokes this perennial debate, indeed previously good gameshow contestants will actually sign up for a correspondance course in order to get on the show. It has become such a point of contention that Jeremy Paxman announces the average age of a team before they introduce themselves.

      Why yes, I am bitter than my team was beaten in the quarter finals by a graduate school whose members were basically us four years later. The series I was on was won by Manchester, who do this more or less deliberately. The captain of that team was a sports psychologist and took the fun out of the whole affair if you ask me.

      • Girard says:

        See, I’d have thought doctoral scholars would be at a disadvantage as by that point their knowledge base is so specialized that they have great depth, but not great breadth, of knowledge. “I’m writing my dissertation on the trends in ornamentation of 13th-century Chinese dinnerware! As long as they ask me about that, I’m golden!”

        • EmperorNortonI says:

          You’d think that would be the case, but no, usually it isn’t. The incredibly specialized and incomprehensible crap is to get past their committee, and to seem relevant to the field. The actual base of knowledge built up to get to that point is pretty damn impressive, though, as most people in grad school have pretty decent memories and tend to pay attention to the news and have nerdy hobbies.

        • CNightwing says:

          Yeah, I agree with @EmperorNortonI:disqus , you have to be quite geeky to go on these quiz shows anyway, and when you’ve had more time to be geeky, you know more stuff. I’ve spent many a family christmas playing sporcle online to keep everyone quiet.

        • Kyle Hale says:

          To this entire thread I recommend Trash and all of its regional and national tournaments. Just as obsessive and filled with knowledge-y, Asperger-y geeks, but the categories and questions are way more up your alley: Grunge Bands, Hamburger Joints, entire categories about the dog episode of Futurama, etc.

  2. Excel-2013 says:

    I taught a 7-year-old how to play chess and proceeded to immediately wipe the board with them. It felt great.

    • Blatherly says:

      Totally did this to my cousin, but I felt neither good nor bad about it. Just another part of the teaching process.

      To be fair, does letting them win teach them anything? It’s not even like I was paying any great attention. They’d get sloppy and completely leave a free piece on the board. After a while of letting them take back a move you just have to do it and let them try to recover (which considering the original match up is unlikely).

      • Excel-2013 says:

        Letting them win is supposed to encourage them to keep playing, but if they don’t know how they won or what weakness they exploited that you intentionally left open for them, they learn nothing.

        • Blatherly says:

          True. But I figure the very best games are the ones where playing is the incentive rather than winning (although I admit its easier saying that as someone who is approaching adulthood, not a 7 year old child). I guess I also don’t really know how obvious an exploit is too obvious and how to make it subtle enough for a new player. The only opening they’re likely to get is painfully obvious, and for their first few games I suspect they wouldn’t even spot a basic fork.

      • zebbart says:

        Just let them take about half your pieces to bolster confidence, then beat them to teach them tactics.

  3. Roswulf says:

    My favorite story along these lines is the 1910 Italian football championships. Inter Milan (a team that still plays a significant role in world soccer) and Pro Vercelli (an early-20th century powerhouse based in a small Italian town that hasn’t been relevant to world soccer in 80 years) were tied at the end of the season. The tiebreaker would have given the championship to Vercelli.

    But Inter and the powers that be changed the rules, and decreed that their would be a tiebreaking game. Not content merely to change the rules, this tiebreaking game was scheduled at a time when many of Pro Vercelli’s players were unavailable because of their military duties. Admittedly the military duties were playing in a football tournament, but still, shady. Rightfully offended, Pro Vercelli’s players boycotted and instead played a team of 10-15 year olds who lost to Inter 10-3. How a bunch of 12-year old boys scored three goals against a championship football team is still unclear.

    Almost all of the above is drawn from Brian Phillips’ fabulous series tracing his journey playing as Pro Vercelli in Football Manager on It’s probably my favorite piece of long-form video game writing, marvelously demonstrating the ability of sandbox games to create powerful and engaging narratives.

  4. Cornell_University says:

    Man, I just hope their ruling party doesn’t translate this sort of tactic to governing.  Just think, there would be massive vote fraud and the fraudulent jailing of dissidents!

    The only way I could win at RBI Baseball ’93 was if I played as the American League All Stars, but then, I’ve always been terrible at sports games (and the Sox sucked back then anyway).

  5. In High School I was in the house league for basketball, meaning the kids who wanted to play basketball but who didn’t make the schools ‘actual’ competitive team.  There were four (small) house league teams in the school that would just play endlessly against each other.  One year a kid on the ‘real’ school basketball team had a leg injury that sidelined him from the main team, but he wanted to keep his shooting game up, and so the school put him in the house league, on my team (at the time, ranked last).

    We proceeded to win every game with that player carefully dribbling up and down the court and sinking essentially every basket you could imagine while us house leaguers (on both teams) helpless watched, totally unable to block shots or steal balls against this ‘real’ player.

    Unfortunately, by the time the house league ‘finals’ came around he had gone back to the school’s real team and our house league squad came fourth out of four teams.

    Go team!

  6. NakedSnake says:

    This story reminds me of Sealand, the world’s smallest and least legitimate micro-nation. Based on a floating anti-aircraft fort built in WWII, Sealand’s most credible claim to nationhood was the fact that the German government negotiated for the return of German nationals that Sealand was threatening to execute as traitors. In order to bolster their legitimacy, Sealand engages in nation-like behavior in many spheres (passports, currency, stamps), but nowhere is this more contrived than sports. Basically, any athlete of any nationality who is any good at any sport or even activity can be a Sealandian athelete. They have a roller derby team in South Wales. Their fencing team is located at UC-Irvine. Recently, the RIT Quidditch Team (“The Dark Marks”) represented Sealand in official IQA events. Their greatest moment was when a Canadian math teacher and MMA instructor took up the Sealandian flag as his official country and then won the Silver medal in the World Cup of Kung Fu.

  7. Blatherly says:

    Fifa 1998. Never been a huge fan of football (or soccer for you Americans), but enough of my friends were that I ended up knowing and playing a fair bit of Fifa. It also meant that I was pretty bad, at least compared to many of my friends.

    My greatest victory was probably also my cheapest. The score was tied, and it was approaching the end of extra time in an epic match. Back then, Fifa was an awful lot less polished and you could freely sliding tackle whoever and whenever you wanted. Including a keeper who was holding the ball in his hands, or even just standing around. Essentially, I repeatedly fouled their goalkeeper on their goal line and took him out of the game due to injury. I got some guys sent off, but, hey, in the dying minutes of the game meant that didn’t matter. However, it turns out a functioning keeper was actually pretty useful for the penalty shootouts.   

  8. Jackbert says:

    When I was eight, I played for two baseball teams. One was 10U machine-pitch, meaning a machine threw pitches ~40 MPH to my team of ten year-olds and me, the lone eight year-old. I did pretty well for that team, hitting .333 with two doubles and a triple over eighteen at-bats. The other was 8U coach-pitch, meaning a coach threw pitches ~10 MPH to kids between six and eight. I got a hit in every at-bat and a home run in half of my at-bats.

  9. ItsTheShadsy says:

    I have more than once played a local 1v1 game of Halo alone against an empty controller. The embarrassing thing was that I still died a couple times.

  10. Enkidum says:

    Late to post this because I’ve been nursing a post-defence hangover and dealing with a dead car all day, but anyways…

    I took my kids to a beach/park area a couple of years ago where we met up with a few other families. There was the standard random assortment of sporting equipment lying around, including a soccer ball. Some of the dads started kicking it aimlessly around, and the kids decided they wanted to play too. Unusually, they actually wanted to play an actual game of soccer instead of just running around after the ball, so we split into two teams. At first the dads were assuming that we’d be shared equally between the teams, but the kids demanded a youth vs. age game. So there were five or six fathers teamed up against a dozen or so kids ranging from about 4 to about 10. 

    When this sort of thing normally occurs, the dads adopt an unspoken rule of playing like morons, and the kids get to feel good about scoring a few goals and so forth. But this time, the exact opposite happened. The fathers just spontaneously decided to play about as well as we possibly could. Which, given that we’re a bunch of out-of-shape thirty-somethings, isn’t exactly at Real Madrid levels. But let me tell you, it’s a fuck of a lot better than your average 6-year old.

    We annihilated those little fuckers. I dunno what the score was, but we probably scored at least 20 goals. The kids actually did manage to get a couple of goals in, but I can assure you they worked like demons to get them – sheer numbers occasionally overwhelmed us. We were booting the ball hard enough to knock them over, stealing from them like—taking a soccer ball from a baby—and periodically they would try and tackle us and basically just bounce off. They were going down like ninepins… nine-year-old pins.

    I was honestly feeling pretty guilty about it, but we kept offering to play a more balanced game and the kids refused. They loved every violent minute of it, and it must have gone on for almost an hour. 

    And at the end of the day, they learned an important lesson. Dad will kick your fucking ass ninety different ways, given the opportunity.

  11. Pgoodso says:

    You may think I’m a braggart when I write this, but no, this is my secret and my burden. For me, it’s whenever I play anyone in Smash Brothers Brawl, and it’s usually just once.

    You see, me and my friends in college probably played Melee and then Brawl (when it came out) at least every other day, several hours a day. The first two years, when we were all in dorms together, we’d play “downs”, where there was a line of 3-4 people waiting for one of the 4 controllers, and the person who first lost all their lives in a 4 person match had to give up their controller to the next person. This Darwinian scenario eventually led to a top tier group of players that because of their initial skill or luck, were able to keep playing (and thus, basically, training) by virtue of always remaining in the top 3. I was naturally selected into that top 3 (in the evolutionary sense, not the inevitable).

    My second two years of college, and for 3 years after that, I was roommates with the other two in that top 3. And we continued to play.

    On top of THAT, one of us (not me) was and is a perfectionist kind of guy when it comes to competitions and games, and he played more than any of us. He would research on GameFAQS and various Smash Bros. boards the “official” tier list and the special moves done by people in tournaments, like which moves could be canceled. Me and him played Ganondorf and Link, respectively: the two worst characters in Brawl. He played Link to the limits of what Link could do in Brawl, and by simply ramming my face up against his skill repeatedly, I became almost as good as him, too.

    So, now, even after all these years that I stopped playing Brawl, a game I look back on in fondness and joy, occasionally someone will notice I have Smash Brothers, or someone will ask if I play, and I hesitantly answer in the affirmative. And if I am cajoled into playing, generally with a warning that “hey, just to let you know, I’m actually pretty good”, I will them proceed to demolish all comers with the most humiliating kills possible with the worst character in the game.

    Honor dictates that I not hold back. It’s the only way they’ll learn, and it’s the way I did: by losing until I started to win. But they usually don’t have the stomach (or really, the time) for it. And to be honest, the victory is rather empty for me as well: creaming the unsuspecting isn’t very challenging, and I know what the end result will be from the moment the console turns on. It’s not really fun for anyone involved.

    …Ok, it’s fun for me, because it’s been forever since I could ThunderBeard people coming back from the stage (When you connect with Ganondorf’s down-air move close to even height with the opponent, this causes the lightning animation to appear on his face instead of at his feet), but it’s certainly EMBARRASSING for everyone involved.

    I didn’t ask to have the burden of these incredible skillz. I just earned them.

  12. Kyle Hale says:

    Link to an old Everything2 writeup I did about the mercy rule:

    It’s got the goods on my favorite ringers story, starring Johnny Heisman (yep, that Heisman.)

  13. Dan Reynolds says:

    True NFL fact:  in 1990, the entire Indianapolis Colts team was outscored by the Washington Redskins’ kicker, Chip Lohmiller.