U.S. Takes Silver In … Elephant Polo?

New York Blue, an amateur elephant polo team, participates in the World Championships in Katmandu, Nepal.
New York Blue, an amateur elephant polo team, participates in the World Championships in Katmandu, Nepal.
Unless you read the Katmandu sports pages, you're probably unaware that an upstart American team has shocked the world in a very peculiar sport. Our Bill Geist has the lowdown on the team of New Yorkers who are a kind of pachydermal equivalent of the Jamaican bobsled team.

The elephant has long distinguished itself in the fields of entertainment and the arts, and now perhaps, too, in athletics.

Elephant polo, a fan favorite in South Asia, remains one of America's least popular and slowest-growing sports.

But the game may be poised to take off here after an upstart American team shocked the world by taking silver at the World Elephant Polo Championships

"We're excited to represent our country," said one member of the team named New York Blue, "even though our country has no idea it's being represented."

Captain Bill Keith said, "We all have a deep appreciation of the absurd."

That's right, they're New Yorkers, where about the closest they ever come to an elephant is the American Museum of Natural History.

"I actually spent a year in Africa as a kid," said Josh Dean, "so I saw a lot of elephants. And I rode an ostrich, so that was the closest I've come."

And how do you play elephant polo without elephants? It's not easy. I mean, you can't walk into a store and buy an elephant polo mallet. They have to make their own - an extender that you put a paint roller on, with four pieces of PVC.

And without elephants? They must practice riding atop of man-made beasts (left) in a freezing parking lot in Queens.

"We're doing the best we can out here," said Keith. "But nothing can sort of equate the experience of riding on the elephant."

And they must travel great distances for a match. Their first match ever would be at the world championship in Nepal. "Yeah, we skipped a few steps," laughed Keith.

The team took some home videos of their long, long journey which began at Newark Airport.

"Go Blue!" offered a flight attendant.

First stop: New Delhi, where they did a little sightseeing, then on to Katmandu and the final leg aboard Yeti Airlines.

And still their journey wasn't over. It was a one-hour daily commute from the hotel to the playing field, riding in the back of a jeep through jungle, foggy mist, then on an elephant through water ("Just another day on the elephants commuting to work," said Keith), through tall grass and more water.

Finally they take the field. With bagpipes peeling, an announcer welcomes them: "All the way from America, ladies and gentlemen, the New York Blue!"

After a coin toss, it's the Blues vs. the Chivas.

In their first match ever, the New York Blue was pitted against the defending world champion Scottish team captained by the Duke of Argyle.

"Guys, this is the big one, this is why you came here," intoned the pre-game pep talk.

But perhaps enthusiasm could make up for inexperience.

They climbed aboard their mounts, roped in behind mahouts (you know, elephant drivers).

It was a learning experience … a match they lost by just one goal.

Ice packs were applied. Players limped. Poop was scooped.

But the Blue played on gamely over the course of the five-day tournament, through injuries, hazards, and late night distractions.

"Critical moment for the greatest nation in the world today," said one announcer. "The United States of America, they've got a moment to really impress the crowds in Nepal!"

And impress they did. "The New York Blue drive on relentlessly!"

New York Blue won enough games to qualify for the amateur division's title game -

"Now it's sudden death," said Keith.

- where these gritty rookies fell just short of the gold in overtime.

"Yeah, it's a tough loss," said Chip Frazier.

"Always next year! We'll be back and better."

They proudly accepted the silver trophy, plus the award for best-dressed, and ghurka knives.

Aboard their pachyderms, New York Blue headed towards home.

They had come a long, long way, half-way around the world, to play elephant polo, which as Captain Bill Keith said would be puzzling to some …

"When you talk to people about it, and they ask you why, it's like if you have to ask 'why,' then you really don't get it at all."

Oh, we get it … I think.

For more info:

  • The New York Blue
  • World Elephant Polo Association
  • Hot Under the Collar Productions