Posted by Bert VAN MANEN on December 11, 2015
Hurghada is around the corner, but allow me to take you back to Bordeaux one last time. In terms of average, it was not the greatest world championship ever. Even the final was not of supreme quality. But both the tournament and the deciding match between Dong Koong Kang and Blomdahl were historic, because of the tension. Which was off the charts.
There are people who go to 3-cushion events to learn. But many more go to be entertained. Bordeaux, Blomdahl and Kang offered them a roller-coaster ride. What will the spectators remember? Blomdahl’s six in the equalizing inning, of course.
Six in the equalizer is not such a big deal, if you’ve just lost 40-22 or 50-29. People do it all the time. Philipoom once lost 50-31 to Ceulemans (1999) and ran 18. Caudron did the same: he lost 40-21 to Merckx (2006) and also ran 18. The record is held by Tasdemir, who lost 50-26 to Tijssens (2008) and added 21 to his total.
Making six when you NEED six, that is a bit more applause-worthy, because of the pressure. Six is not an astronomical run, a top player counts on making three at least, if his break-off is halfway decent. In Bordeaux, Zanetti equalized with seven against Xuon Cuong Ma, and Sanchez even made eight to deny his countryman Legazpi. Jelle Pijl once ran 13 to equalize (1998), and so did Francis Forton (2012). The record for a successful equalizer is held by Dion Nelin (2015) with 15.
A run of six in the equalizer, when you need six, in the final of the World Championship? Now we’re talking. That is a technical and mental achievement, it is actually heroic. You can’t even think of a moment in the career of a 3-cushion player when the pressure is higher. One stroke decides what will be in the record books forever. If you hit the ball poorly but make the point, you are a hero. If you hit it well but miss, a thousand pundits are ready to call you “mentally weak”.
Physically, everything goes wrong under pressure: your heart rate goes up and so does the adrenaline level, your nerves are shattered, your brain is a disorganized mess. And don’t think the experienced Swede was not affected. Blomdahl, who has the reputation of being so “cool” at crunch time, had the following to say about it, a day or two after the final:
“I don’t even remember it clearly. I was there, but I wasn’t. Somebody else was playing those final points, and fortunately they were easy”.
I had heard that description of a final match before. Snooker legend Steve Davis explained in a documentary how and why he missed an easy black in the final of the 1985 World Championship against Dennis Taylor. “For hours I had given all I had in me, and I was depleted. I was in a fog. All I could do was go through the motions, pretend I was a snooker player in a final, but I wasn’t. I was a zombie, I could not have spelled my own name”.
Blomdahl was not as far gone as Davis, who had been at the table for two days and 35 frames. But the nerves of the Swede had taken a punishment too. He had gone through the Bordeaux WC like a cat with nine lives, first surviving a thriller against Jae Ho Cho who, maybe, should have won. He then produced an inspired comeback against Eddy Merckx. It was 29-21 to the Belgian, but it ended 35-40, thanks to three jaw-dropping points from Blomdahl: his 24th, 34th and 36th. Ask yourself what you would have played in those positions. My guess is: not this.
The victory over Merckx (who did record the highest tournament average with 1.940) was followed by the final against Dong Koong Kang. The Korean was brimming with confidence after his 40.000 Euro win in the LG Cup, and he did precious little wrong in Bordeaux. There was just one tense match: against Adnan Yüksel who was beaten 40-37. DKK impressed with his mighty stroke seven, eight years ago, but he was just a diamond in the rough then. He has a complete game now, and his presence at the table has become intimidating. In the final, he was the better player for most of the nervy match: 37-24 to the Korean.
We all know how it ended for DKK: he missed a sitter. This is how I think it went: a) Kang knows he’s not going to win it with a two, he is aiming for four, five points at least. b) He has a very promising position for his second, but there is room behind the yellow. If he is in-between the three- and the four rail line, he will miss. c) He would love to hit the yellow off four rails, half ball. There they are, his three reasons to fall into the trap. He aimed, thinking: “Don’t go in the hole”. He didn’t, but it was the most expensive negative thought of his career.
Blomdahl did not play a particularly great break-off, but he did come up with positive thinking on his second point. He saw the solution (short-long-long, with top), did not waste time and made it. Was it a semi-artistic piece of gallery-play? No. It was by far the best solution for the problem on the table, and it won him the world title.