EDITOR’S NOTE: With the Iceland national team making an unexpected run into the quarterfinals of UEFA EURO 2016, ESPN sent crews to the capital city of Reykjavik to capture the spirit of the country ahead of Sunday’s match against France. Marty Smith filed some lighthearted reports for SportsCenter from the beautiful island nation, including a memorable live shot in which he described to anchor Sara Walsh the difficulty he and producer Jonathan Whyley had finding a spot to get a signal to transmit back to the U.S.
“I promise, there are sheep – sheep abound here,” Smith said to a laughing Walsh as he stood in an empty field. “Goats, we saw a couple of horses, I think I saw a unicorn over here somewhere. It’s a mythical land, Sara.”
Smith also described Iceland’s beauty from a helicopter, traced the origins of the Viking chant with some of the country’s residents and joined in the post-match celebration, even though Iceland lost to France 5-2.
Smith wrote about his Iceland experience for Front Row:
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND – Words on paper cannot properly articulate the Icelandic experience. Character-painted pictures are wonderful, and photographs and video footage help, but only immersion offers the necessary awe-inspiring context.
You just stand there, look dumbfounded at one another and go, “Holy s—.”
The people here, much like the landscape, are kind and beautiful and vibrant. The island is breathtaking. Unbefitting the country’s name, Iceland is a series of mountains and lakes and volcanoes and geysers. It’s more fire than ice. And it’s very green.
I expected Siberia. I got the Kingdom of Arendelle.
— Iceland in US 🇮🇸 (@IcelandInUS) July 3, 2016
Everywhere you look is pure beauty, human and nature.
It’s a green and blue and beautiful reminder from God that you are, indeed, very small.
— Dianna Russini (@diannaESPN) July 3, 2016
If you ask around there’s a blue-collar pride here. This is a land born from rugged fishermen. Tourism has exploded in recent years. Our hotel looked like Paris. Americans love the place — now more than ever – because of Iceland’s soccer team. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived, but I quickly learned the impact of the improbable Icelandic run through EURO 2016.
Upon arrival, my cabbie made it clear as soon as my rear hit the seat: “Sunday’s gonna be huge.” He didn’t know I was a journalist. I hadn’t even told him my name. “This is a fairy tale for us.” That is fitting. This is the land of fairytales. They believe in magic here. Some folks make doctor visits to get their noggins checked, uncertain why exactly they believe.
My Icelandic cabbie on ⚽️team:
"It's a fairy tale"
Asks 4 my time–to show feature on goalie pic.twitter.com/CnpbBdR5Lc
— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) July 2, 2016
— Logan Sherrill (@LoganSherrillTV) July 3, 2016
It was a landmark trip for my team and me – my team being producer Jonathan Whyley. Just the two of us. He’s a magician, like a brother to me. We did a live shot in a helicopter, 1,500 feet above Reykjavik. And on a Viking boat. And in a field 40 miles out of town. It was the only pace the TVU would work. We had to dodge sheep. We took America on a tour of Reykjavik from 240 feet above the city, inside the bell tower amongst the bells.
We made Iceland’s President-elect Guðni Th. Jóhannesson perform the unique Viking chant. And we met the island’s most famous band. And we met the island’s MMA star. He then choked me out. That’s how impressed he was.
— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) July 3, 2016
Though they lost the game and the dream ended, Icelanders partied like Armageddon was nigh. And I joined them in the streets. And I will never forget them. Because, in truth, they won. They lost to France on the pitch. But they won worldwide respect.