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It’s swagger vs. sweat in this contest

Just in case it wasn’t clear, Americans are the machoest.

Even when we’re surrounded by machismo from across the globe, we win.

You can see the winning all week at the 2015 World Police and Fire Games in Fairfax County, Virginia. There are pistol combat, full-fire-gear stair running and police dog obedience contests — as well as more traditional sports.

International cop swagger is all over the place.

There are super-macho female officers of Hong Kong racing dragon boats on the Potomac. Beefy Norwegians sauntering through Reston (Va.) Town Center wearing Viking hats. Steely-gazed Ukrainian detectives vexed by the teeny-tiny plastic cups of beer.

But the difference between them and U.S. first responders and police officers is the vibe.

The unabashed brio. The brass. The macho.

“There is this thing they have. They are very self-confident,” said Francis Van Der Byl, a barrel-chested firefighter from South Africa who had just powered through the choppy Potomac on a dragon boat.

He’s 52, he’s been a firefighter with Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services for 35 years and he’s as big as a house.

Isn’t that a firefighter thing? That confidence?

“No, they are different,” he said. “Especially when they want to be number one. It’s an energy.”

And just as he said it, the NYPD women’s dragon boat team (the ones who beat the Hong Kong team) stomp by, game faces on, all red-white-and-blue uniforms and matching life vests that looked like body armor.

So I tried to find someone else international who must have that same confidence.

A Ukrainian officer — things haven’t been quiet in any precincts in his territory, with World War III looming and all that — must be as cocksure as any U.S. beat cop. Plus they’re here to dominate the hockey brackets — nothing timorous in that combo, right?

And there was Sergii Gorgkaiev, a 47-year-old bear of a player on the Dynamo Kharkov Police Service team.

“Sorry, my English bad,” Gorgkaiev said, as he hunted for the right word he had for American cops. Then he took on the stance of a circus weightlifter, biceps flexed and balled fists in the air. “American police: HWROA!!” he bellowed, almost a Marine Corps “OORAH,” but louder.

And all his police buddies from Ukraine nodded their heads.

“Big head,” one of them clarified.

So I tried a hockey player from Norway. I mean, these are the guys who entered the opening ceremonies wearing Viking helmets with ginormous horn spans. That’s national hubris to challenge any two-cans-of-beer hat I’ve seen here in the States.

Trondheim firefighter Jahn Akernes, 53, was without his horns when we talked, but he does have his name tattooed on his arm.

“Americans, I don’t have the right word for it, but the Americans are very self-looking,” he explained. “Like Norwegians. We do that, too. But Americans do it a little bigger, I think.”

So in an Olympic gathering of world macho, just about everyone agrees Americans are the machoest.

And that quality is breathtaking for some of their global counterparts. And fascinating for others.

For nearly all of the officers I talked to, the steel they see in America’s police force is inevitable.

“All the guns,” shrugged Joseba Ramos, 36, a police officer from the Basque region of Spain, where gun control is a whole different ballgame from what we have in the United States.

It was not a heavy topic of conversation for the officers — they usually banter about salary and staffing. But when asked, they were well aware of America’s troubled times with police and weapons.

An investigation by The Washington Post showed that at least 385 people were shot and killed by police in the first five months of this year.

And after shootings in Ferguson, Cleveland and North Charleston have jolted America into a conversation about police, body cameras and training, it’s a topic difficult to ignore.

“They shoot much,” Ramos said. “But they have it hard. Many guns in America.”

Yes, many guns.

In America, 88.8 out of 100 people own a gun, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, quoted by the Council on Foreign Relations. In Norway, it’s 31 out of 100. Canada, 30.8; Australia, 15; Israel, 7.3; the United Kingdom, 6.2; and Japan, less than 1 — 0.6.

So far this year, we’ve had a little more than 24,000 incidents — deaths, injuries, shootings — involving guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

So yes, our law enforcement officers and first responders are dealing with more guns and more violence than most of their fellow competitors shooting pucks and paddling boats this week. And that’s where the American macho is forged.

And you thought we were just better dragon-boaters.

© 2015, The Washington Post

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