Tuesday, June 16, 2015

HERE WE GO AGAIN



As if the absurdity of the 2020 Olympic bidding process wasn’t farcical enough, it appears that the IOC has decided that yes, they actually should insert another sport or two into the program. Or maybe they’ll choose three? Right now, no one, it seems, knows how many will be added. Remember back in September of 2013, the IOC voted wrestling to be the “new” sport to the agenda? Irrelevant was the fact that wrestling had indeed been a part of the Games since its inception, was voted off the list just 6 months prior, only to be miraculously reinstated. The expensive and time consuming bidding process that squash (and all the other sports) went through vying for that spot was nothing more than an unadulterated fool’s errand and a colossal waste of effort.

So this is good news for squash, right? Okay, sure. The door has once again been left slightly ajar and the golden carrot can be seen dangling somewhere in the distance. But rather than ask the 2 sports that missed out behind wrestling to present their case anew – or simply add these sports in straight away since they ended up second and third in the original bidding - the IOC has opened up the spots to any and all. And, it seems, we have just a hysterically majestic and intriguing line up of potential Olympic candidates! There are 26 – yes, 26 – aspiring contenders. And squash has to go through the entire bidding process all over again.

Let’s go through this delectable list, shall we?

Let’s also keep in mind that the IOC want sports included that “serve as a driving force to promote the Olympic movement and its values, with a focus on youth appeal". Also vital is the fact that it has to draw local interest. The 2020 Games are in Tokyo, Japan. So the new sport(s) have to "engage the Japanese population and new audiences worldwide, reflecting the Tokyo 2020 Games vision.” With that in mind, should squash even waste it’s time bidding?

Baseball and softball are probably a guarantee to get included.  Baseball is huge in Japan (and the United States which hardly hurts its cause). It’s tough to argue against including it, except for the fact that the best players in the world – which is the MLB - wouldn’t waste their time from their season to do it, and the sport is littered with drug cheats. But, the sport has been Olympic before, so clearly the IOC doesn’t care about that.
Sumo Wrestling. Beautiful.

Other sports that will probably have a better chance than squash based on the above mantra would include karate and wushu (which is another martial art) and, believe it or not: sumo wrestling. Youth appeal? Absolutely! What other sport can you eat yourself to morbid obesity and still be considered an athlete? Kids these days would be all over that concept and hitting the fast food restaurants and donut shops. Super size? Of course!

Then there are the sports that I actually had to google to figure out what they are. I am fully aware that squash is not a house hold name in America. And more people than not look at me cross-eyed when I try to explain what I do for a living. But, squash is rather well known outside of the USA boundaries, and I consider myself rather well travelled having lived on 4 continents. Not even having heard of these sports before makes we wonder just how international there are. These include:

Air Sports. This apparently is an offshoot of gymnastics. Consists of trampoline; synchronized trampoline; power tumbling and double mini. Doubles mini is where they sprint to a mini trampoline, jump high in the air while they do summersaults, then jump onto a second mini trampoline to repeat the act for the dismount. Similar to vaulting but without the horse in the middle. Should this be even considered as a separate sport since it basically is gymnastics?

Floorball. This is field (or ice) hockey on a hard floor surface using a plastic ball and sticks. Is this for people who can’t skate or have allergies to grass?

Korfball
Korfball. This is a hybrid of basketball and netball. (If you aren’t familiar with netball, it’s a ‘women’s’ version of basketball that is popular in commonwealth countries.) Interestingly, the teams here are mixed. Would that help their bid? No dribbling allowed – you have to stand still (or pivot) if you possess the ball and pass or shoot - the nets are about 15 feet from the back sidelines so you can shoot baskets from behind the net as well.

Underwater Sports. This one is so preposterous its comical. Disciplines here include:
Apnoea. Basically it means holding your breath underwater for a period of time. Like when we were kids at the local swimming pool testing ourselves against our friends. That being said, I hardly think this is a sport one should be promoting to children… “Welcome to the junior Apnoea Championships…. First up is little Tommy… Oh no, he just drowned himself…
Aquathlon: Wrestling in the water.
Finswimming: Seems to be racing in or on the water wearing a monofin or two fins.
Underwater Hockey: self explanatory I guess. Their own website claims it is played on over 20 countries worldwide. Squash is played in over 175.
Orienteering. Yes, underwater. Athletes swim from specified point to point with the use of a compass and distance meter.
Underwater rugby. Scrums must fun here. There were 13 countries involved the last world championships
Spear Fishing. Surely the IOC won’t allow the killing of innocent fish!
Sport Diving. Didn’t quite understand this one, but athletes compete in a variety of tasks underwater such as obstacle course and finding objects… oh boy.
Visual. This is photography underwater. Grab your water proof cell phones everybody… How can photography be considered a sport?
Target Shooting. According to the website, not much equipment is needed to do this. Who doesn’t have a diving mask, snorkel, a pair of fins, diving or snorkeling suit, weight-belt, a pair of gloves, mass-produced spear-gun (elastic or hydro-pneumatic), a silhouette and, of course, a target lying in their basement?
As I was typing this, I also wondered that since all of these events happen under the water, how would anybody be to go the venue and watch? Will the pools all be made of glass?

Bowls.
And here are the next list of sports that we mostly will recognize, but as squash players, cannot possible fathom they have a better chance than us to get in: Water skiing; Wakeboarding; Racquetball; Flying Disc (Ultimate Frisbee); Orienteering; Dance Sport; Bowling; Bowls (Curling on grass) Netball; Sport Climbing; Polo; Surfing; Roller Sports; and American Football. I don’t even know why American Football would want to be in the Olympics. Does any other country play it? Should there even be a sport in the Olympics that has the word “American” in it? Doesn’t that give the impression that the Americans, I don’t know, would dominate this one? They could send the Grosse Pointe South High School team and still win gold. Or the Detroit Lions.

And then there are the “sports” that simply aren’t sports. How these are even classified as sports is a real mind-boggler:

Bridge. A card game? Holy retirement home, Batman. Could it be that we see 90 year old Olympians in the future? … “..and we come to the end of the days play since it’s 4.30pm and it’s way past the athlete’s bedtime…”

Chess. A board game? … What’s next? Monopoly? Clue? Trivial Pursuit? Twister?

And last and by all means least, my all time favorite candidate: Tug of War. Incredibly, Tug of War used to be an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920. Obviously I know what this is, but I just had to look up some highlights and see just how riveting it is to watch. If you don’t mind wasting 4 minutes of your life, here is the UK Tug of War Championships 2013 in the600kg division:
Action a plenty. Mesmerizing. Enchanting.

It is a diverse list and I’m sure the IOC will have its work cut out to narrow the field on June 22. Then the shortlist will make another presentation on September 30 with a final decision on which sport(s) make the cut on August 2016, shortly before the Rio Olympics.

Even though I am poking fun at many of the sports here, I am sure each and every one of them requires specific skills and plenty of hard work to excel at it. But surely they must realize that their chances of Olympic inclusion would be infinitesimal. Is their application just to get the IOC to see they are on the radar and want publicity?

I’m sure squash will once again make the short list, but considering 2020 is in Tokyo, squash does not have any appeal to the host country. We’ll make the bid, no doubt do a splendid job, meet all the requirements and criteria, spend a bucket load of money, get a little sniff of the prize to tantalize our senses, and then get unceremoniously rejected.

And, most of all, I hope I’m completely wrong.

Monday, May 11, 2015

LEADERS OF THEIR PACKS



2015 Singles Club Championships

One of my favorite nights on the calendar is Club Championships Night. Apart for the free steak dinner (!), showcasing the top players in each category is a treat and I was delighted to see many young, new players battling it out for glory. We once again set a record for participation, and as we all know more players means it’s more competitive. More 5-set results, more rivalries being created, more roars of elation off-set by more shrieks of disenchantment. For those of you who couldn’t quiet reach the pinnacle of success in this season ending event, let it motivate you to work harder next year, and for those select few who actually managed to  grasp the golden egg, (or gift certificate in this case!), we salute you!


2.5 ~ Check it with Becket

35 and counting… The 2.5 category continues to grow and grow. We had a lot of new players join our squash community this season and many of them decided to give the Club Champs a crack. It’s the best thing for new players to do – jump in and experience the pace of the game, the angles, step on court with someone who wants to kick your derriere! I’m sure there was some “derriere-kicking” going on, but also many matches went the distance and no one can be taken lightly… otherwise that derriere may be yours!

One of the ‘dark horses’ for this category was John Rogers. Young and quick, he’s a soccer player so we won’t hold that against him (much), he does rely a lot on fitness to get him through. Winning his first 2 matches 3-1, his quarter final was against the big hitting Kevin Prather. One must be careful when setting up the ball for Kevin; he has the tendency to try to embed the thing in the front wall. I haven’t yet had to call engineering for any extraction jobs, but they are on constant standby just in case. John managed to be careful just enough to outlast Kevin 3-1, where his next task was the semi final versus the number 1 seeded Becket Marum. Becket had been a model of consistency up to this point, winning his first 3 matches 3-0, but the worry for Becket here would be his stamina. John had the advantage in that department and a long match could prove costly. And John almost pulled it off. Becket did win 3-1, but admitted afterwards that if the match did happen to go to 5, there was no way he would have won it. But the ‘could-haves’ are irrelevant, and Becket moved onto the final.
Becket Marum and Andrew Walawender

His opponent would be Andrew Walawender. Even though the cost to enter the club championships is zero, Andrew decided to get his money’s worth anyway and now I’m charging him $100. (Plus tip.) A first round 3-0 win, he then played one of my other ‘not-so-dark-horses’ Dino Ricci. Dino had a great run at the DAC Classic and was primed to continue that momentum here. And why play 3 games when you can play 5 and run to the point of euthanasia? And so long as you’re playing 5, may as well go to a tie break. Andrew “Rocky Balboa-ered” himself to a 12-10 in the 5th win. He enjoyed the torment so much he went to 5 as well against Adam Pabarcus in the quarter finals, and winning that, he couldn’t resist beating Mike McCuish in 5 in the semi either. Becket was worried he would survive the final.

And for a while, it looked like he wouldn’t have to worry. Becket got the jump on Andrew from the start and raced off to a 2 games to zero lead. But of course, now that Andrew is paying $100 ( + + ) to compete, playing less than the full complement of games is out of the question. So, in true Walawender fashion, he just had to win games 3 and 4 – which he did – and then stand toe to toe with Becket through the 5th. With his track record of his past 3 matches, another 5 set victory was within reach, but Becket dug deep and managed to buck the trend. A final score of 11-9 had Becket taking his first club title.


3.0 ~ Slam Dunking Chris Webber!

Once again, I’ll have to go back and study up on my tea-leaf reading. The two players reaching the 3.0 final weren’t even seeded in the top 12. But in fairness, this category was littered with close results and the finalists could easily have been someone else. We’ll start with Mike Rock’s path first:

It was actually very close to being one and done for Mike. We could be talking about Curt Pedersen instead here as he stretched Mike to 5 games in the first round but couldn’t quite close the deal. We also could be discussing John Mann, as he too went the full distance in round 2. Mike, it appears, is a cool customer in tight situations (does he take after he forever calm father, Jerry?) and steadiness saw him grab another 5 set victory. We’ll say that Mike had an easier time of it in the quarter finals, but that’s only because he won in 4 games and not 5 against Mike Ottaway, the match was still particularly vigorous. Not satisfied with winning in 4, Mike chose to go back at what he seems most successful at which is taking it to the edge. Living dangerously, his semi final against Marc Topacio went 11-9 in the 5th, nerves of steel pushing him through to the final.

Chris Webber’s passage to the final was almost as arduous. Like Mike, he also could have been bounced in the first round. Ian Edwards pushed him all the way but ran out of gas in the 5th game. Chris then took on the second seeded Ted Morris. Ted was returning from an injury and after the match mentioned he was rather pleased with his performance despite losing in 4. Even fit, there was a good chance Chris would have beaten him anyway. A 3-0 win in the quarter final would be Chris’s easiest match of the event, but his semi one of the toughest. John Perkins was turning himself into one of the favorites for the title, taking out the third seeded Sean Moran in 4 games in the previous round. John and Chris beat up on each other pretty well, there was very little between them. Last man standing (or crawling in this case!) was Chris as he pilfered the 11-8 in the 5th win.

I refused to prophesize a winner for this final. Both Mike and Chris had been showing good form and based on their wins and opponents in their respective semi finals, another 5 gamer was a likely possibility. However, it was not to be. Chris stepped up to the occasion well, and took control of the rallies early. Keeping Mike on the back foot and not letting him settle into any comfortable rhythm, Chris maintained a solid pace and swept all 3 games. This is also Chris’s first DAC club title.


3.5 ~ Josh Makes the Grade

Typically, I always find the 3.5 the most difficult of all the categories to seed. There are many situations that player ‘A’ can beat player ‘B’, who can beat player ‘C’ who can then beat player ‘A’. Simply, it’s on any given day, depending on what side of the bed you happen to wake up on, anybody can win this one.

Colin Bayer has been on an upward trajectory with his squash since he picked up a racquet not too long ago. His athleticism (and size) is an advantage, although his experience is lacking. Sometimes, though, its better not to know things otherwise you may fall into the trap of over-thinking and complicate matters. No one is yet to accuse Colin over over-thinking… (poke, poke!) and his blind determination has been troublesome for his opponents to counter. He has the knack of retrieving balls you think he has zero chance of reaching. Nor does he tire easily. A point proven after he took out the second seeded Mike Petix 3-2 in his first match, and then repeating the feat against Justin Jacobs in the quarter final (11-8 in the 5th), acknowledging it was one of his best matches he had so far played. And then, in the semi final against Josh Slominski, he topped it.

Josh won his first 2 matches 3-1 and 3-0 respectively, and was looking strong to tackle Colin. If Josh’s mind is on track he can be particularly consistent and steady, he doesn’t over complicate the game, moving the ball around enough to wear out his opponents. Colin would be tough to tire out, however. After taking the first 2 games – the second being 16-14 – it was almost a 3-0 win for Colin, but Josh saved his skin, saving a match-ball and taking that set 13-11. It seemed to take the wind out of Colin’s sails a little. Josh rolled through the 4th and now it came down to a 1 game winner take all. And it fittingly went to a tie-break. Colin admitted (again) that this match was the best he had ever played (eclipsing his match with Justin!) even though he lost. Josh once again overcame a match-ball and took it 12-10. Great attitude from Colin, and excellent focus from Josh to deal with the pressure.

I knew Jason Currie would be a formidable opponent. He won the 3.0 category last year, and has played a lot more squash this season. Quick, hard hitter, he has improved significantly. It wasn’t easy for him to reach the final, every match he played was a 3-1 result against a players who was very capable of beating him. Tenacity goes a long way and Jason has shown plenty of that. He also has the benefit of playing a lot of doubles which helps him with the pace of the game, reading of the angles and the shot making creativity. It would be an interesting final. To counter Jason, one will need to be ready to react quickly and not get sucked into his pace… would Josh have the ability to adjust?

The first game was a long one as both players settled into the final feeling each other’s games out. Jason won it 14-12 which normally is a great confidence booster, but Josh wasn’t rattled at all. The second and third games were all Josh. He took control of the match, maintaining a half-paced length, good width, pinning Jason deep in the back corners. Down 2 games to 1, Jason needed to do something. He picked up his intensity and put more pressure on Josh and the two of them went point for point, both of them stretching each other out all over the floor. But Josh was not going to let this slip away. Just staying steady, Josh took the 4th 11-8 and picks up his first DAC club title.


4.0 ~ Star Trekken MacEachern

Tiny draw. Big matches. Only 5 players signed up for this one, and all were very equally matched. The draw literally was pulled out of a hat since the order of ranking the players could have been interchanged from day to day. The results reflected that.

Dane Fossee started his trek to the final against the experienced Paul Huth. They had played twice before in league and in both in those instances, Paul had won 3-0. But the Club Championships is a different animal, people tend to place more pressure on themselves and can step up well to meet the occasion. Dane did just that as he scored his first victory over Paul 3-1. He then took on Mike LoVasco, a player he has had success against in the past. In fact, of the 3 times they had played, Dane had won twice. A marathon contest ensued between them, and I can picture Dane with his hands on his hips, bent over, tongue hanging out waggling in the wind… but a tired smile on his face. And who wouldn’t smile after taking a 13-11 in the 5th win? Poor Mike will be thinking about the one that got away.

Tom MacEachern and Dane Fossee
On the other side of the mini-draw, it was a re-match of the 2014 3.5 final. Back then, Tom MacEachern took a two games to love lead into the third only to have Scott Langenburg roar back to win in 5. It’s a memory Tom is surely trying to suppress, but it would have been front and center in his brain as he tried to wreak his revenge. Would it be motivation, or would it make him lose focus? As the match wore on, and as it drifted into a 5th game, I’m sure Tom was reminiscing somewhat of that fateful day 12 months ago, but history would not repeat itself. Tom avenged his loss taking the final stanza 11-7.

Dane versus Tom for the final. I only have 1 recorded result between them and that was way back in 2013. Tom won that match 3-0. That doesn’t carry much weight now, but these two do practice together often and know each other's game particularly well. If Tom can get his game going and stay out of the tin, his hard hitting is difficult to counter. Dane would need to be on his toes and manage his length well. It was Tom who quickly gained the upper hand in this encounter, and once he had the momentum early he had absolutely no interest in passing it up. Tom stormed to a 3-0 win, and claimed his second DAC club title, adding to his 3.0 victory in 2013.


4.5 ~ Ward-ing off the Rivals

The squash game of Phil Pitters goes against pretty much all conventional tactics. Cross courts drops and flicks from pretty much anywhere, an occasional lob thrown in for good measure, length does not seem to be a priority, and he’ll run until he wears out the soles of his shoes (and then he’ll probably keep on running anyway!) or drops dead from exhaustion. Bret Williams would be a tough first round opponent for Phil considering his power. But being very new to squash, Bret would not have seen a squash style that Phil portrays. The longer the rallies take, Phil would have the advantage. It would be a matter of Phil being able to chase down Bret’s cannonballs*. Appropriately, their match went to 5 games and because of that, I’m not surprised that Phil ended up on top. In the semi final, Phil had an easier time dispatching his opponent 3-0 and earning a spot in the final.

Paul Ward’s progression to the final was just as taxing, if not more so. His first round was against Chris Van Tol. Chris and Paul’s last three matches have all gone to 5, with Chris winning one of them, Paul the other two. True to form, they would have another 5-setter here and it was a nail biter. If you have ever played a match that has reached the stage of the tie-break in the 5th, it’s amazing how one can find the energy to keep running even though collapse is imminent; terrified to hit an error, but praying one comes from your opponent; hesitant to go for a winner and praying your opponent won’t try for one either. It’s an inward mental challenge, one that Paul happened to be more successful with – this time. He took it 15-13 in the 5th. His next match was also a demanding task, but he managed to sneak it out in 4 games over Blake Ellis.

The last time Phil and Paul recorded a result was in 2011. That’s a long time between drinks. Paul was a little weary going into the match since you never know what you’re going to get with Phil. But in this instance, his apprehension wasn’t necessary. It was all Paul all the time as Phil couldn’t figure a way to get into the games. Paul took it 3-0 and picks up his third club championship title, his first in the 4.5.

*I know I keep touting Bret as a brute force player, but to be fair, he has been working on his touch as well. And it’s coming along. He actually does have a nice drop shot!


5.0 ~ Green Keeps it Clean

Clean sweeping any tournament is a challenging mission. You have to be in form for every game of every match, and it is so easy to lose that focus or concentration, falter just enough to let your guard down and suddenly the game (or match!) has slipped away. Eric Green is a solid player, knows how to punish a loose ball, and can keep it consistently tight and show patience in waiting for opportunities. His reliable game was good enough to see him through to the final taking every match 3-0.

On the lower half of the draw, determining the other finalist was not so easy. Sante Fratarcangeli won the 4.0 division last year, and has since improved enough to skip the 4.5 and tackle the 5.0. It was the right choice. He beat veteran Peter Shumaker 3-1 in the first round where he then had to lock horns with the awkward game of Brien Baker in the semi. The first two games went into overtime – one of them was 17-15 – and the players divided the spoils. They also split games 3 and 4 (although they didn’t reach the tie-break stage) setting up a 5th game showdown. Both Brien and Sante pushed themselves to the brink, and there were only a few points in it at the end. Sante survived the carnage and earned himself a spot in the final – for the 5th straight year. (This dates back to 2011, when Sante first played in the 2.5 final…)

Sante was also looking for his 4th straight victory in the club championships. Eric was on the prowl for his second 5.0 title; he first won one in 2012. The match started with Eric controlling the ‘T’ well and moving Sante around the corners. He would push tricky little angles into the front when Sante was lagging behind, utilizing the opportunities well that were presented to him. He jumped to a 2 game lead fairly quickly, but the third would be a lot more taxing. Sante had to step it up – and he did. He started to extend the rallies, putting a little more pressure on the ball – and Eric - and slowly the armor started to crack. But the run was made too late. Eric could see the finishing line and he did not want to see another game. He was happy with the 3-0 win, and now he will need to venture up to the land of the Open.


Open ~ Jed is Number One

The addition of Vikram Chopra into our squash family this season has been wonderful. All clubs dearly love top level players joining, you can’t have enough of them to keep the competition fresh and interesting for the members. Vikram has an unusual technique. He is very wristy, there is a lot of racquet movement, and that is a double edged sword. On one side he can generate a lot of power and be considerably deceptive, on the other hand his consistency can suffer. Vikram won his way through to the final with 3-0 results, including the semi final against multi time club champ Peter Logan.

Jed Elley is our current club champion. His technique is more conventional than Vikram’s, a tighter swing, smooth mover, he can run the ball down with the best of them and can also put the ball away effectively. But, he is also prone to unforced errors and sometimes his shot choice can be questionable. Jed also moved his way through the draw without dropping a game, setting up a final bout that had most people wondering who exactly the favorite is. This could go either way.

The first few points of the final were a shaky start for both players as they traded unforced errors. It wasn’t an overly pretty game, both Jed and Vikram seemed to have a little trouble settling in. Maybe because Jed had been in this situation before, he was the one who finally started to keep the ball out of the tin and he ended up running away with the set 11-5.

Jed Elley and Vikram Chopra
The second game was a lot closer. Vikram began to find his sweet spot more consistently and ripped off some exceptional angles with that wrist of his. The extra pressure also forced Jed into some ill-timed attempts at winners and the unforced errors were starting to appear once again. But unfortunately for Vikram, even though he created some perfect opportunities to even up the match, he could not capitalize. The dreaded tin kept getting in the way. Jed escaped with the second game 13-11 and the 2-0 lead suddenly looked like a huge mountain for Vikram to climb.

Jed could now smell blood. Even with Vikram’s increase in intensity, Jed was not going to let this one get away. The pressure was mounting as the third game reached the final stages, only a couple of points separated the two, and Jed was able to nail the door shut 11-8 and notch up his second consecutive DAC Club Championship!

Congratulations to all our winners and finalists – remember: you have now earned your position to the 2016 DAC Farris Cup team! It was an outstanding finals night and awards dinner, and I would like to extend my gratitude to all the members for making this the most active season in history. The bar has been raised, and now we will raise it even higher!

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