Monday, April 2, 2012

THIS is why we love sports!!

About 8 years ago, I worked in an office with a guy who HATED that people watched sports. HATED it! Daily, he would challenge me with questions like: "What's so great about it?" and "Whats the point of watching someone else do something? Go out and ride your bike.". This would fluster me so much because it was too hard for me to put into words. I would stumble on the answer with things like "...I don't know I just do," and "...I don't know... what's so great about watching your dog chase a ball..?" But in his mind, he won these arguments because I didn't have an answer.

This past week in Montreal at the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Swim Trials that question came back at me while watching the triumphs and failures that go hand in hand with sport. I am a nerdier swimming fan boy than most of you, but the story lines that presented themselves leading up to the meet and developed in those 6 days could not have been written better by Hollywood's best screen writers. It was so intense and emotional that my heart strings felt assaulted and I couldn't take anymore by the end.

Here are my top 5 favourite moments from the week:

5.) Tera Van Beilen makes the team: Annamay Pierce does not...
I made the safe prediction months ago that Annamay was not going to make the team. Not because I don't like her (I do, very much) but because her coach, Joeseph Nagy, is arguably the best breaststroke coach in the world and he coaches here in Vancouver, BC. Martha McCabe also swims for him (surprise, she won a medal at world championships and made the team this year) and so does Oakville's Tera Van Beilen. Tera has improved by leaps and bounds this season and it was really cool to see 4 girls get under the qualifying time for the Olympic Team in the 200BR (only 2 can go). Girl's breaststroke in Canada is very good and deep and I'm very proud of that. It was also nice to see that Tera posted the 2nd fastest time in the world and Martha posted the 3rd fastest. Should be interesting this summer.
I chose to travel with Oakville to Olympic Trials and was staying with head coach, Sean Baker. This added a whole other level of emotion to Tera's performances. I got to speak with her parents after as well which was really nice to see. I'm very happy for them!

4.) Mens 200BR... what went wrong?
It was heartbreaking to see Mike Brown miss the Olympic Team after he put it all out there and came out of retirement, but it was even more heartbreaking to see Scott Dickens disappointed that Mike Brown would not be going with him. Warren Barnes, too, had laid it all on the line to make the team in 200BR but did not achieve. None of the men were under the Olympic Qualifying time, but none more surprising than Mike Brown. Brown was 4th in 200BR at the 2008 Olympic Games and finished 4th in the 2012 Canadian Olympic Trials in a time way far off of his best. After the race, he was overcome with emotion and left the pool deck area (very unusual for Brown).
...But there are 2 sides to every story and with great disappointment of one comes great fortune for another: Scott Dickens made the 2012 Olympic Team after missing the 2008 Team. My heart and my brain are still fighting this one; how do I feel about this result? Can I feel really happy that Scott was redeemed AND very sad that Mike failed?

3.) David Sharpe should buy a lottery ticket!
Don't get me wrong... I LOVE a good underdog story. The first race of the week was Mens 200FLY. The Canadian Record holder, Stephan Herniak, missed the 2008 Games due to a mental breakdown in finals and this was going to be his time to perform... although Zack Chetrat of TSC and the Toronto Training Center (recently left OAK) was also hoping to make the team. David Sharpe of Halifax was in lane 8. The race was between the 3 of them for the most part and in the last 50m, it looked as if Herniak had, once again, had a mental breakdown and Chetrat was charging for the finish when David Sharpe, from LANE 8, out touched him by .02 for the win. FROM LANE 8!!!!!! Not 1, but 2 dreams shattered in .02 of a second!! FROM LANE 8!!!!
I had the pleasure of interviewing David the next day (audio to come in my next podcast) and I was expecting him to be excited, but he wasn't really. He seemed annoyed that he wasn't faster in the morning and legitimately expected to win. Love the confidence, but I'm not sure that 1:58.81 is going to make the Olympic Team, as it is not terribly fast in the world.
Kids, I'm not sure if that was luck or skill, but practice your finishes! .02 seconds meant the difference between a shattered dream and pretending you knew you were going to win all along. Don't take anything for granted in a race; everyone wants to win.

2.) Andrew Ford vs. Alec Page in 400IM
I.M. in general is not overly competitive in Canada and for a long time, Andrew Ford had it locked up. Last summer, Alec Page broke Alex Bauman's national age group record in 400IM and was gaining on Andrew Ford. On the first day, this was the key match up. It looked like Andrew had it locked until Alec Page KILLED him on the BR-FR wall and Andrew collapsed. Now he had to wait another 5 days before 200IM and, arguably, his last shot at the Olympic Games.
On Sunday, Alec scratched 200IM (no doubt to focus on the mile) and Andrew looked pretty confident as he had a 3 second advantage on the rest of the field going in. Although the performance was not his best, I like Andrew and love his coach, Don Burton! I'm very happy for them both for redeeming what went so wrong on Tuesday.

1.) The MacLean sisters hug defined my love of sports!
There is a lot of back story here; far too much to write in this blog, but both Brittany and her older sister Heather MacLean had solid potential to make the 2012 Olympic Team. Earlier in the week, Heather missed her best chance in 100FR and Brittany was asked on TV and in front of a live audience how she felt about making the team while her sister missed it (interviewer, Catriona Le May Doan, was almost booed with disapproval by the live audience). Brittany was obviously upset but answered politically.
Heather MacLean made the final in a very fast Womens 100FR event and... well... its best to watch as I words will not do it any justice:

There was not a dry eye in the whole place on Saturday night when this was happening (except for macho men like me who choked back tears and pretended the air quality was causing red eye). THIS is the reason that we all love sports. If this was being acted out by Megan Fox and Jennifer Lawrence, it would make about $150 million dollars, and not just because its girls in bathing suits hugging. The answer to my jackass former coworker's question "whats so great about watching sports" echos from our clapping hands and streams down our cheeks and cheers from our mouths. It tugs at our hearts and elicits genuine emotion that Hollywood producers wish that they could put on the screen. Sports bring out the best in us. They make us want to see people succeed and warm our hearts when they do.

Simply put; I feel more alive experiencing the onslaught emotions that I had last week (excitement, fear, happiness, empathy, disappointment and elation). I felt like I was somehow involved in everyone of those races and everyone of those story lines even though none of them had anything to do with me at all. I bet a lot of you felt the same way.

Honorable mention to the top 5 goes to Joe Bartoch, Richard Hortness and Paul Midgley of LAC in London, Ontario. I am so happy for all 3 of them!