Tuesday, July 11, 2017

OLYMPICS – BLACK CLOUDS AND SILVER LININGS



The Black Clouds
Skateboarding was really the final nail in the coffin for me. When the IOC decided last year that skateboarding was worthy of Olympic status – more so than squash – it was irrefutable proof in their poisonous pudding that the once coveted and sacrosanct pinnacle of all sporting competitions had sold its obviously corrupt soul to the Devil.

Surely it couldn’t get worse. Yes, yes, the joke is on squash. The one true sport that purely defines the Olympic dogma, the one true sport that has done all it can do to attempt to please the IOC enough to earn acceptance, is the one true sport that continuously gets overlooked year after year after year. I was wrong about skateboarding. It wasn’t the final nail. And it’s gotten worse.

Years ago, to be an Olympic champion you had to be cut from a special kind of cloth, and extreme athlete able to perform under the most immense of pressures, the entire world looking on. Olympic heroes were held in such esteem, house-hold names in many cases, and that still holds true for the most part today. But the cancer is starting to spread, and once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s pretty darn difficult to put it back.

Now, the finest of athletes will have to share that spotlight with lesser, artificial disciplines, a virtual dumbing down of the requirements and sacrifices required to become the ultimate Olympian. That ‘special kind of cloth’ has turned into an ordinary, polluted rag.

The IOC has expressed their desire to appeal more towards the youth and urban audiences, but snatching up any activity to do it undermines the virtue and dignity that the Games should uphold. I wrote an article last September listing the 5 sports that were added to the 2020 Olympics that are to be held in Tokyo: Baseball / Softball; Surfing; Sport Climbing; Karate; Skateboarding. Whether these sports deserve to be included is debatable, but whether they deserve to be included more so than squash is not. That list has now expanded. Squash of course has fallen so far off the map, not even Jack Sparrow and his broken compass would be able to find it. Two more ‘sports’ have ascended above the fray and further sullied the grandeur of the event. One could say that the cream rises to the top, but remember, %#$& floats, too…
 
1.      BMX Freestyle. This is waaay up there with skateboarding. It’s basically doing jumps and ‘tricks’ with the BMX bike around various ramps and obstacles. Just like when we were kids and we would set up the wooden plank on a mound of dirt and see how far we could jump our bikes over it without killing ourselves. Yep. This is now Olympic. 
         
          3-on-3 Basketball. We all know what this is. Dang, most of you have probably played it. It’s athletic – sure. But my issue with it is that is not the real thing. Basketball is already in the Olympics, 3-on-3 basketball is exhibitionistic. Once again, the purity of the Games is being diluted. I actually joked about 3-on-3 basketball getting into the Olympics before squash in an article I wrote a couple of years ago. Not so amusing now.

Clearly, I am biased. But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who knows anything about sports to make a legitimate argument of why any of the sports listed above deserve to be in the Olympics over squash.

The way the IOC are going, I have a couple more suggestions for them. Now that they are heading down this rabbit hole, may as well embrace their new concept. Keep in mind, I am serious about these recommendations, I wouldn’t be surprised one iota if the IOC are already taking these under genuine consideration:

Parkour. You’ve seen this on You Tube videos now doubt – lunatics jumping, diving, rolling, ‘flying’ between all types of standard park furniture, stairs, walls, buildings… I actually find it impressive, if not incredibly dangerous and utterly insane. But Olympic? You’re kidding. However, watch out – I bet it’s not too far away before it earns that status.

Drone Racing: This was on ESPN the other day. The “athletes” don the virtual reality head sets and steer their racing drones through a twisty course about a stadium, through targets and around objects. I tell you, it’s enthralling. About as enthralling as watching me heat up my frozen dinner in the microwave. Impossible to tell which drone is ‘winning’ at any point of the race, and mind-blowing to watch the ‘athletes’ huff and puff and the end of the race as they rip of the head set and wipe their brow as if they physically ran the course themselves. Good grief. Its gaining popularity however – otherwise it wouldn’t be on national sport television.

Professional Gaming: I’m not one to even play video games myself, but watching other people do it? Incredibly, the top Professional Gamer in the world (according to my google search) earns over $400,000 a year. In a 2013 article I found, Ramy Ashour – after winning 7 major events and reaching the semifinal in the other that year earned just under $170,00 (after tax). Four years on, squash players are earning a little more, but certainly not reaching the same stratosphere as somebody who can play ‘World of Warcraft’. Sponsors, marketing… professional gaming is big business. You can bet the IOC see dollar signs everywhere with this one. It’s projected to be a 1 billion dollar industry by 2019.

What about Paintball? Laser Tag? Think I’m having a laugh here? The Olympics are searching for ways to appeal to new audiences. How do you engage the “non-athlete”? Imagine the viewership if they could attract all the “lazy” youth out there who do nothing but connect themselves to electronic devices 24/7. Suddenly, the recluse child that refuses to leave their parents’ basement is a potential Olympian… There you have Usain Bolt standing next to fellow gold medalist of “Legend of Zelda” Zoidberg McGeek…

The more ‘urban’ and ‘youth’ oriented the IOC lean, the less chance, I feel, squash has of acceptance. As much as it may dismay the squash aficionado, more of the population would rather watch Mr. McGeek shoot animated enemies than Greg Gaultier and Ali Farag going at it on the squash court, and guess which of those two scenarios peaks the interest of the IOC more?

The Silver Lining
And then, as if the IOC Gods just want to torment us, as soon as I finished putting together ‘part 1’ of this article, it was announced that squash – yes: squash – would be included in the 2018 Olympics. The “what?” you ask? Unbeknownst to many of you no doubt – including me – there is a Youth Olympics as well. And the next one will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2018. Squash will be added as an exhibition sport.

An all-glass court will be constructed in one of the prominent parks in downtown Buenos Aires, a golden opportunity for the sport to showcase what we have to offer. I couldn’t find any information on how the format of the squash competition would take place. How big will the draw be? Would there be doubles as well? Team competition? Minor questions to be sure, but nonetheless this is very exciting news for all squash fans out there. When you take into consideration that the 2014 Youth Olympics in China featured 2 new sports that are now part of the ‘real’ Olympics for 2020 – skateboarding (!) and sport climbing, prospects for squash’s ultimate inclusion are suddenly looking brighter.

The carrot is being dangled in front of us once again. But it is definitely no guarantee. Dance Sport is also being added to Buenos Aires, another shake-my-head, can’t-believe-what-I’m-reading “event” that is not what you think it is. My mind immediately thought of “Ball-Room Dancing”, but I was way off. Here is what the website states: “Dance sport will feature men’s, women’s and mixed team breakdancing in a battle format. What the…? Suddenly I see the dark clouds gathering ominously overhead once again and think of IOC’s latest decisions based on attracting youth and urban crowds…

Our foot – or, more accurately, the end of our little toe - is finally in the Olympic door. It’s a start and its fantastic news. Let’s hope we can finally grab that carrot. If (just pulling a name out of the hat here) Ali Farag has to share the gold medal spotlight with Nerdy von Dorkman and his Playstation console, then so be it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

GUARDIANS OF THE DAC SINGLES GALAXY



2017 DAC Singles Club Championships

May the 4th be with you.” Our club championship night just happened to fall on ‘Star Wars’ day, where fanatics of the saga literally cannot contain themselves. As it so happens, and unless you were not present at the dinner, it was also my birthday and I have to endure that b’day wish countless times every year. I actually liked the Star Wars movie, but Yoda and his Jedi brethren are starting to turn me towards the Dark Side. If Jabba the Hut was any indication, it looks like their parties are more fun anyway.

Like a broken record, as I seem to mention this every year, once again we had our highest court usage in a season. You’ve all heard the saying that more is not necessarily better, but in this case, more is definitely better! We need to keep filling them in order to increase them. And you are all doing a great job – let’s keep that up! The Club Championships signify the end of the 2016-2017 season, let’s see who wielded their light-sabre the best:

2.5 – Han Goes Solo
As usual, this is the biggest draw of the championships, so going by that number, the toughest to win, right? There were a number of tight contests through the bracket, and it was pleasing to see a couple of younger guys reaching the semifinals.

Jack Bernard was one of them, and maybe he was a little underestimated as one of the possible winners of this title. Looking over his results history dating back to September 2016, he had only lost one match in the boasters and ladders combined. A stat that had gone completely unnoticed, which is why I was rather startled to see him take out Julie Vande Vusse in the second round 3-2. Jack’s run was stopped by another quiet achiever – Han Peng – but not without resistance going down 3-1. It was only Jack’s second loss for the season, and it will be interesting to see where he’ll be this time next year.

Han Peng and Gus Ploss
The other “young gun” to reach the semifinal was Jordan Dean. Like Jack, Jordan has also improved steadily over the past season and his win / loss record is likewise healthy. Jordan battled through two 5 setters to reach the semis, where he then went down to the audacious Gus Ploss in 4 tough games.

The Peng-Ploss final was a tail of two styles. Han, who is young, quick and fit, and Gus… who is not. Umm, I mean, experienced, quick tongued, and has good touch. Both players started off a little tentatively in the first game, but the rallies were what I expected: Gus working the corners and Han running it down. Nevertheless, Han knew the longer the rallies took, the better off he would be and he did make that extra effort to cover Gus’ short balls. Han also didn’t hit too many enforced errors which at any level is a huge plus. It was too much pressure for Gus to handle and Han took all three games, a credit to him since he has been working hard on his game.

3.0 – Adam’s Swan Song?
What better way for Adam Pabarcus to say goodbye to the DAC than with a club championship title? Yes, we are unfortunate lose Adam this summer as he and his family move back to Minneapolis, but at least he will have the 3.0 trophy to display on his mantelpiece in his new home for prosperity and fond memories. It also means I need a replacement for him for the 2018 Farris Cup team… I doubt we’ll have a shortage of takers for that one.

David Pontes and Adam Pabarcus
Adam won the final over David Pontes in 4 games, but both players had to get through some very stiff competition to get that far in the first place. Adam started off his campaign with a 3-0 win before having to deal with top seed Mike Ottaway, a slightly unorthodox player, but quite the determined competitor. This was one of a handful of matches in the 3.0 that could have ended up either way, and of course we could have easily witnessed a completely different final. This 3-2 win was Adam’s turn.

David Pontes had two close encounters to deal with. The ‘easier’ of the two was in the very first round against David Zack, but he got away with the 3-2 win. The bigger scare was in the quarter final. Brendan Walsh pushed him all the way and more. A 5-set groaner, nail-biting tie break, match-balls earned and saved and Dave poking his head up after all that carnage with a 14-12 win. He was probably still recovering from that match when he played the final!

A couple of other close results to mention: Michael Parker refusing to play less than 5 games per match just to get his money’s worth, firstly against Michael Craig and then against Michael Rock. He then beat Michael Fisher – but only 3-1 – before having to bow out of the event, probably because his next opponent wasn’t called ‘Michael’. And Dewey Steffen. Now, I am going to call Mr. Steffen out here a little. I refused to enter Dewey in the 2.5 category that he insisted on entering. Not to be critical, Dewey did truly believe he should have been playing in the 2.5, but I actually had more faith in him than he did in himself. Dewey won his first match against Michael Cooney (how many Michaels are there in this category??) before losing 11-9 in the 5th to Michael (!) Fisher. Dewey proved he belonged in the 3.0, and I’m sure he’s glad he played just that.

Just another quick shout out to Adam – congrats on your victory and best of luck with the weather in Minnesota!

3.5 – Justin Does Just Enough
I had a couple of ‘dark horses’ for this particular race. Firstly, John Rogers. One of many intermediate members that has taken to the game and has progressed rapidly. Of course, spending a lot of time on court helps, as does taking those lessons (hint, hint, nudge, nudge…). John is an athlete though his vastly superior soccer skills (compared to normal people), and can run all day and into next week if he needs to. Maybe we should nickname him Forrest Gump? He reached the semifinal here getting through the second seed John Perkins 3-0 which did surprise me a touch as I though Mr. Perkins was a solid candidate for the category as well. John Rogers’ 3.5 crusade ended against another ‘dark horse’ in Greg Allare.

Greg’s athletic background is rugby, and is built as such. A very “bulldoggish’ approach (and I mean that in the nicest possible way!), Greg is one tough cookie. If I were to bump into the wrong crowd in a dark alley at night I wouldn’t mind having Greg by my side. Of course I would scream like a 10 year old girl and run away, but I’m sure he could take care of himself. Greg has been in form leading up to this tournament and although he lost to John Rogers last time they played just 2 weeks prior, he reversed the result this time around to take the match 3-1.

Greg Allare and Justin Jacobs
His finals opponent did it the hardest way possible. Justin Jacobs has a knack of playing 5 games. He does this at the DAC Classic on a constant basis, surely just to annoy the organizer and push the match schedule way back. Seeded 3, Justin struggled to get past Sean Fossee in the first round winning 3-2, and almost then lost to Maggie Durant in the quarter final – again a 3-2 result – before having to thank the Squash Gods – who, as Squash Gods, probably weren’t listening anyway because they were at the bar drinking – for scraping by the skin of his menorah 13-11 in the 5th against Jay Poplawski.

An interesting final that on paper, I would have given Greg the slight edge based on current form. I wasn’t convinced of that though, Justin has proven to be a resilient customer at the best of times and was not to be underestimated. And he stepped up big time for the occasion. For some reason, he wasn’t interested in a 5-set marathon, and wasted no extra time putting Greg away 3-0 to take his first club champs title. Great effort, but now he has to step up to the 4.0!

4.0 – Gold Strike Van Dyke
Hands up who thought that James Van Dyke was going to win this event… I see one... hang on – James’ wife doesn’t count. To be fair, though, James has been playing well leading up to the club championships, and he has lost a decent amount of weight (It is an amazing difference when you don’t have to carry around that spare tire!), and he has been working with Corey regularly. All of that adds up to… 4 + 3… carry the 2... multiply by 7… good squash! It’s a pretty simple formula.

Not that James had an easy run to the final. His hardest opponent (or softest?) was his semifinal match again the “Big Mac” himself, Zac MacVoy. If you recall, Zac recorded one of the most memorable club championship final wins last year taking down his brother “Littler MacRyan in a 5-set tie breaking racquet-splintering encounter. Zac is no stranger to laying it all out on the court, and he pushed James and himself to the limit, begging for mercy along the way, ignoring the pain, the impending heart attack, the unyielding lust for a sandwich, only to go down in 5 brutal games.

James was to take on John Mann in the final. If you also recall, John won the 3.5 final last year (also in 5 games) and has also been displaying some very consistently decent squash the couple of months leading up to April. He had won 75% of his recorded matches so far in 2017, so he was heading into the final with confidence. He had also dropped only one game on his way to meet James, and that was to Marc Topacio in the semi.

I expected the final to be a little longer than what it was. After taking the obligatory pre-match photo, I then ‘raced’ upstairs to do the same for the matches being played there, stayed to watch the first game of Gus and Han, and by the time I got back down to the court area, John and James were already sitting on the couch. All credit to James on his one, he took control early and never let up. John could only react. It was a 3-0 well-earned victory!

4.5 – Chris Van Tol On a Roll
A decent sized draw for the 4.5 this year, dominated by mainly younger players working themselves up through the ranking. It was also a little controversial in the beginning when the bracket was released with the inclusion (and allowing) of Eric Green. And, understandably so when you consider Eric won the 5.0 division just 2 years ago and in 2012, and I did hear the grumblings. But Eric has not been playing much squash at all since then (work getting in the way of pleasure!) and I was confident I had made the right decision.

Mark Gregory proved me right. He beat Eric 3-1 in the second round and suddenly propelled himself to be the favorite to win the category. Not that I thought he couldn’t anyway, he was one of my ‘secret’ picks. Mark reached the final beating Jason Currie in the semi 3-1, more than thankful that it didn’t go to 5 games as he readily admitted he wouldn’t have been able to keep up if it did. Especially against a runner like Jason.

The other side of the draw was close in just about every match. JC Tibbitts scraped by the veteran Mike Eugenio in 5 games in round 2, Mike LoVasco beat Colin Bayer 3-1 before going down in 4 games to Chris Van Tol also in round 2. The JC v Chris semifinal was one to witness no doubt. One of the unfortunate drawbacks of running a tournament over a month and having the matches being self-scheduled is that we miss being able to watch some of the more memorable results. This was one of them. Beating each other senseless all match, it looked as if JC was going to advance as he held a 9-6 lead in the 5th game. However, Chris dug in his heels and refused to give up any more points and rolled off 5 in a row to pinch the match away, setting up another unforgettable match for the final.

And it was a match that should have been played downstairs (hindsight is always 20/20). From the reports I heard, it was arguably the match of the evening. The first 4 games all went to tie break, the fellas split the spoils to set up a 5th game. Regrettably for Mark, having the match stretch into that 5th set was one hurdle too many. Fitness would be his undoing, Chris controlled the 5th the whole way and took that game comfortably for a very impressive 4.5 triumph!

5.0 – Sweepstakes Blake
We were treated to another blockbuster final in this category. Top seeded Andy Adamo had little trouble repeating his 2016 feat of reaching the final before he ran into the Sante Fratarcangeli buzz saw (I had to get Sante’s name in here somehow!) and was looking at going one step better and finally winning the 5.0. Standing in his way would be Blake Ellis.

Blake is no stranger to competing in tough finals. Last year he fell over the finish line 11-8 in the 5th in the 4.5 final over Chris Van Tol, and he also beat Chris in 4 in the 4.0 final back in 2012. But he almost didn’t advance past his first match this year. Brien Baker almost eliminated him early as he stretched him to 5 games, an awkward customer with his wing span and desire to use the side walls before the front walls ad nauseam! Happy to get away with the victory, Blake then won his semi 3-0.

According to the records, Andy had his work cut out. He had played Blake 6 times before this final and had only won once. That was way back in October, and since then he had lost the next 2. But he could take a little comfort in the fact that only one of those losses was a sweep, so they mainly were close results and he certainly had a good chance to win here so long as he played consistent squash. Fitness would be a factor too no doubt.

Blake Ellis and Andy Adamo
The match went back and forth. Andy always appears composed, smooth technique, never panicky. But that can also be a negative as on occasion he doesn’t step up the attacking squash when the opportunity presents itself. Blake is a hustler and the longer the match progressed, the more it would lean to his favor. Or so one would think. When the 5th game came around, Andy seemed all but spent. A little flat footed, he had to slow the game down. It worked. Softer length, timely drops. Blake was left to keep on scrambling, hoping Andy would eventually run out of energy completely. A broken string to Blake’s racquet with just a few points to go looked like it broke Andy’s momentum more than it did Blake’s. Fitness does play a part at this stage of any match, but that being said, it really was anyone’s for the taking. One error, one miss-hit, one momentary lapse of attention can make the difference. Blake made one last major push, and with it took the 11-9 in the 5th win for his 3rd club championship title and left Andy pondering the what-ifs for the second straight year… already focusing on 2018!

5.5 – Return of the Jed-I
For the third straight year, Jed Elley and Vikram Chopra would be playing off for the DAC Club Championship title. In 2015, Jed stole the show and clean swept Vikram 3-0, and in 2016 Vikram would reap his revenge with a 3-1 win. So, for club championship finals between the two, the tally was 1 win apiece. Overall though, counting boasters league results, Vikram was holding a 3-2 advantage including the most recent match-up just 3 days before the final took place – a 2-1 boasters league win. Also, Jed won the title in 2014, but that was before Vikram came aboard.

Both players reached the final comfortably enough, Vikram dropping one game to Jamie Shea in the semi, Jed beating Robin Basil 3-0 in his semi, although 2 of those games were 11-9. Laying all the cards on the table, Vikram was carrying a lingering ankle injury into this match, but I’m not letting him off here allowing him to use this as an excuse. After all, he just beat Jed 72 hours prior. And, if you’re on court, you’re fair game.

This first game was a dominated by the South African. Every point Vikram won was counted by 2 or 3 of Jed’s. It was clear Jed was ready to go from the first rally, Vikram appeared he was still feeling his way, trying to get himself some rhythm. He really couldn’t get himself into the game and Jed quickly wrapped it up 11-5.

But the second game was the opposite story. Vikram came out firing, Jed was now on the defensive. Maybe he felt a little too comfortable from the first game, maybe overconfident now and Vikram would catch him flat-footed multiple times. Vikram’s quick racquet was too much to handle and just like in the first game, the momentum of the leading player was too great. Vikram 11-4.

But then… Poof! Another turnaround. Search parties were sent out to look for the real Vikram as the one who stepped on court for game 3 was a shadow of the one we had just witnessed in game 2. And of course, Jed took full advantage. He was now a rampaging South African, choc-o-bloc with confidence, could do no wrong. From 0-1 down in the third, Jed grabbed the next 10 points, winners flowed, head was up, he was already sniffing the victory.

Vikram Chopra and Jed Elley
Could Vikram mount another reversal? Almost. The closest game of the match, we were now enjoying the longer rallies, desperation, and nervousness starting to creep in. Point for point, the game was poised at 6-all before Jed ripped off the next 3 points and looked to have it in the bag, 2 points from victory. But not yet. A couple of unforced errors let Vikram back in and quickly it was back to 9-all. However, Jed recovered his composure, and with a couple of fine finishing rallies, took the game 11-9 and his 3rd DAC Club Champion title!

Our 2018 (singles) Farris Cup team stands before you. The BAC will need to put forward a strong team! It was an excellent evening of squash, terrific sportsmanship was displayed by all. This technically signifies the end of the season, but make sure you keep your game up over the summer. Leagues will be in full swing, as the ladders. That rust is always difficult to brush off come September otherwise!




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