I love sports. I love playing a few, but I also love watching sports live or on television. In fact, I seldom have enough interest to record the standard TV fare, but my PVR is usually filled with sporting events. I never have time to watch it all but it’s there if I’m of a mind.
I play golf and used to avidly watch their broadcasts nearly every weekend, though even in the days of VCR, I mostly recorded the games and watched in the evenings so I could enjoy the outdoors during the day. Lately I have not been watching much golf. I chalked it up to waning interest for not having as much opportunity to play as I used to. And then I thought about it and realized how fickle I am as a fan. In the days I was passionate about watching golf, Canada had some stars. Sandra Post was the first player living outside the US to gain an LPGA tour card (in 1968). Lori Kane, who was four at the time, later shone on the same tour. Mike Weir spent over 110 weeks in the top ten of the Official World Golf Rankings between 2001 and 2005, winning the prestigious green jacket of the Masters in 2003. All three were given The Order of Canada – we tend to honour our athletes after the fact. Stephen Ames has done very well on the men’s tour.
But Lori faltered and Mike became injured. Stephen deals with a bad back. No Canadian has stepped up to replace them. So I lost interest and seldom watch any more. Yep, fickle.
I’m not a huge fan of hockey. I’m not much enamoured of any contact sport and enjoy individual sports over team. Vancouver’s Canucks Hockey team was on top of the world last year and were expected to win the coveted Stanley Cup. The whole country was on board and I right with them, glued to the television throughout the entire finals. After all, hockey is our national sport and in recent years the cup has resided in the US. Lord Stanley would not be amused. Then the ‘Nucks lost in the final game and we rioted in the streets. Yes, we did, we who did not do such a thing. We were shamed and had to take a good long hard look at ourselves. Lord Stanley must have turned over in his grave. We made it to the finals this year but lost in the first round to the LA Kings, who went on to win the Cup. I did not watch a single game. Fickle.
I have watched tennis off and on all my life, though we never really had any Canadian stars to get excited about. Then last year a young Canadian burst onto the scene. Milos Raonic is twenty one, six foot five and has the best serve in men’s tennis right now. He jumped from #156 in the rankings at the start of 2011 to #37 a month later, reaching #31 in November. He continues to shine, rising to #21 this year. He was featured in the New York Times recently and has earned the nickname ‘Rocket Raonic’. Heady stuff. Vasek Pospisil, who grew up in my last hometown of Vernon and now resides in my current home of Vancouver, continues to make his way up the charts and was #95 earlier in the year. Two women players qualified for Wimbledon. To top it off, our former best men’s singles player has resided at #1 in doubles off and on for several years with different partners from around the world.
I have spent more hours this week than I care to admit watching the Wimbledon matches – and that’s just the start. There are thirteen days of Wimbledon, the granddaddy of them all and the only major still played on grass. Yesterday Raonic lost in a heartbreaker, our last Canadian hope at the tournament. My dream of a matchup in the finals between Raonic and Roger Federer of Switzerland was squashed. The Fed is the best in the sport at present and beautiful to watch. Tennis is a finesse game and Roger plays it like a dance. He could make history if he wins, tying William Renshaw who last won in 1889 and Pete Sampras who won his seventh ‘gentleman’s’ title in 2000. I would have been torn between Roger and Raonic had my dream match been realized, but I’m pretty sure it would be Roger to whom I gave my heart. Though it would have been his first major win, Raonic is young – plenty of time to make his own big mark on tennis if he remains healthy – and I feel certain he will. Roger is considered ‘ageing’ at thirty. He already holds several titles, but each one now he could topple will take tremendous effort.
Following the match in which Raonic lost, Roger played an epic of his own. Down two sets out of five, he had to dig deep to find the strength to win. In his stellar career he had seldom faced such odds. Heart pounding, I cheered him on for two more hours. It was getting dark in Jolly Olde and the stadium roof was closed, making it an intimate affair. Every hit of the racket reverberated. He took the next set handily. The following set went to a heart-stopping tie break. Every fan in the stands was holding their breath, wondering if he could pull off a miracle. He pulled out several smashing serves to take it, and they were tied 2-2. It was still an uphill climb. In the end his opponent tired and Roger took the match.
Even if Roger had not won, I would have continued to follow the tourney to the end. I still have other players who remain faves. Perhaps I’m not that fickle after all.
But I won’t be following as closely as I might have. There are two other sports in which Canada has shone this year. Earlier this spring, Canadian-owned horse ‘I’ll Have Another’ won the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness. Everyone was cheering for him to win the Belmont, making an historic Triple Crown. Alas, he had to be pulled just before the race with a tendon injury and now stands at stud. But the story of the jockey who rode him was just as inspiring. Mario Gutierrez was a poor Mexican kid trying to make a name for himself in the dust of Mexico. Through a series of serendipity he found himself in Canada riding at a minor-league racecourse, and was subsequently lured to race at the Santa Anita course in Southern California. He is now an international star. But Gutierrez considers the folks at our little Vancouver track his second family and we have embraced him as one of our own. He has been back a couple of times since the big races. He’ll be here this Sunday. I think I might just go watch him ride.
In May, Canadians found themselves rooting for a cyclist at The Giro, a grueling road bicycle race second only to the Tour de France in the Grand Tours, the Triple Crown of Cycling. As the days went on we were surprised to see a Canadian in the hunt. Road bicycle races are near to impossible to watch and the Giro takes over three weeks to complete. A pink jersey (maglia rosa) is awarded to the overall leader at each stage and stays with him until another rider takes over the lead. Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria BC, a former mountain biker riding a Canadian-made bike, took the lead at the 7th stage and we started to pay attention. But it’s a long race and though we were proud of his accomplishment we knew it didn’t mean all that much; Hesjedal was the fourth to receive the pink jersey of the race thus far. Sure enough, a fifth rosa was awarded to a Spanish rider at the 10th stage. Hesjedal took it from him again at the 15th stage, only to lose it to the Spaniard for the remaining five stages. Then came the 21st and final stage. Hesjedal had not won any individual stage and further, only once had the race been won by any other than the holder of the pink jersey from the previous stage. By all accounts he was not expected to win. But still we were fastened to our seats as the racers completed the final stage. Hesjedal was behind the lead by only thirty one seconds. Each time trial was a nail biter. As Hesjedal turned the corner to the finish line, he found the strength to spurt forward. The Maglia Rosa was awarded to a Canadian for the first time. Lance Armstrong tweeted: ‘gotta love it when the best man wins’, and a new hero was born. You can bet I will be watching the Tour de France more closely this year.
As if I won’t have watched enough sports by then, several of the athletes listed above will be representing Canada at the London Olympics in their respective sports.
I sometimes wonder what it is about sport that has me so captivated. I think it may be the passion with which individuals work so hard to achieve their dreams, overcoming their hurts and digging deep for mental focus under pressure, which inspires me.
Whatever it is, I’d best get that PVR emptied!