Monday, September 12, 2011

2011 WHCBPC Finals

The top teams on the planet descended upon Seattle’s Magnusson Park to claim bragging rights of being the best in the world. The city saw five straight days of continuous play, as each outfit fought hard to reach the finals. In the end, a threesome of Canadians earned the title.

Upon arriving to Magnuson Park, and after feebly driving around for 15 minutes looking for a place to park, my friend Max and I eventually decided to leave the truck at the entrance and ride in (we were coming from a cyclocross race in Kirkland, Wash.) At first, we couldn’t find the polo courts. It didn’t take long to figure it out, as we could hear a large crowd yelling and some other strange sounds coming from the woods. As we got closer to the venue, following the high decibels of raucous roars, we came to a clearing where there were four sections of courts set up for play. In between sides were barriers where spectators could safely watch play on both sides – a very cool touch.

I recognized many folks from the Seattle bike scene, mostly mechanics, messengers and others from local bike shops. The weird noises I heard earlier turned out to be spectators beating their fists on the boards surrounding players, much like hockey fans beating on the plexiglass surrounding the ice; and the similarities of bike polo and hockey doesn’t stop there.

Much like hockey players, many polo enthusiasts use thickly padded gloves to protect their hands – some also wear full-face hockey helmets. The nets used in bike polo are very similar in size to the NHL nets you see on the ice as well. Perhaps what’s most like hockey is the fast paced play that changes directions frequently and the superior skills of these elite players. And, just like hockey, there are some serious hits and inevitable spills that happen when two teams are desperate to get control of the puck - in this case, the ball.

Just in the three hours I was there I saw fresh blood, bruises, and multiple bike problems, including broken spokes (why many players use homemade discs to cover them), bent rims and snapped brake cables resulting mostly from the handlebars twisting around during a crash. Fortunately, these guys are used to it and mechanicals were quickly repaired, and the blood … well, they’re used to it, and it was apparent they most likely play polo most of their waking hours. Also in those three hours were several trips to the beer garden, where vendors were serving $2.50 pints of Pabst. Hey, journalism is difficult work and, for Seattle, it was down right hot out there.

Local favorites and this year’s North American Hardcourt Champions, “The Guardians,” played extremely well during the tournament. Chants of “TWO-OH-SIX!” were heard throughout the matches every time the team – consisting of Dustin, Julian, and Sebastian (aka Sea Bass) – pedaled onto the court. Their strategy has served them well in prior events, with Sea Bass tending the goal the majority of the time while Dustin and Julian work the ball down the court. In the end, they fell short with back-to-back losses to Switzerland’s “Iron Ponies,” followed by a defeat at the hands of team “Call Me Daddy” from France, and ultimately placed third.

The final consisted of East Vancouver’s (Canada) “Crazy Canucks” vs. the three Frenchman of “Call Me Daddy.” The action was hands down some of the best I’ve seen, as both teams made remarkable moves seem easy. With many strategic block-ins and numerous body checks into the boards, it was apparent that neither team wanted to lose. “Call Me Daddy” plays extremely fast and react quickly while the “Crazy Canucks” rely on both setup tactics and sheer brawn, as two of them clearly outweighed their opponents and used this to keep them from playing the ball. At one point there was a check that could be heard, and felt, all the way from the other side of the court. The Canadians took the win with a lightning quick shot from mid-court as soon as play was started following a hotly contested goal by the French team that was shot shortly after play was timed-out by the officials. The reason players and spectators didn’t know play had ended was because the audience was so loud, proving we have some great polo fans here in Seattle.

Many Canadians who traveled down to see the tournament went nuts and mobbed the Canuck team following the winning goal, and the celebration soon ensued. The 2011 WHBPC will surely go down in history as one of the best polo tournaments on record. Due to Seattleites stepping it up and making sure this event was top-notch, including multiple sponsors and support from the community, I have a feeling the Championships will only grow bigger, with more teams and more fans recognizing what a truly unique and skillful game bike polo is to play.

Now, off to Vegas for three days. A report will soon follow. Wish me luck, I may need it.

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