Roller Figure-Skating, Anyone?
With the athletes landed and the opening ceremonies just hours away, Torontonians continue to compete with one another to see who thinks less of the Pan Am Games, otherwise known as the junior Olympics.
But everyone love a sports underdog story, right?
Just like the Pan Am Games themselves, there are several events within the games striving to achieve broader recognition and respect among the international athletic community. From bowling to water sports, we’ve charted the Games’ most underrated events, included our top medal prospects, and discovered how any newly converted armchair athletes can get involved.
Is this a real sport? Invented by the ancient Egyptians but more closely associated with children’s birthday parties and Randy Quaid, bowling is currently undergoing a bit of a PR renaissance. It’s been tipped for possible inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, discounting the old maxim that “anything you can do with a beer in your hand isn’t a real sport.”
Could we win it? Canadian competitor Dan Maclelland (currently ranked 16th in the world) won the singles gold medal at the 2014 Men’s WBA World Championship in Abu Dhabi, and is hoping to take the Pan Am gold, but faces tough competition from the perennial victors from the United States.
How do I try it out? Etobicoke’s Planet Bowl, which plays host to the Pan Am competition, offers up 48 lanes and some stellar pizza party packages.
Is this a real sport? Rugby’s hyperactive cousin, “rugby sevens” is an abbreviated version of the game made up of of two seven-minute halves with a one-minute break in between. Originally invented in 1883 by Scottish butchers Ned Haig and David Sanderson, it’s exploded in popularity across the globe, with major tournaments held everywhere from Hong Kong to Dubai.
But rugby sevens might be most famous for what happens outside the pitch. Fans attend matches in what the British call “fancy dress,” a.k.a silly outfits, and tournaments include live entertainment like dance teams and rock bands. Despite the showmanship, rugby sevens is now recognized as an Olympic sport and will make its debut in the 2016 Rio summer Olympics.
Could we win it? Canada’s Pan Am women’s team has qualified for the upcoming Olympics, and player Magali Harvey was named 2014 International Rugby Board women’s player of the year. As past teammate Heather Moyse puts it, “anything less than [gold] would probably be a disappointment.”
How do I try it out? Rugby’s huge in Toronto, with casual and competitive teams meeting across the city. Take your pick from the Toronto City Youth, the Toronto Lions Men O’Paws, and the Gentlemen’s Inner Toronto Select, among dozens of others.
Waterski & Wakeboard
Is this a real sport? In 1922, 18 year-old Minnesotan Ralph Samuelson tied wooden planks to his feet and hung on to a curtain sash as his brother towed him around a lake. Voilà, the birth of modern waterskiing. Wakeboarding arrived shortly after in 1949, and the two have since been linked as the predominate motorized water sports. Competing in “jump”, “slalom”, “tricks”, and “overall” categories, athletes can hit speeds of up to 120 kilometres an hour.
Could we win it? Waterskiier Whitney McClintock, of Ontario’s McClintock waterski dynasty, won three silvers and a gold at the previous Pan Am in 2011 and is a five-time World Champion.
How do I try it out? Waterskiing and Wakeboarding’s reputations as summer cottaging activities hold true, with the majority of clubs and rental spots located in places like Cambridge and Muskoka.
Is this a real sport? Dating back to the first German shooting clubs over 500 years ago, competitive shooting really took off after the founding of the National Rifle Association in 1871. It’s been a part of the Olympic Games since their founding in 1896, though mercifully, live pheasants are no longer used as targets.
Competitive shooting is constantly evolving to keep with technological developments, and this year Pan Am competitors will have to show their proficiency with a pistol, rifle and a shotgun. It’s also notable for having both the oldest Canadian female athlete (Susan Nattrass, 64) and the youngest male (David Mylnikov, 17), as well as the father-son combo of Paul and Drew Shaw.
Could we win it? Competing internationally since 1969, Nattrass is six-time Olympian and a seven-time world champion with a clear lock on a Pan Am podium spot.
How do I try it out? After David Miller closed the city’s firing ranges following the “Summer of the Gun” (including the range at Union Station), Toronto’s recreational shooters have had to head underground. Unpublicized ranges are organized by small groups of devotees, and a little web sleuthing turns up some names and contact details. If you’d prefer to play it safe, you’re heading about 40 kilometres north of the city to Gormely’s Target Sports Canada.
Is this a real sport? Patented by Belgian John Joseph Merlin in 1760, roller skating has struggled to reclaim the momentum of its 1970’s heyday. Today’s competitive roller figure skating is basically figure skating on wheels, as athletes perform the same tricks, spins, and jumps as their ice rink equivalents. Professional competitions are largely held in Europe, with a small handful of Italians dominating the podiums.
Could we win it? Kailah Macri holds Canada’s lone spot in the games, as no men applied to compete in the qualifying rounds. She finished fifth at the Guadalajara Pan Am Games in 2011, and brought herself out of retirement to compete in Toronto. Macri’s dedication to this largely unknown sport is admirable: she drives more than 300 kilometres three times a week from her home in Whitby to Cambridge to practice at proper facilities.
How do I try it out? Scooter’s Roller Palace survived the stigma of playing background to Ricky J’s date rape anthem “No Mean No” and is still open for business today. Swing by on Sundays for Old School/Funk Adult Skate night, or call ahead to organize a “Christian/Gospel” skate night.