Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Taj Ultimate Tournament

I've been meaning to write about the Taj Ultimate Tournament for nearly 2 weeks now, but things are getting pretty crazy round here and I just haven't had the time. It's scary - I'm counting the time till my departure in days now, rather than weeks and months. Where did all the time go? Man, there's so much I need to fit in before I leave... and so much I have to write about on the blog...
Anyway, ultimate. I've been a fan of the sport since I was at university, and when I came to Fukui I joined up with a couple of like-minded people to play every weekend at a park in the city. A few months ago we heard about the Taj Ultimate Tournament, and decided to enter; with me as captain. Most of the people on the team had never played ultimate before coming to Japan, and hardly any of them had played in a tournament before, so it was going to be an interesting experience...
On the first day I was full of confidence for the team - I was amazed at how hard everyone had practiced in the weeks leading up to the event, and since we were promised that we'd be ranked according to experience, I had high expectations. We looked good too - everyone had bought one of the infamous "Baka Inaka" t-shirts, and they were causing a bit of a fashion sensation down in the fields of Hyogo. Everything was going well.
Then we were thrashed in the first game. I couldn't understand it - weren't we supposed to be playing against teams of similar ability, ie not experienced? I asked one of the staff, and he told me that each group was arranged with one team of low experience, two teams of middling experience and one team of high experience - and we'd just played the highly experienced team. Suddenly the loss didn't seem so bad, but it also meant we had another two tough matches to play just to get through the group. So much for the easy qualification I had in mind at the start.
The next three matches were heart-breaking - in all of them we started off leading before getting bogged down into a long, drawn out point which sapped our energy, leading to a loss in the dying minutes. One of the points went on for 15 minutes, which is unheard of - I mean, the matches are only 30 minutes long. I was impressed with the way the team was playing - they were using all the techniques that Mac (our wonderful coach) had been teaching them in practice, but try as we may, victory lay beyond our grasp. The fourth match of the weekend was the most devastating - after finishing bottom of our group after the first three matches, we were playing for a possible 16th place in the bottom division. It was a match we should have won - and we came tantalisingly close. Afterwards I could barely pick myself up to start the "cheer" for the other team (we sang "Country Road" to them with modified lyrics, they danced for us, it was special). Add in the fact that I'd watched England lose to Portugal on penalties in the World Cup the night before, and you can imagine that I wasn't feeling that sprightly.
It all came down to the last game - we were just playing for pride now. I was determined to go out with a win. Playing in the tournament had been fun, but we had to win just one game - we just had to. Luckily, we did. Everyone came through and we scored our first victory in the fizzling embers of the weekend, and by a considerable margin too. With that one win, it genuinely felt like we'd won the whole tournament, and I couldn't be happier. Finally, a well-deserved win - and anyone who says the other team were pissed is lying.
Final position: 18th out of 20 (I think, might have been 19th though)
Big thanks to Mac for being an ultimate-playing genius (respect), and a huge thank you to everyone who played on the team - you were all fantastic! I had a really great time, and I really appreciate the fact that you all took time out to come - it was a brilliant weekend. I love you guys!


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