Monday, November 7, 2011

2011 Puerto Rico International Challenge

The 2011 Puerto Rico International Challenge was held in Ponce, a city about 120km from San Juan, the city we played in last year. After a pretty heavy itinerary where we connected in San Francisco from Vancouver, Derrick and I took a red-eye flight to Philidelphia, then finally made it down to San Juan. We left the lounge a little late in Philly, meaning that we had to almost sprint to our gate to catch the flight. Unfortunately, our gate was probably the last one of that terminal and we both had backpacks and badminton bags. But we did make it, and then it was pretty much a smooth flight to Puerto Rico after that.

Cheese Steak... in Philly! $9 o__O
Puerto Rico is apparently a US territory, so we didn't have to go through customs again. They take US currency as well and I guess they have a bunch of US laws there as well. Since Ponce was quite far from San Juan, we were fortunate to get picked up at the airport and they drove us for about an hour and a half to the Hilton Golf and Casino Resort in Ponce. The hotel was pretty nice and had a lot of amenities including a pool which the team spent a lot of time at ;) Some of us also had access to the Hilton Honors Executive Lounge, which gave us some snacks and DonQ Puerto Rican rum, with a hint of coconut, passion fruit, and lemon. Breakfast wasn't included, but we could get a $10 discount (original price $20) for the breakfast buffet which was spectacular, aside from the birds that flew around and tried to steal your food if you gave them the chance.

Angry birds!

Eating... Watermelon?
The tournament started on Thursday, November 3rd which also happened to be Michelle Li's birthday! We couldn't really do too much to celebrate because play began, but I was able to have some practice time with her and Adrian because we didn't have matches that day, and Alex joined in for a bit even though she had a Mixed later that evening. Unfortunately, Derrick and Alex lost to a Spanish team that also won the recent Santo Domingo International Series the week before.

Teriyaki Beef Wrap from the bar! $12 o__O

On Friday, we had more matches with my first match of the tournament in XD already starting in the QFs! We played a Slovakian team which was pretty much a pair of Singles players so we had a significant advantage there. Adrian and Joyce, the other Canadian team had a lot more trouble against a Sri Lankan team, but they were able to pull off a 3 game win to make the semifinals. Later that day, we had more QFs but Michelle and all the Canadian teams in the Doubles events pulled through to the semifinals. Afterwards we grabbed some Chinese food at a nearby mall. The portions were really big, with Derrick and I sharing a combination box with rice, one meat dish, and one side. We shared fried rice, BBQ pork, and broccoli and it only costed us about $3.50 USD each :)

Warming up at the venue
Saturday was the semifinals, which meant we could play our matches in the morning then relax for the rest of the day! I was quite eager to enjoy the pool, but unfortunately, XD WAS LAST that day :( Michelle started the day with WS where she faced Victoria Montero [MEX] who she also recently played in the Pan Am Games, and Victoria was the 2011 Santo Domingo WS finalist. Michelle very much dominated that game, with a first game score of 21-1! Unfortunately, Nicole Grether lost to Anne Hald Jensen [GRE] in 2 sets. MD was next, and poor Mexico, because Adrian/Derrick defeated their MD team 21-4, 21-7. The other MD was an interesting one though, with Kevin Li/Frank Bourret [CAN] playing against the 2nd seeded Brazilian team of Hugo Arthuso/Daniel Paiola. They won a close first game but lost the second. However they were able to keep things together to upset Brazil by winning the 3rd game to make their first International Challenge final, making an all-Canadian MD final!

View from our hotel room balcony
Next up on Saturday was the WD semifinals, with 3 Canadian teams in the semis. Michelle and Alex were up first against Rena and Iris Wang, a rematch from the recent Pan American Games but Michelle and Alex had a much easier time this time winning again in 2 sets. The other side was an all-Canadian WD semifinal between last year's Puerto Rico International WD winners Charmaine Reid and Nicole Grether up against Joycelyn Ko and Grace Gao. The first game was very close, going all the way into points, but Nicole and Charmaine took the first set. In the second, Nicole and Charmaine were leading up until about 13-7, then Joycelyn and Grace made an incredible comeback, taking the 2nd set. In the 3rd set, Joycelyn and Grace kept their game up, winning against Nicole and Charmaine for their very first time, also making an all-Canadian final in the WD!

Eagerly awaiting the pool!
After that was the Men's Singles, between Austria and Israel, and Sri Lanka against Jamaica. Between Austria and Israel, they had an incredibly long and close match, with the other MS semifinal finishing their entire match within the time of the 3rd set in the other semifinal! Israel was up match point 20-16, but Austria made the most amazing comeback to take the match. Everyone in the gym was applauding and even Adrian and I took moments to watch the last rallies as we were getting ready for our respective XD matches. Grace and I were up against Spain, while Adrian and Joyce were up against Greece. My match started off pretty close, as we were kind of feeling each other out. Fortunately, Derrick and Alex gave me a few pointers as they had lost a close one against them. They both said the guy liked to drive a lot and move in, which I was able to use to my advantage, as I won a few points in the game by keeping my drives a little softer, but flat enough so he would drive it out the back if he wanted to play hard. Also, I had a couple of winners by lifting it up and over him as the girl would probably still be in the front as well. After getting a little more comfortable in the game, we were able to keep a lead and then took it all the way until the end. Adrian and Joyce seemed to have an easier time though, because they started at the same time, but finished slightly earlier, bringing us to a 3rd all-Canadian final!

Breakfast and dining area near the pool
Finally, after all the semifinals, we took a shuttle back to the hotel. Before jumping into the pool though, I went to the gym for a little workout and found Michelle there already, and Adrian came in shortly after. We finished our workouts, earning some much needed R&R in the pool. We played 'Spud' again, a pool game we usually play but this time with Gareth from Jamaica and with Lino and Cynthia from Mexico joining us shortly after. I came just a little late, so I was able to take some pictures and eat a really late lunch. Unfortunately for me, I was almost eaten alive by flies and mosquitoes, leaving VERY itchy bites all over my legs and some on my arms. Eventually I gave up and jumped in the water to join in the game. We played a few more rounds (I lost the last one haha) and spent some time in the hot tub. After, we went back to our rooms, changed, and showered, then some of us met up again for dinner.

Circle in, with the person with the ball calling the number...

... waiting to see if your number has been called...

... and if it's nobody's number after three seconds, you have to touch the ball...

... with interesting results :)
Sunday was quite hectic, as it was the day of the finals, but some of us had flights home in the evening. We started off with Mixed this time at 10am against Adrian and Joyce. Grace's ankle wasn't doing so well, but we anticipated that they would try to push Grace to the back so we didn't lose too many points from that. Line calls were terrible a few times, but I guess it was consistent with the line calls in this tournament (LOL). We got to match point with 20-17, but they caught up to level it off in the 2nd set. As nerve racking as it was to Frank and Kevin, because they had to fly at 4pm, we prevented a 3rd set and was able to take it in a close two sets. Next up was Michelle against Greece, with Michelle taking a comfortable first game. The 2nd set was quite different however, with both sides taking turns leading all the way up to 29-27! It was quite funny as I was trying to take a picture of Michelle's victory celebration, but in the background, Kevin was almost jumping for joy because they didn't go 3 sets :)

Michelle's WS Final against Greece

Michelle celebrating after winning, but not as much as Kevin in the stands :)

The MS was next between Sri Lanka and Austria, but I missed the match because I had to run back to the hotel to grab my stuff as well as Grace's stuff because she had to play WD. By the time I got back, it was 21-21 in the first, so that's why I'm missing the entire 1st set of the match. The first set went to Michelle and Alex, while Joyce and Grace took the 2nd. The 3rd started with Michelle and Alex taking a very comfortable lead which eventually gave them the match at the end. This would mark Michelle and Alex's 3rd official title (1 didn't count because they didn't have 8 teams in the draw), and also their first win against Grace an Joycelyn.


MD was last, with Frank, Kevin, and Derrick warming up frantically so they could finish and catch their flight. Derrick and I were on the same flight, but at 5:20pm, which we safely made. The game was a little awkward, as it felt a little rushed by both side, making some easy mistakes because they were actually playing by the clock to try to finish as soon as possible. In my experience, it never really works when you try to win FASTER, so it may have even took longer to finish their match because they were rushed. Regardless, Adrian and Derrick seemed quite comfortable in the match and took it in 2 sets.

Federico, the tournament referee from Peru.  Good scheduling as usual :)

Frank and Kevin in the MD

Derrick and Adrian's victory High-Five

That's pretty much it :) We found a driver finally and he was able to drive us to the airport in about an hour! Quite impressive actually, but he was aided by the built in siren in the car we were driving. We made it to the airport by 3pm so I think it was enough time for Kevin, Frank, and Grace to make their flight to Toronto. Meanwhile, Derrick and I were able to relax and ate at Subway before checking into security. All in all a VERY good tournament for Canada, with 4 titles. This marks Michelle Li's FOURTH WS title since September 2011 and will push her World Ranking close to 25. Michelle and Alex will also improve their World Ranking in WD as well, probably surpassing Rena and Iris of the US to be about 25 in the World, slightly below Nicole and Charmaine. Derrick and Adrian stand at about 30, but they should be able to jump up a few spots as well hopefully. Grace and I will have our points increase slightly, but I actually don't think we will move in the World Ranking LOL... oh well... maybe we'll have some luck in Hong Kong... though we're up against Fischer/Pedersen from Denmark first round o___O

Driving, no... racing back to the airport

Goodbye Puerto Rico (and warm weather)!

Full Results: [] / []

Matches: (via YouTube)
XD QF: Adrian Liu/Joycelyn Ko [CAN] vs. Lasitha M. Karunathilaka/Renu C. Hettiarachchige [SRI]
Game 1
Game 2
Game 3

 Anne Hald Jensen [GRE] vs. Nicole Grether [CAN]
Game 1
Game 2

MD SF: Kevin Li/Francois Bourret [CAN] vs. Hugo Arthuso/Daniel Paiola [BRA]
Game 1
Game 2
Game 3

Joycelyn Ko/Grace Gao [CAN] vs. Charmaine Reid/Nicole Grether [CAN]
Game 1
Game 2 (Pt 1)
Game 2 (end)
Game 3

Toby Ng/Grace Gao [CAN] vs. Jose Vicente Martinez/Sandra Chirlaque [ESP]
Full Match

Toby Ng/Grace Gao [CAN] vs. Adrian Liu/Joyce Ko [CAN]
Game 1 (Pt 1)
Game 1 (Pt 2)
Game 2 (Pt 1)
Game 2 (Pt 2)

WS F: Michelle Li [CAN] vs. Anne Hald Jensen [GRE]
Full Match

Alex Bruce/Michelle Li [CAN] vs. Joycelyn Ko/Grace Gao [CAN]
Game 2 (plus end of Game 1)
Game 3

MD F: Adrian Liu/Derrick Ng [CAN] vs. Kevin Li/Francois Bourret [CAN]
Full Match

Thanks for visiting my blog! Special thanks to Pedro for hosting the tournament, Federico for running the tournament, our awesome airport driver, Phyllis, Kevin, and Alex for manning my camcorder, and all the people who helped make a great week in sunshine and mosquito bites (you know, like... for richer or poorer)! Also a big thank you to YONEX, as all our finalists and winners were probably all Yonex sponsored. See you all next time :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

2011 Pan Am Games

The Pan Am Games were held in Guadalajara, Mexico with our tournament dates being October 15-October 20th. For some reason, they had the finals split over 2 days, with MD & WD on the day after the semifinals, while MS, WS, and XD were on the day after the Doubles finals. Prior to the Pan Am Games, we had a camp in Vancouver after the BC Open which was held the weekend before. We had some team bonding activities scheduled, but we pretty much canceled due to typical crappy Vancouver weather (*cough* rain). Fortunately, we got a lot of cool Yonex stuff for the tournament, including 5 shirts (3 red, 2 yellowish-green) and 4 pairs of shorts or skirts (2 black, 2 white). We also got a tracksuit and a new badminton bag as our regular bags were not allowed because the Yonex logo was too big and violated the Games' regulations. With new stuff in hand, we all headed out to the airport on Oct 12th.

As most of us have been traveling tremendously, it may possibly be the first time ever that a Canadian team could all hang out in the Star Alliance lounge. We all met up there and enjoyed some salads and spiked coffee, but perhaps it was just me with the coffee ;) We boarded the plane a tad too late so I ended up having to get my badminton bag checked in all the way to Mexico :( Upon arriving in Phoenix, we spent a little time in the lounge there before looking for food, as the lounges there are quite minimal in the US. It was another 2.5 hours to Mexico and we finally arrived around 10:30pm. We picked up all our stuff and were picked up by the Canadian mission staff and were directed to the bus to take us to the Athlete's Village. After a half hour drive, we made it into our rooms and got to bed around 1:30am.

Dinner on a better day :)
The next morning we met up for a team breakfast, but the food was quite sub-par. Alex Bruce even coined the term "Guad-standard" which we used most of the week. I suppose it's tough to make enough food to feed everyone, but it was unfortunate as the food was rather bland, over/undercooked, and simple. The lineups at the cafeteria were quite long at the wrong times, with us having to stand and wait for up to 20 minutes sometimes. The first morning they ran out of coffee, and black tea was constantly the first to go. I guess every athlete is a caffeine addict :)

Our first trip to the venue was for a practice at the main hall. It was raining quite a bit because of the hurricane nearby, but the weather really brightened up significantly soon after for the rest of the week. The practice courts were just mats laid on top of a hard floor and it was leaking a bit. The main hall was totally different though, as there was wood flooring under the courts and it was very nice to play in. We ended with a court in the main hall for an hour that day, although with 8 players on our team, we didn't get all that much practice. The next morning we had 2 hours on a court in the main hall, but that was our only practice that day.

Wooden underlay beneath the main court
Canada had it's flag raising ceremony on one of the evenings, so it was kind of nice to see the rest of the Canadian athletes group together. It was right after we got our clothing as well, and we received a significant amount of clothing for the games courtesy of the Hudson Bay Company, including various shirts, polo shirts, sweat shorts, shorts, pants, jackets, hoodies, and even a travel bag and backpack. Prior to us marching to the flag raising area, we had a little time to explore the International Zone, where they had a Starbucks, Burger King, Dominoes, and other assorted food places at a fair price. While Alex was playing the birthday game, where she would ask people for their birthdays with a really good chance of getting a repeat birthdate after asking about 25 people, I spent some time at the free tequila sample booth. They couldn't sell us any tequila, but they gave us free samples :) The flag raising ceremony happened soon after, finishing with our Chef de Mission enforcing our Pan Am Games Canadian team slogan of "En Garde", which Adrian kind of jumped the gun on (inside joke) :)

The Canadian athletes preparing for the Flag Raising Ceremony 

Joyce and Adrian, not so "on guard", before going to the Flag Ceremony

Opening Ceremonies were the next day, but a lot of us decided not to go because we had to play the next day. They took place in the evening and could take up to 6 hours to finish, so that would be extremely exhausting and definitely not worth going if you had a match the next morning, like I did. However Jeff White and Alex Bruce did go and got to do the march, so that was pretty cool I guess while the rest of us were hanging around the physiotherapy area. I think almost all of us went to visit everyday. Special thanks here to Lois and Laura, our physiotherapists, and Kip, the sports massage therapist we would all line up and see almost every day :)

Canada and other countries getting ready for the Opening Ceremonies

Play began shortly, with me up against the future Pan Am Games Men's Singles champion Kevin Cordon. I only entered to get some more court time in the main hall and in this case, just a little bit more court time :P My mixed doubles was also a little sluggish to begin with, but soon I was able to get more comfortable playing there. The crowd was quite enthusiastic especially when Mexico was playing, so we thought it would be a good idea to try to give some free Canadian stuff (pins, mini flags, etc.) to random people in the crowd and it definitely made a difference in the end! We were able to get the crowd to cheer for us most of the time, especially in the many Canada vs. USA matches that happened throughout the tournament. As much as they were loud, the crowd was also respectful and applauded the winners of each match, whether the crowd-favorite or not. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Mexican crowd for being such an enthusiastic bunch :)

The crowd. Seats were only available on one side at the venue though.
The other weird thing that happened was that there were a lot of moths in the venue. Especially during the day of the finals, we had many moths fly around the court. I don't know if any rallies were interrupted, but we did have to delay the start of a few rallies to clear the court of moths once in a while. Actually, in the XD semifinal against Howard and Paula [USA], there was one moment in the 3rd set that Howard told Grace there was a moth on Grace's shorts, and then she looked at it and screamed. The crowd thought it was quite amusing and started clapping :) What a crowd! ;)

Court layout for the Finals
The podium

Canadian mini Medal Recognition Ceremony
Overall, Canada did really well, especially in the Women's events. Actually, I guess Canada got Gold in all the Women's events, with Michelle Li winning the WS and WD with Alex Bruce, while Grace took the XD. The guys... well, I guess I was the lucky one in the XD haha... Adrian and Derrick got a bronze in MD after being upset by Halim and Sattawat from the USA and Stephan fell to the unseeded dark horse of the tournament from Cuba unfortunately. Either way, it still may have been one of our better Pan Am Games performances for Canadian badminton! I guess that's a start and I hope we all continue to move forward together :)

Athlete's Village - Dorms for the other countries near the Canadian building

Adrian wearing ALL of our medals :)
Unfortunately, due to Canada Olympic Committee regulations, I don't think I'm allowed to post any of our footage from the Pan Am Games :( Maybe what I will do is try to take some screen shots from my camera, but that's pretty much all I can really do. Don't worry, I'll have new footage of us really soon, as Puerto Rico International is happening this week!

Thanks for reading my blog! Enjoy the rest of the pictures I took and I'll do my best to attach relevant news articles or websites with more media about our 2011 Pan Am Games journey!

Hope to see you all next time!

- [OLYMPIC.CA] - Schedule, results, and team profiles

- [OLYMPIC.CA/news] - Check out the Badminton Photo Gallery, the Daily Update: Oct 20 & 21, and the Photo Gallery: Oct 20 for more pictures and articles!

Lois, Alex, Grace, and Jeff with the PAG mascots!
- [CBC.CA] - Article on Alex and Michelle's WD

- [GLOBEandMAIL.COM] - Article on the Oct 21 Finals (WS & XD)

- [BADMINTONLIFE.COM] - Article on the final results.

Derrick and Ram with the mascots
- [BADZINE.NET - Oct 18] - Article on the QF matches by Don Hearn.

- [BADZINE.NET - Oct 19] - Article on the SF matches by Don Hearn.

- [BADZINE.NET - Oct 21] - Article on the final results by Don Hearn.

Alex and Michelle against the Wang sisters in the WD Final
Michelle and Alex warming up in the WD final

Alex and Michelle interviewed by Canadian media with Alan taking pictures of Michelle ;)

If I ever get a copy of a team picture (got one!), I will attach it as soon as I can :P That's all folks!

Courtesy of Jeff White!

P.S. Happy Birthday Michelle Li! ;)