Martin Reader has updated his already impressive resume to include the word “Olympian.”
The 28-year-old Comox athlete has enjoyed his share of success on the sand, but none bigger or better than what he achieved Saturday at the Canadian Beach Volleyball Trials at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto when he capped a 14-year quest to represent Canada at the Olympic Games.
Under a hot sun and before an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,500 – many cheering for Reader and partner Josh Binstock – the first-year team defeated Ben Saxton and Chris Redmann 21-18, 21-14 to earn a trip to the 2012 Summer Games in London, England.
The winner-take-all showdown between Canada’s top two men’s beach volleyball teams meant the No. 1 duo of Reader/Binstock became the final two Canadian athletes to punch a ticket to the London Games.
“We had a game plan, and we stuck to it and executed it perfectly,” Reader told the Record in a phone interview from Toronto. “It’s very rare you get that much time to focus on a single opponent for a single match.
“We knew obviously the importance of the match, so we went deep into some video analysis, figured out exactly what we wanted to do, and trained for that throughout the entire week.”
Reader/Binstock trailed only once, early in the second set, so there really wasn’t a turning point. “We just came out of the gates so strong. We made a couple of points early and I just knew we had it right from the start. Our intensity level was higher, our serving was stronger and our pressure on defence was very strong.”
The highlight for the 6′,7″ Reader was back-to-back big blocks in the second set that gave his team an 11-6 lead.
“There was a rally where I blocked their right sider on a high reach and swatted (the ball) back over. They recovered it, and then I blocked Ben Saxton cross-court with a massive house block. I don’t know if that was a pivotal point, but for me that was a really dominant play where I felt on top of my game.”
Reader said he was still absorbing the enormity of going to the Olympics. “It’s so rewarding. It keeps on getting sweeter, the more people I talk to. So many people … from years past … coaches, family and friends that have kids and are inspired by it. It’s astounding how far it’s reaching.
“It’s hard to put into words. So many people have been supporting me for so long and I have committed so much of my life to this process and finally I can say that it’s happened. And just a massive amount of gratitude to the people that have believed in me and supported me and just a huge thank you to all the people who have helped me get where I am today – so proud, so proud,” Reader said.
“My lifelong goal has been to go to the Olympics. And now I get to call myself an Olympian, something I’ve been preparing for my whole life,” Reader added. “We’re going to have a barbecue (Sunday night) with Josh and his family and my family. We’ll have a couple of glasses of champagne and it will really settle in.”
Reader was spending Sunday taking aunts and uncles to the airport and visiting with his parents Norman and Patrisha, who were out from Comox and the first to rush on to the sand and congratulate him after Saturday’s big win. “It’s a really meaningful weekend,” Reader said. “It was my parents’ 33rd wedding anniversary Saturday and my mom’s birthday Sunday.”
Reader and Binstock are relaxing this week before flying to Austria on Saturday to play in a Grand Slam event as a warm-up to the Olympics. “We’ll probably go to a training camp in Germany for a few days, then we’re going to London.”
There will be 24 men’s beach volleyball teams at the Olympics in six pools of four. “It’s the longest event at the Olympics (running July 28 to Aug. 9) and we’ll be playing one match every second day,” said Reader, who said the team’s plan is to “Represent our country well and come back with some hardware.”
In The Money
In a season that has seen Canada’s beach volleyball teams’ funding withheld (for Reader the carding was $900 a month) due to a snafu involving Volleyball Canada and Sport Canada (Reader figures he’s spent $25,000 playing the sport this year, and if not for an anonymous benefactor’s donation he and Binstock might not have been able to attend Olympic qualifying tournaments in Prague, Moscow and Rome), Saturday’s victory came with some much-needed financial rewards.
“The win secured us the CanFund bursary which is $6,000 which helps Olympic athletes and it also secured us four months of senior level carding, which is another $6,000. So that was a $12,000 win,” Reader said.
Reader’s interest in beach volleyball was sparked by an indoor demo of the game at the Comox Valley Sports Centre in 1993 – ‘Over The Top” was a fundraiser for a CT Scan for St. Joseph’s General Hospital that featured top U.S. players Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos, Mike Dodd and Tim Hovland.
“I started working with Jay Michener and have been playing since I was 14,” said Reader, adding Michener was one of the first to phone him after Saturday’s win. “I haven’t spoken with Brian McAskill yet, but he was a massive part of my development,” said Reader of the local high school coach.
Then there were three.
The 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England will have a strong Comox Valley presence. From a community with a population of about 65,000, three athletes have qualified to represent Canada at the Games.
Along with Comox’s Martin Reader in beach volleyball, Black Creek’s Cam Levins will run in both the 5,000-metre and 10,000 metre races while Courtenay mountain biker Geoff Kabush is attending his third Olympics.
More than 45 Vancouver Island athletes are going to London, and one source estimates 15 per cent of the Canadian Olympic team is comprised of Island athletes or those who train on the Island.