Over many months, many matches and many miles, the Canadian beach volleyball team of Martin Reader (Comox) and Josh Binstock (Toronto) criss-crossed the world in quest of a berth at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Now it’s all down to one match, right in their own backyard.
Tomorrow (July 7) at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto, the Canada #1 team of Reader/Binstock will meet Canada #2 Ben Saxton (Calgary) and Christian Redmann (Toronto) for the right to represent Canada in London from July 28 to Aug. 9.
The format is one game, best two-of-three sets. “I’d like to say it’s a 50-50 chance (of us going to London), but I know it’s a little bit better than that,” Reader told the Record in a phone interview while on his way to train at Ashbridges Bay.
“We’ve had some great results this year. Our team’s been progressing really well,” he said of the first-year partnership. “I feel that tournament in Mexico gave us some serious experience under heavy pressure, and we’re feeling very confident going into (Saturday’s) match.”
That tournament in Mexico was the Continental Cup (Games qualifying event) at Mazatlan, where Reader/Binstock defeated Mexico in a sand-churning, three-set, come-from-behind victory (21-17, 11-21, 15-13) on June 23 to give Canada the win.
The irony of ending their Olympic quest on their native soil is not lost on Reader, who says the Canadian teams knew going into the qualifier that there was a chance they would wind up battling each other for a trip to London.
“We had a couple of goals this year because we were a brand new team. The first seven events were to clarify who were the top two Canadian teams. Had that not been the criteria, Josh and I would not have been able to enter the Olympic cycle or get into the running because Maverick (Hatch of Comox) and Sam (Schachter of Toronto) were up there as well,” Reader said.
“We had seven tournaments to put ourselves at the top of the rankings and we did. We became No. 1. Our second goal was to win the Continental Cup and be ranked No. 1.
“The most important game came down to us. The other Canadian team (Redmann/Saxton) wound up losing to Mexico 1, we beat Mexico 2, they beat Mexico 2, but lost to Mexico 1 so we were up 2-1 in the series. For us to win the series we had to beat Mexico 1 and we did that in the final game in front of about 1,500 screaming Mexican fans. That game went to 15-13 in overtime, and wow, that was an incredible feeling winning that one,” Reader recalled.
The two Canadian teams have never met in competition but have trained against each other a few times. “We’re good friends,” said Reader. “I used to play with Ben when I did the Lighthouse Beach Bash (2008 in Courtenay). We all know each others styles.
“It’s our first game in competition and whoever is able to hold on to their marbles the longest will win. It’s gonna be a high-pressure match. A lot of people, a lot of friends coming. It should be crazy,” Reader said.
Ashbridges Bay, which boasts over 100 courts, is also the site of the annual Beach Volleyball Challenge for SickKids fundraiser on July 7-8, so the sand will be packed with spectators.
How to prepare for Saturday’s showdown? “My focus is based on my roles in the game – blocking and serving, making sure my serving is tip-top. And I want to step my fitness level up a little bit to make sure there is no fatigue throughout that match,” a resolute Reader said. To that end, he has been doing a lot of hill sprints along with agility work and skill repetitions in the sand.
It does not need stating that Reader is looking forward to tomorrow’s winner-take-all tilt. “Ho-ho, you know it. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been training for many years looking forward to this moment, and it’s crazy to think I’m one match away from achieving my Olympic goal. Representing the Comox Valley and Canada at the Olympic Games has always been a dream of mine, so I’m pretty excited.”
Reader said a toe injury suffered earlier in the season is not affecting his play as he is wearing a sand sock. “In no way is it holding me back as an athlete,” he said. “Everything is tickety-boo. I’m healthy, I’m fit, I’m optimistic and I can’t wait.”
With funding from Sport Canada yet to reach the national beach volleyball teams, Reader says players have been paying their own way (with help from a few supporters) to attend tournaments this year.
Along with a “massive thank you” to his family (sister Cheyla, father Norman and mother Patricia) for their support, Reader has special thanks for Adil Amlani, owner of SURE Copy Courtenay, who “has been an amazing addition to my team from a promotional aspect,” helping with marketing, support work and Reader’s website.
SIDE OUTS Reader/Binstock are ranked No. 35 of 146 teams on the FIBV World Tour while Saxton/Redmann are No. 38 … Canada’s top two women’s teams also meet tomorrow in Toronto to decide who goes to the Games … a Volleyball Canada spokesperson says details of media coverage of the London 2012 Trials will be posted on their website, Facebook and Twitter as soon as they are finalized … Reader/Binstock’s best World Tour finish this year was ninth in Poland … John Childs and Mark Heese won bronze for Canada when beach volleyball made its Olympic debut in 1996 …