The Investors Group Athletic Centre was hopping on Saturday evening for the women’s 2017 Canada Summer Games gold medal volleyball game. The lineup to get in snaked around corners and doubled back on itself in the parking lot a few times as the bronze medal game ran late and spectators weren’t being admitted. With tickets, it took almost an hour to get into the building; those without tickets had to line up again inside. Play was held back for over half an hour as so many people still had to be seated.
It seemed like this was the game to see for many people. No wonder, as our women’s team was playing Alberta for the gold.
The gym was jam packed and loud – very loud. What sounded like a rhythmic drum beat was actually pots, mixing bowls, and even a pizza pan being hit with ladles. The noise from the makeshift kitchen instruments, the wail of plastic vuvuzelas, and the clanging of cowbells punctuated each point. If it was Manitoba’s point, exuberant fans went into a frenzy of noise-making.
The rock music played to drum up the crowd and the underlying smooth bass tones of the announcer only added to the cacophonous din.
The atmosphere was electric with good-natured rivalry. With the hometown advantage, Manitoba’s fans outnumbered Alberta’s, but some areas of the stands were a sea of blue with large contingents of Alberta fans. They, too, had come to the game well prepared to make noise when their team scored.
All seats were full and spectators were hanging over the railings to get a better view of the game. Our team seemed very confident in the warm up practice – there was no mistaking that they were in it to win. Even so, Manitoba lost the first game but the fans were undaunted in their enthusiasm and the team rebounded nicely in the next set. Throughout the next two sets, the play was fast and the scores were close throughout, with Manitoba winning 25-22 and 25-20.
The closer to match point Manitoba got, the more unstoppable they seemed and the crowd was over the moon with excitement. When they won the last game by a deciding 25-15, the stands erupted in cheers, whistles, and jubilation.
Pandemonium broke out as the enormity of the women’s achievement set in. Manitoba had just won its first gold medal in women’s volleyball at the Canada Games since 2009!
On the floor, the team was hugging and jumping up and down in relief and happiness. Organizers, family and coaches joined them in celebration. When the elation had died down and the medals had been ceremoniously awarded, the result finally sank in for the two teams.
I caught up with Christine Smyth, who coached the silver medal-winning Alberta team, after the game. She was gracious and composed in defeat and took the time to answer my questions. She said the Albertan team had spent most of their time at the athletes’ village during the week. With games scheduled close together and practises in between, they hadn’t been down to the Festival at The Forks. Saturday night would be much of the same for the team. They would watch their men’s team compete for gold, then have a last team meeting back at the athletes’ village.
On the Manitoba team, the mood was completely different.
“It feels amazing,” said Ayiya Ottogo about their win. She couldn’t stop smiling and added she’d loved playing volleyball as soon as she started eight years ago. “I love playing on the team and supporting my teammates.”
Many of her teammates must’ve felt the same way on Saturday as it just doesn’t get any better for young athletes than this: winning gold in front of a hometown crowd at the Canada Summer Games.
Even though Manitoba was out of contention, the stands stayed quite full for the men’s gold medal game between Ontario and Alberta. Once again, there was all the steel kitchenware being hit with ladles, but this time the Alberta fan section had upped the ante by bringing in a large drum.
The men’s style of play was much more aggressive than the women’s more graceful style. Their spikes were strong, fast, and very powerful, but despite the killer spikes, there were still some great edge-of-the-seat rallies.
Ontario won the first and second games 25-23 and 25-18. Alberta then rallied to take the next two games 25-18 and 25-21 but lost the nail-biter of a tiebreaker 16-14. It was a close, well-played game with one diehard section of loyal Alberta fans breaking into chants and banging their pots at almost every point their team won. The many young Ontario fans in the stands were loudly appreciative of their team’s effort and ecstatic that their team had won gold – just one of many gold medals for Ontario during these Canada Summer Games.