On Saturday, July 7 at Ashbridges Bay, four beach volleyball teams battled for two spots representing Canada at the Olympic Games in London. All four teams qualified for the Olympics in Mazatlan, Mexico, at the end of June, but failed to place in the top 16 in the world to automatically qualify for the games. Canada can only send one team for each gender.
At 1 p.m. the women faced off under the sun in front of hundreds of fans. It was a battle of provinces as Annie Martin and Andrée Lessard of Quebec faced off against Heather Bansley and Liz Maloney from Toronto. Bansley/ Maloney won the first set 21 to 17. Martin/ Lessard fought back aggressively in the second set to come out on top and win the set 21-12. In the final set the game was won by the team with the least amount of errors, Martin/ Lessard.
These Olympics will be the last for the Quebec athletes. Martin, 31, and Lessard, 34, have resolved to make the best of these Olympics by limiting the amount of personal pressure to medal. “We’re not going to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go for gold.’ We’ve done that before and it creates a lot of suffering and there’s expectations and when you don’t match up, it’s deflating.” said Lessard after the game. Martin placed fifth in 2004 with her Quebecois partner Guylaine Dumont.
Martin and Lessard will be joined by a men’s pair who only began playing together this season – Martin Reader, 28, and Josh Binstock, 31. The pair outplayed Christian Redmann of Toronto and Ben Saxton of Calgary in two sets, 21-18 and 21-14. The game was filled with multiple serving errors and some aggressive hits from Redmann. Binstock and Reader fought hard and fed off the energy from the crowd.
“I grew up here on the beaches, so I felt really comfortable playing at Ashbridges Bay, albeit in front of a much bigger crowd that I am used to,’’ said Binstock after the game. “We felt really supported today with the crowd behind us and playing in front of friends and family. This was amazing.”
Today, Ashbridges Bay is home to the Ashbridges Bay Beach Volleyball Club and over 85 courts. But the beach has not always been a haven for volleyball players. Eddie Coleman, President of the Toronto Spartan Volleyball league and a provincial coach, remembers a different Beach in the 1990s.
“In ’94 there were signs up saying ‘no volleyball’ and in ’95 the city planted trees to stop people from playing,” he said.