Recently, Furious George and Traffic, both from Vancouver, participated with Seattle's Sockeye and Riot at the Torneo Eterna Primavera tournament in Medellín, Columbia.
Alex Davis, member of Furious George, provided the following description of the tournament and the experience.
The TEP television commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
A promotional video for supporters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
A Spanish news report (June): http://www.youtube.com/watch?
An interview with Oscar Pottinger: http://www.youtube.com/watch?
Owen's blog: www.thinkulti.blogspot.com
Tournament Website: www.tepmedellin.com
Between November 17 and November 28, Medellin hosted a uniquely ambitious ultimate event. In conjunction with an astonishing array of public, non-profit and private partners, ACUM and an army of volunteers brought four North American teams (Furious, Traffic, Sockeye and Riot) to Colombia to promote their sport. They facilitated a series of clinics respectively aimed at schoolchildren, at-risk youth, college students and competitive clubs. They convinced the public that ultimate is a sport worth investing in, teaching, watching and playing. They hosted an international forum on spirit of the game and development. And of course, they capped it off with an exciting, superbly run tournament, with televised finals and showcase games.
There's so much I could write about, but it would be an ordeal to read. I'll try to limit myself to a few reflections. For those just interested in the raw results, I'll spare you the agony: Sockeye over Furious (15-13) in the men's final and Riot over Revolution (15-11?) in the women's. The altitude killed the wind in my sails, the turf ate holes through my clothes and into my skin, and naturally, the heat was so stifling that the tournament paused for siesta -- and it was all great fun.
First and foremost, South American ultimate is on the rise. At every stage of the event, I was impressed with the state of the game, the cultivation of the sport, and its marketing. In their current states, almost every club in attendance could have held its own at the UPA Regional level. I say that not with patronizing intent, but to set a frame of reference; at least half a dozen teams appeared able to play on a par with Voodoo or Streetgang. Among these teams, the parity in skill is tight and competition is fierce.
Strategically, like most young teams, a lot of these clubs still lack team depth in throwing skill, for which they compensate in athleticism and feats of reception. Their cutting game usually emphasizes vertical cuts with very little crossing of lanes. Conventionally, this style of cutting would limit their options, but they have compensated with sheer agility and a willingness to rely on tight throws in spite of defensive pressure. The Colombians shine in their refusal to drop anything; as a defender, I was personally frustrated by this very consistent grace under fire. Indeed, this offense only faltered in one of two cases: either the defense effected savvy switches or the receivers eventually tired. The strict employment of vertical cutting is exhausting, of course (as someone who knows from personal overuse) and without a deep bench of replacements, the offense weakens in the second halves of most games. As evidence to that effect, Furious George won most games by a margin between 3:2 and 4:3, but typically only took half by one break.
As for development, I am humbled and alarmed by the calibre of the Colombian juniors, whom we had the privilege to coach for a week leading up to the tournament. There are not many teenaged players yet, but the next generation of Colombian athletes have learned the game much younger than our own; it was alarming to discover what players as young as twelve already had achieved in core throwing and catching skills.
This appears to be because the proponents of the game in Colombia (and notably, TD Mauricio Moore) have succeeded in gaining tremendous traction within the popular community. The governments encourage sports as a countermeasure to violence and perceive Spirit of the Game as a vehicle to teach conflict resolution to local youth. INDER Medellin (a massively staffed department of parks and recreation) has heavily invested in ultimate clinics and tournaments like the Torneo Eterna Primavera, advertising the events by broadly visible television and billboard campaigns. As one of the handsomely uniformed instructors explained, the sponsorship of TEP and visiting teams (like Furious) was literally an investment in combatting youth crime.
This community emphasis on spirit was also the motivation for a series of forums and speeches, inviting an international congress of players to discuss varied topics related to Spirit of the Game and international development. I won't recount everything that was said, as it would appear stale here. As for my experience, I have always reserved spirit (or sportsmanship, if you prefer) as a very personal matter; I rarely discuss my definition (I find it a tedious exercise), and have never felt a desire to proselytize. So perhaps when I say that this tournament was the most spirited, warmest, and most respectful competition I have ever played, I mean it without exaggeration. The rituals we followed were quintessentially Colombian: simple, easy and unforced; a shaking of hands, a post-game gathering and a few words in English and Spanish usually sufficed. No songs; no silly games. It carried a sincerity of respect I hadn't noticed elsewhere before – it felt genuinely Olympic. They had brought us to Medellin at great trouble and expense to teach sport and sportsmanship . . . and I just wanted to earn their respect.