London 2012 Q&A: Valérie Welsh

Editors note: As part of the Canadian Sports Media Blog’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, I am happy to partner with Alexandre Duval to provide interviews with three of Canada’s Olympians. Alex has kindly provided these three interviews to the Canadian Sports Media Blog. One will appear each day through the Opening Ceremony. Today is the last of the three specials. The interview is with synchronized swimmer Valérie Welsh.

Valérie Welsh was born in Saint-Nicolas, Quebec, and became addicted to synchronized swimming at the age of eight. Now a 24 year-old woman, Valérie is training at Montreal’s Olympic Park under the watchful eye of Julie Sauvé, head coach of the Canadian national synchronized swimming team.

Valérie will be swimming at the Olympic Games for the first time, in London. Since seven is generally considered a lucky number, I decided to ask her seven questions just a few days before she jumps in the pool to perform the most salient routine of her career.

Alexandre Duval (AD): Valérie, you will be swimming at an Olympic event for the very first time, in London. What is your personal approach to this great moment of your life?

Valérie Welsh (VW): Participating in the Olympic Games truly is the dream of any athlete… and it has been mine since I was a kid! Right now, I’m experimenting mixed feelings: stress, thrill, pride, etc. We are training really hard and we are very confident with regards to the coming Games.

AD: Have you always known that you would partake in the Olympic Games one day? When you were young, were you training specifically to make this dream come true?

VW: I have always dreamed of going to the Olympic Games since I was a kid. The road to get there, however, has not been an easy one. Before entering the Centre of Excellence in 2008, I had never been able to get a spot on any of the national teams (13-15, Junior, Senior). I was always the next one: if they selected 12 girls, I was 13th; the year after they would pick 11 swimmers and I would come 12th… This pattern repeated itself 6 years in a row. Therefore, there was a time in my career when I was dreaming of the Olympic Games only silently, but I am glad that I still kept dreaming! It’s actually what has allowed me to get where I am today!

AD: In London, you will be performing the team routines. Canada has not won an Olympic medal in your sport since Sydney, 2000. How do you evaluate your team’s chances to mount the podium in 2012?

VW: Canada’s synchronized swimming team has been on a roll since 2008. We have mounted the podium several times on the international scene. We have nothing to lose and everything to win! The competition will be a hard-fought one between Canada, Spain, and China. Nobody wants to cede ground, including Canada!

AD: What do you really have to focus on if you wish to win a medal?

VW: We have to make sure we deliver a perfect performance. Period. Our synchronization and acrobatic lifts must be impeccable. We will have to be the best and leave no doubt about this.

AD: If you and the synchronized swimming team end up winning a medal, will you:
• Cry?
• Faint?
• Jump all over the place hysterically?
• Eat everything that has been prohibited in the past months?
• Party all night?
• Do something else?

VW: All of the above! I will certainly look for my parents in the stands in order to go jump to their neck! They have been sharing my dream since I was a kid and they certainly have made as many sacrifices as I have! They deserve a medal too!

AD: If there is one athlete you could meet while you are in London, who would it be and why?

VW: It’s really hard to say because I’m impressed by all athletes! I think each sport is so hard and it’s amazing that every single Olympic athlete just managed to become a specialist of his or her sport. I had the chance to mingle with some Canadian athletes at the last Pan American Games and many of them were really impressive. The Canadian Olympic team truly is a great group! The athletes in one sport go cheer for the athletes in other sports, and we watch the performances of our fellow Canadians on TV in the Olympic village! As to the synchronized swimming team, our lucky charms are Meaghan Benfeito, Roseline Filion, and Jennifer Abel (the divers). They always come and cheer for us when we are competing!

AD: It’s not that I want to force you to think long-term, but… Do you have any clue of what is awaiting you after the London Olympic Games?

VW: After the Games, I will become a real student! I will study full-time in veterinary medicine. I will settle down in Saint-Hyacinthe and will stay in touch with the world of synchronized swimming. I actually will be a coach for the Club Les Vestales in Saint-Hyacinthe and I will get to share my passion with many young girls.

About the author :
Alexandre Duval is a blogger for Merlin Assurance Auto. He is also currently completing his master’s degree in political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Alexandre also studied in Toronto, in France, as well as in the United States, where he was an NCAA Division I tennis player.

London 2012 Q&A: Élise Marcotte

Editors note: As part of the Canadian Sports Media Blog’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, I am happy to partner with Alexandre Duval to provide interviews with three of Canada’s Olympians. Alex has kindly provided these three interviews to the Canadian Sports Media Blog. One will appear each day through the Opening Ceremony. Today, synchronized swimmer Élise Marcotte.

Élise was raised in L’Ancienne-Lorette, Quebec, and has been doing synchronized swimming since the age of five. Eighteen years after having picked up that sport, she is still training with an enduring passion under the supervision of Julie Sauvé, head coach of the Canadian national synchronized swimming team, in Montreal.

Élise competed at the Beijing Olympic Games, in 2008. A few days from now, she will jump into the pool to star at the world’s biggest sports event for the second time of her young career. To bring her luck, I decided to ask her seven questions – no more and no less.

Alexandre Duval (AD): Élise, you will be taking part in the Olympic Games for the second time. Which of the lessons that you learned in Beijing are you carrying with you in London?

Élise Marcotte (ÉM): As my second Olympic Games are approaching, I certainly look at things differently. In Beijing, we simply wanted to do better than the 6th rank we had obtained at the 2007 World Aquatics Championships. This year, however, we want to fight in order to be a medal-winning nation, and it will be a real tug of war!

AD: Not only will you be involved in the team competitions, but you will also be one of the two duet swimmers, the other one being Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon. Is there an event for which your hopes are higher?

ÉM: Our chances of going back home with a medal are the same for both events! We have really high hopes for each of our five routines and we want to deliver what our potential allows us to do.

AD: Last year, Canada won the bronze medal in the free combination event at the World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai. This event, however, will not be held at the London Olympic Games. Despite this fact, do you think that the other teams have been taking the Canadians more seriously and that they feel one of the three medals could end up in Canada’s hands instead of their own?

ÉM: Absolutely! At each of the synchronized swimming events we have been involved in lately, other countries have told us how much they thought we had improved and that they knew the fight will be close in London to determine the teams that will mount the podium.

AD: If you and the synchronized swimming team end up winning a medal, will you:
• Cry?
• Faint?
• Jump all over the place hysterically?
• Eat everything that has been prohibited in the past months?
• Party all night?
• Do something else?

ÉM: A little of all of the above, but first and foremost, I will go see my parents and my brother since they will be in the stands watching us in London!

AD: You currently are intensively preparing yourself for the Games. What does a typical day of training look like?

ÉM: We start off in the gym from 6:50 a.m. to 8 a.m. Our trainings differ from one time to the other: cardio, weights, plyometrics, etc. After that, we jump in the water around 8:15 a.m. and we warm up with swimming laps totalling about 1 kilometre.

Then, we do 90 minutes of technical duet training and another 90 minutes of technical team training between 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. We have a lunch break from 11:30 to 12 p.m., and we are back in the pool from noon to 3 p.m. for another 90-minute session of free duet training and 90 more minutes of free team training.

At 3 p.m., we get out of the pool and rest for a couple of hours… we get physiotherapy or a massage, if needed!
Just before dinner – that is, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. – we have an “out-of-the-water” training session; we rehearse our routine while staying dry!

From there, we have dinner, we rest, we go to bed, and we start over the next morning!

AD: All of the girls on the Canadian synchronized swimming team are from Quebec! How can you explain such a high concentration of talent in Canada’s francophone province?

ÉM: We actually are very lucky in Quebec because amateur athletes get very good support. Moreover we have grown watching very inspiring role models in synchronized swimming over the past 20 years!

AD: It’s not that I want to force you to think long-term, but… Do you have any clue of what is awaiting you after the London Olympic Games?

ÉM: As to my synchronized swimming career, I will keep swimming for as long as I am passionate about it! With regards to my studies, I will finish my undergrad degree in business administration/marketing in December before undertaking a master’s degree in a related field in January 2013!

About the author :
Alexandre Duval is a blogger for Merlin Assurance Auto. He is also currently completing his master’s degree in political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Alexandre also studied in Toronto, in France, as well as in the United States, where he was an NCAA Division I tennis player.

London 2012 Q&A: Audrey Lacroix

Editors note: As part of the Canadian Sports Media Blog’s coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, I am happy to partner with Alexandre Duval to provide interviews with three of Canada’s Olympians. Alex has kindly provided these three interviews to the Canadian Sports Media Blog. One will appear each day through the Opening Ceremony. First up is swimmer Audrey Lacroix, who will swim in the women’s 100m butterfly in London.

Audrey jumped into a swimming pool for the first time at the age of six in her hometown of Pont-Rouge, Quebec, and has been addicted to her sport ever since. Now 28, she owns the Canadian record for the 200-metre fly, and her best career results include a 2nd place at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a 5th place finish at the 2007 World Championships.

Audrey finished 13th in the 200-metre fly event at the Beijing Olympic Games, in 2008. Less than a week before she stars in her second Olympic Games, I asked her seven questions, since seven is known to be a lucky number…

Alexandre Duval: Audrey, you will be swimming in the 200-metre fly competition at the London Olympic Games. Would you say it is a good thing for you to be able to focus on this single event, or would you have prefered to compete in other swimming events as well?

Audrey Lacroix: I have been training specifically for the 200-metre fly over the course of the year, knowing that my chances of qualifying for other events were not that high. I thus decided to focus exclusively on the 200-metre fly from the onset of the season.

AD: The experience you had at the 2008 Beijing Olympics allows you to head to London somewhat feeling like your are on familiar ground. Do you think you are better equipped to mount the podium than you were four years ago?

AL: Since I participated in the Olympic Games before, I know better which challenges we face in the Olympic environment. All Olympics, however, can be peculiar in their own ways, but I do believe that experimented athletes have more strategies to remain on top in that evironment. As to me, I think there will be as much emotion as there was four years ago; the main difference is that those emotions will not take me by surprise, meaning that I should be able to better cope with them.

AD: In the past few months, there have been many reports in Quebec’s media about your anxiety disorder. You even discussed it on Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle. What did you do to overcome this problem and how do you feel days before the opening of the Olympic Games?

AL: A lot of work has been done with the whole team of the National Swimming Centre, where I train. Trainer Alain Delorme worked things out so that I was able to spend the months of (last) September and October focusing on the improvement of my general physical condition in order to help me better cope with the physical symptoms that come with my disorder. The team’s physician made sure I was medically followed in an appropriate way. She also touched base with a performance-specialized psychologist whom I have been working with on a weekly basis over a period of two months. Our nutritionist elaborated a bunch of strategies with me so that I would be able to gain back the weight I had lost due to my disorder and to make sure I would eat enough even on those days where I was anxious. Sport psychologist Wayne Halliwell also contributed by helping me focus on the task to accomplish and by helping be plan my performance peaks. My coach, Benoît Lebrun, has been very caring and patient throughout this process. He learned about anxiety disorders to better know how to manage different situations.

AD: Until the 31st of July – that is, the day of the 200-meter fly heats – on which element(s) will you work during your training sessions?

AL: Technically, over the past few months, I have been working on my starts, turns and finishes, because these were my weaknesses, they can be improved relatively easily, and changes in those areas can result in significant time gains.

AD: Do you display superstitious behaviour or do you perform wierd or funny rituals before a competition?

AL: I am not a superstitious person. I enjoy my little routine on the morning of the race, but there is nothing really unusual about it.

AD: If you end up winning a medal, will you:
• Cry?
• Faint?
• Jump all over the place hysterically?
• Eat everything that has been prohibited in the past months?
• Party all night?
• Do something else?
AL: I think I would jump a lot! But I would be to tired to party all night after that…

AD: Audrey, now that you are 28, how do you foresee the “post Olympic Games period”? Do you want to carry on with your career or do you already have other plans in mind?

AL: I may swim one more year. After that, I will probably undertake something in the world of communications since I studied in this field. I don’t know what I will do for sure, but maybe something related to the media?

About the author :
Alexandre Duval is a blogger for Merlin Assurance Auto. He is also currently completing his master’s degree in political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal. Alexandre also studied in Toronto, in France, as well as in the United States, where he was an NCAA Division I tennis player.

Max Patrick Interview

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of interviewing Serie A commentator Max Patrick. Max works Serie A games on the international feed which is heard every weekend on The Score, TLN and Fox Sports World here in Canada, as well as on FSC and FS+ in the United States. You may have recently heard him call Internazionale-Napoli yesterday on The Score.

Max was born in Sheffield, England in 1975. As you will learn, he strangely didn’t like Sheffield Wednesday or Sheffield United, but in fact enjoyed watching Aberdeen play. He is also a musician who plays drums and guitar (among other instruments) and has toured around the world.

Canadian Sports Fan: When you were young, did you grow up wanting to be a professional footballer or commentator, or did you not expect to go into the sports business at all?

Max Patrick: I’m still young, in my heart at least :) I remember being fascinated by the different teams first. The locations, the different kits and the different players. My friends at school in England were Man Utd, Liverpool, Sheffield Wednesday but I never really stuck with one team growing up. I used to collect the panini stickers and loved swopping them with my mates. I found that I had a real knack for remembering names/teams/facts about players from all the divisions in England and Scotland. At one point I remember being mad keen on Aberdeen. They had a certain Alex Ferguson in charge!  I was keen on them after following them on the T.V. in their massive cup winners cup win over Real Madrid. My Mum wrote to the club and I remember getting some photos and autographs through the post.

I’d have liked to have played in that team. But, looking back, all of those hours spent enjoying football ‘stuff’ was ideal preparation for the work that I do now. I never entertained the idea of becoming a commentator…it’s more like when the offer came it was a completely natural thing to do.

CSF: How does someone from Sheffield, England end up in Milan covering Serie A games for an audience around the world?

MP: I was drawn to Italy. Irresistably. It’s hard to explain. I first came to Italy in 1997 with the England team. I was playing in the band down in Rome. It was the night of ‘The Great Escape’ with the Sheffield Wednesday band, of which I’d joined as a drummer (I actually play the drums to a professional level!) It was a remarkable experience. Other things happened in life and eventually I emigrated to Milan. After a couple of years of playing football, talking about football, performing music and so on, a friend of mine suggested I contact a guy called Richard Whittle about a football project. From that meeting, the football project has gone from strength to strength.

CSF: I understand that Serie A commentators are actually in the broadcast booth at the stadium as opposed to calling the game off monitor from a studio. I’ve noticed this works well because sometimes you or another commentator will notice an injury or card while the video feed is showing a replay. Other than this, what are other advantages to actually being at the stadium?

MP: We can do either; either from the stadium or from a studio. For me there is no comparison as the stadium provides a greater amount of colour in which to see and hear. When you’re at the stadium the whole thing; the journey in, the position that you commentate from, the noise etc all add to the occasion and the feeling and this is what I try to convey.

CSF: On the flip side, have you ever called games off monitor and what challenges does this present?

MP: Yes I’ve done this and the challenges are things like the line-ups. When you’re at the game you get a list of the I-XI and you can start to organsise yourself. When you’re in a studio, you don’t get that, so you have to use your ‘nous’ and prepare accordingly.

CSF: I’ve noticed that the Serie A uses co-commentators for some of the biggest games now. For example you and Paul Visca worked Inter-Napoli together on Thursday evening. What adjustments do you have to make when you go from calling a game by yourself to calling a game with someone else?

MP: Paul and I began at the same time 7 years ago. When we began we didn’t know to what extent the thing would take off. We both spent time ‘learning the ropes’. We kept coming into the studio for about 4 months to practice on past games. We’d see each other; knowing that maybe there was only work for one of us. We’d take CD’s home and listen to them to improve so, I guess, we sort of grew into the job together. Working with Paul is great; it’s like going to the game with your buddy y’know? When we do a duo ‘gig’ (that’s my music heritage!) we take it in turns to be commentator or analyst. For the game that you mentioned (Inter-Napoli) I was the commentator last night, but for the next game we do I’ll be the match analyst.

CSF: What is your favourite Italian stadium to call a game from? I have always thought that the stadiums of both teams who played Thursday evening (the San Siro in Milan and San Paolo in Naples) come across as two of the best atmospheres on TV.

MP: The San Siro. It always strikes me as a stadium of World importance everytime I walk to it. I also remember times when I’d go to watch Inter or Milan as a fan.

CSF: I’ve been dying to ask this question of someone more familiar with Serie A than myself. I notice that stadiums appear more empty than they are on TV because fans tend to sit in the upper levels instead of close to the pitch. Do you know why this is?

MP: Generally the ticket prices close to the pitch are vastly more expensive than the higher tiers. You could pay 130 euro for a first ring ticket compared with 15 euro for a third ring ticket.

CSF: With the Serie A season at the halfway point, what team has surprised you most so far? What team do you think has had the most disappointing season so far? Also, who do you think is the favourite to win the league?

MP: AC Milan must be favourites to win the league now. They are the Winter Champions, they have Ibra (who is a title talisman) and they have a strong squad. Fiorentina have been a massive disappointment this season and the surprise team for me would be Napoli. Despite last nights defeat, Cavani has been a revelation.

CSF: Internazionale recently competed in the Club World Cup. Some see this as a pointless tournament with a couple good teams, and a bunch of others that couldn’t even play in the second league in most European countries. Do you think this is a worthwhile competition or does it just interrupt the European champs season too much?

MP: In these times of wealth, it’s an inevitable luxury. I think it worked better though when it was simply your Champions League Winners versus their South American equivalent. Ok, the African team beat the Brazilian team this time, but the extra games do cause a disruption.

CSF: Sampdoria recently agreed to loan Federico Macheda from the team I support, Manchester United. Of course I’m excited to get to see him play more. Do you see him being able to replace Antonio Cassano for the remainder of the season?

MP: No, I don’t think he can replace the Cassano of last year because Cassano last season was a major player who helped to guide Samp to 4th spot. Cassano last season was a sublime player at his peak and Macheda is only 19 years old and still learning. He’s in Italy for 6 months and he’s very much looking at returning to United having learned a lot in order to force himself into Alex Ferguson’s best 11. Macheda will, no doubt, provide a lot of energy and desire for Sampdoria but I don’t see him becoming the ‘new Cassano’. I’ll see him in action on Sunday!

CSF: What game will you be calling on Sunday? Will you be working by yourself or with a co-commentator?

MP: Ah! I’m on my lonesome for two games on Sunday. They are (drumroll)
Italian Time
12:30 Sampdoria Vs AS Roma (6:30am ET on Fox Sports World here)
and
15:00 Lazio Vs Lecce (tape delayed at 11:00am ET on The Score here)

I would like to thank Max for his time, it is greatly appreciated. If you are a Serie A fan, then you should follow Max on Twitter. He is a great commentator and will take the time to interact with those who listen to him and have any comments or questions.

Interviews with various people who work in the sports media business are something that I want to make a regular feature in 2011. If you have any ideas of who you would like to see a Canadian Sports Fan blog interview with in 2011, then just let me know and I’ll try to work something out.