In this installment of Heating Up with Match Diesel, we went old school and across the pond to talk with Great Britain’s finest, Ollie Gordon. Topics include GB Ultimate and their WUGC 2012 team selection process, Ollie’s thoughts on the NexGen Tour, and we answer the question on everyone’s mind, “What exactly is a grade 8 Violinist?” Put on your shades because we’re dancing in the flames tonight.
Match Diesel: I think the first question on everyone’s mind regarding you is, what exactly is a grade 8 violinist?
Ollie Gordon: (laugh) I played violin since I was about 6. My mother got me into it and grade 8 is the final grade you can do in terms of examinations. It is the final grade and I earned it when I was about 15.
Ollie: I was quite involved in sport recreationally when I was a kid. I didn’t take a particular sport much further until college. I played a bit of soccer but I didn’t really enjoy the atmosphere of it. When I was 16 there was a group of local kids that went to a large tournament in my home town at a decent venue where a lot of the top players go. It was sort of a social trip and there we hung out on the sidelines and threw around. A couple of guys taught us how to throw flicks we actually got to play a few points with one of the teams. I think I scored a few goals that first day.
From there, we emailed a local coach who came out and guided us through a few beginner tournaments. Then we competed as a junior team and went to a few tournaments and it was at one of these that I was personally asked to come out to GB (Great Britain) Under-20 Tryouts. Fortunately, I was one of the last picked to attend the World Championships in Turku, Finland (2004) the following summer. Then I sort of went from there.
Match: Can you talk a little bit about that Worlds tournament in 2004?
Ollie: That was my first international tournament and I could easily get a greater sense of the sport seeing all of the opens and masters teams that were there. I was 16 at the time. I wasn’t expecting to be part of that squad. We played a few tournaments as an Under-20 squad when they were making the final selections. If you get picked it is pretty incredible and I don’t think I quite appreciated enormity of the situation at that time. It wasn’t really until I got to Finland that I saw the international level of the sport and how competitive it was. I was a bit of a fringe players and I didn’t play too many points much, but just being part of the atmosphere there was great for learning what the sport was all about and it was obviously something I wanted to be a part of for the future.
Match: Were you part of the 2008 Great Britain team in Vancouver?
Ollie: Unfortunately, no. 2006 was my last year as a junior when we went to Boston and I wasn’t quite up to competing for any open teams in 2007 or 2008. I would have loved to have been there but it wasn’t until 2010 that I played with the Under-23 Great Britain team in the inaugural Under-23 tournament in Italy. From there I was invited to tryout for the open squad in 2011 and that is how I am currently involved with them.
Match: So will you be attending the 2012 World Ultimate and Guts Championships in Japan?
Ollie: I hope to. The final team has not been picked yet. There is currently a squad of about 30 or 35, for which a team of about 25 will go and that will be decided in February. My goal now is to establish my spot on that roster and that will be my first trip back to the WUGC since 2004 and I am interested to see not only how I have changed as a player since then but also how the overall competition has changed as well.
Match: It seems like the UK is fairly competitive and your country’s performance in 2008 definitely speaks to that. How does the selection process work?
Ollie: It is different in GB because we are a smaller country in that the representing team is not the team that wins nationals. Here we have the ability to tryout players individually. After summer of 2010, that is sort of when the 2 year cycle started leading up to Japan. GB tryouts started in September/October and it was sort of an invite only to those players that had shown promise. The squad was sort of picked then, which gave us sort of 2 years to gel together as a team. Teams were picked for Euros in Slovenia, which was the pinnacle of last year and was in summer of 2011. I was not part of that team because of NexGen. Over the last 2 years players have been shuffled in and out and the process will be finalized in February and then we have a series of trainings and other tournaments leading up to Worlds. It is pretty exciting this year.
Match: Is the ultimate community in Great Britain pretty close knit given the smaller size of the country?
Ollie: At the top level definitely. The thing about the UK is that there are not as many competitive teams. There are maybe 3 or 4 that are always at the top and other teams are sort of fighting for what is left. The players for the Worlds GB team will come from those 4 top teams and because you are playing each other at almost every major tournament in semifinals and finals and you get pretty familiar with each other. It is beneficial in that way and it works well.
Match: How would you describe the rivalries between these teams and what it is like to compete alongside these players?
Ollie: There is the specific rivalry between Clapham and Chevron, the top 2 teams over the past few years and there has been the potential for a bit of animosity between players from these teams. I need to be careful what I say, but there have been a few disagreements between these two clubs within the team because they form the basis of the GB open squad. However, I think everyone appreciates that the journey is going to be hard and we all want to make it work. That is basically what the 2 years is all about.
Match: That is interesting because in listening to Kenny Dobyns interview with Elliot Trotter, I realized that NYNY was formed from 2 teams that really hated one another and Kenny seemed to think it was positive in their practice and preparation. Would you agree that is the case with Great Britain?
Ollie: Definitely, there is certainly that within the GB open team and it is really intense atmosphere and everyone is very competitive with one another. It gives you a boost in training and practice when you are lining up against someone you normally take down. It brings that rivalry back and it can have a helpful impact.
Match: What is your role on the field on any given point?
Ollie: Previously, I was more of a defensive player. I have always thought of myself as reasonably athletic in being fast with a decent jumping ability. And I enjoy getting the disc off someone. However, with NexGen I realized that I couldn’t always get those blocks and the pace of the American game was a lot faster and I was really struggling to get those blocks at the start. Being part of the O-line towards the end of the tour was a good experience and I can see myself filling that new role with the GB team, although it is not up to me. I enjoyed being on the O-line and I think my athleticism is equally valuable, with being able to get away from defenders. However, I am not the strongest thrower and that is something I will need to work on if I want to be part of an O-line. But Beau Kittridge has done pretty well as an O-line receiver so I figure I can do that too.
Match: How were you selected to become part of the NexGen Tour?
Ollie: I was sent an email just before Christmas last year from Kevin Minderhout explaining the tour. He said that they wanted an international player, preferably from the UK and asked if I wanted to be part of it. Initially I was quite surprised that I had been asked, although that year I saw myself as one of the best university players in GB. The organization had not been finalized at that point so I was a little skeptical that it would happen and didn’t get my hopes up too much. What probably helped initially was that I know the designer of the NexGen website very well and I also know the film editor for the tour. I suspect that they put my name up and I wasn’t going to say no.
Match: Were you nervous about competing in the United States?
Ollie: I wasn’t nervous. I don’t really get nervous when I play ultimate. It was more exciting than anything else and I knew I needed to make the most of the opportunity. There are a lot of UK people that would have loved to be in my position. I knew I would learn a lot from playing in the US and considering the fact that I am still learning as player, this was a great experience. This was a chance to play with some of the best players in the world against some of the best teams and I just wanted to make the absolute most of it. I did fear at the start that maybe I wouldn’t be able to compete at that level, but after the first few points of the first game I realized that it is still just Ultimate and I knew I could take these players on.
Match: How would you describe NexGen’s evolution as the team was crafted to the first few games, up until the completion of the tour?
Ollie: At the start it was always going to be an issue with big players from several teams coming together to form an All-Star Team. The nature of such a team is going to have some growing pains and it was going to take a little while for us to gel and I think that was apparent at the start, just in terms of playing offense. Defensively it was alright because we were all athletes and we played a lot of man and we did get our blocks. But it we knew it was going to be an issue being a cohesive unit on offense. Over the tour we all acknowledged that and Ben Wiggins told us in our training at the start that, “We would all have to change just a little bit and we could be a perfect team.” It wasn’t that some players had to change a lot and others not so much, but rather we would all need to change a little. And that is basically what happened during the tour. We learned from our mistakes and progressing on our strengths.
Match: Was the goal of the team to finish above .500?
Ollie: Yes that is what the goal of the team was and Ben Wiggins said at the beginning that finishing .500 would indicate a successful tour. However I had no clue what “over .500” meant when I got over to the US. We developed that goal within ourselves and it was nice to finish off the tour with 4 wins because the goal of over .500 helped us stay focused down towards the end. I’d say it was a commendable achievement.
Match: What did you take away from playing against Furious, Sockeye, Revolver, etc…?
Ollie: We knew those 3 games were probably going to be our toughest of the tour. Having them at the start was interesting because we just hoped we weren’t going to embarrass ourselves. We just tried to play our game and I didn’t really know who I was lining up against. I just tried to handle my assignment. In the end it didn’t really matter who we were playing against.
Match: Apart from the games themselves, what was the road like? The journey itself from game to game?
Ollie: That was certainly a lot of fun. The bus was a 1987 school bus so it was pretty old school. It was temperamental at times and when were all on the bus at the same time it was great for team spirit. So even though we could only go 55 as a maximum speed, you didn’t really notice. It was quite frustrating when we would break down on the side of the road. In the middle of tour we had to abandon the bus. Well, we had a break down, then we fixed it, and then it broke down again so we abandoned it and then we got rental cars. And that wasn’t as much fun. I mean we had air conditioning, but it was a 4-hour trip to Atlanta and I think that was the worst trip of the tour. Then it was great when we got the bus back unexpectedly. We all thought it was dead. When we were chilling in our chalet before our last four games we got the bus back and that gave us a little boost. That probably helped us finish the way we did.
Match: Was it difficult to recover after playing and driving and trying to sleep while on the road?
Ollie: I would like to defend the professional image of the tour but there was a fair amount of us pulling up maybe half an hour before the game for our warm up. That is just the nature of this sort of project. It is true that when you get on the bus after a game and then it is straight on through the night to the next game, it isn’t ideal for stretching and sleeping. We had 5 or 6 beds and a few sofas and floor mats so it wasn’t ideal but it would not have been half as fun if it had been any different.
Match: And I am sure all of these challenges helped you guys bond as a team, correct?
Ollie: Absolutely. The time when were separate is when we lost to Truck Stop and Southpaw and I think that might represent the fact that we were split up. It was brilliant being all in the same place going to the same place. The bus was a good thing in that sense.
Match: What happened in the contest between Goat? Can you comment on that particular game?
Ollie: That game was a lot of fun to be honest. It was right after the Boston game against Ironside and although that was probably our best team performance, I didn’t really get involved in that game. There were a few of us that couldn’t get into Canada because of a passport situation so it was up to a few of us to step up. At the start I had a few good match ups against I think Cam Harris. There was just a bit of contact in the air and I definitely overreacted a little bit at the time, but it definitely added to the spectacle of the game. The crowd got on my back a little bit after that, but it was all in good fun. After the game we went out for a few drinks and we all seemed cool. It was probably my most enjoyable game of the tour.
Match: To be honest, when I heard that there was going to be a British player on the team I figured you would be a polite, sophisticated guy and the last person to be involved in a heated discussion on the field.
Ollie: I wouldn’t say that I am that sort of player. I try to avoid contact and making calls, although that could be a criticism of my game. I did anticipate that the game in the US would be more intense and I would need to get more involved. It isn’t really in my nature to behave that way.
Match: What were your perceptions on the differences between the way the game is played in North America versus the UK?
Ollie: The pace of the game was the first thing that I was aware of. It was a lot faster. The way our handlers worked offensively was much swifter and the continuations as well. Defensively it took me a while to adjust to positioning myself and being quicker. If you don’t keep up, you know, the disc is swung back to the other side of the field. That was the main difference. The physicality was also more prevalent, especially in the air, but not much different than the UK. That is sort of a credit to the UK that we have sort of caught up to the more competitive countries in the world. But it was mainly the pace of the game.
Match: I was looking at your NexGen profile before calling you and I didn’t realize that you were nominated for a Sportsman of the Year Award. Can you comment on that?
Ollie: That was in 2011. I was nominated for that. It was for being part of the GB squad as well as being a prominent player for the university team for the 5 years that I played there. I had also done quite a lot for the club. The award involved clubs putting forward your name and a short list was created from that. I was also president of the club that year and to be nominated was a nice reward considering that Ultimate is not widely regarded as a competitive sport in the UK, especially at the university level. It was nice to have a player and the club itself nominated for a few awards was quite a big deal.
Match: You are studying exercise and sports science. What are your future goals?
Ollie: I did an undergraduate degree in exercise and sports science and then a masters in sport and health science. I have always been quite interested in sports my whole life and that is why I took it on at university and also in college, which is what I believe you guys call high school. I now have a degree and a masters and I am looking for sports development roles. It quite interests me how I have progressed in Ultimate, with both the support I have had and support I have lacked. Ultimately, I would have loved to be a professional athlete but I didn’t commit early enough in my youth. And if I can aid people accomplish their goals to become professional athletes or just helping out in the funding of these efforts would be fantastic. That is sort of what I am looking for.
Match: Can you share a story from the NexGen experience?
Ollie: A story…there are a few stories from our 3 day chill out in a chalet in West Virginia in a sort of secluded forest and that was good fun. We had a hot tub and beer pong table and had a few good nights. We tried to fit as many people as possible into a hot tub, which was fun. Those 3 days were a good laugh and were a lot of fun.