What We Learned in Italy

Sept. 10, 2013, 5:53 p.m. (ET)


What We Learned in Italy

by Bob & Ana Cook

There is no Italian dressing.  Herbed olive oil is not served with bread at a meal.    We have more Italian cypresses in our neighborhood than all of northern Italy.  Italian bread tastes better in Los Angeles than in Italy.  In the major Italian cities there are more tourists per square foot than any other place in the world.  Italians don’t organize good badminton tournaments.  And, over confident team captains need humbling experiences now and then.

A Pencil Neck team has competed in all eight World Masters Games (WMG).  In the very first in Toronto (1985), only individual events were held, and it was Andy Gouw and I who began the tradition.  From then on the WMG has held team competition and the Pencil Neck teams have won 5 out of 6 times, winning the age groups in 40’s, 50’s, 55’s, 60’s, and a repeat in 60’s.  Throughout those many years we have lost only two ties (team versus team matches).  Both of those ties were to Aussie teams which were able to overcome our always strong men’s doubles teams.  For Torino I figured in the 65 year old age group we were a lock.  We had the strongest Pencil Neck team ever assembled which included myself, Andy, Curt Dommeyer, Ian Bishop, Intan Tee, Mary Ann Bowles, Andrea Weiss, and Sanne Dryborough.  Five of us were veterans from the Sydney WMG four years ago winning 60’s.  

Entering our first tie against an unknown Scottish team, I was supremely confident.  That soon turned to shock when our #1 MD (Dommeyer/Bishop) barely squeaked by at 21-17, 30-28, and our #2 and #3 got royally drubbed.  Our women’s doubles teams rallied by playing superbly, winning at #1 WD (Bowles/Tee) and #3 (Bowles/Weiss).  That evened the score at 3-3 going into the mixed, but I knew all signs pointed to a first round loss.  Assembling good mixed doubles teams from the US has always been difficult.  Most other countries (especially the English Commonwealth countries) play more mixed than we do and are combat tested in team competitions.  Amazingly all three of our mixed teams triumphed rather easily to set us up for our 6th team title.

In the individual competition the team members (and past team members) continued to do well.  Cai Lianying, an ex-member, won golds in 60WD with Intan Tee and 60 mixed with Trevor Stewart (GER), who is also is an ex-Pencil Neck.  She also added bronze in 60WS.  Intan Tee won a 2nd gold in 65WS and teamed with Sanne Dryborough for silver in 65WD.  I won silver in 65MS as well as silver in 65MD with Andy Gouw.  Andrea Weiss got bronze for 65WS and, surprisingly, a bronze in 65XD with Ian Bishop.  As the lowly 3rd ranked mixed team on the Pencil Necks, their prospect of a medal in the individual competition seemed remote; but, a good draw and inspired play earned them a well-deserved place on the podium.

The 70’s Yum team captained by Jeff Fishback contained 2 other Americans: Judy Gray and Robin Lyons.  The Yum was quite an international mix with other team members from Peru, Norway, Germany and Canada.  Having no other teams in 70’s they played down in the 65’s, but were awarded the Gold in 70’s.  In the individual competition Robin Lyons completed a cycle—gold in 70MD with Jeff Fishback, silver in 70MX with Judy Gray, and a bronze in 70MS.  In addition, Judy garnered a 2nd silver in 70WS and a bronze in 70WD.

Several Americans played only the individual competition.  Most successful was Rose Lei, who scored a cycle: gold in 60WS, silver in 60XD, and bronze in 60WD.  Her partner in 60MX was Laszlo Drimusz who added bronzes in 55MS and 60MD.   In 45WS Jacky Myers got bronze, while Garth D’Abreu was equally successful in 40MD.

The poor organization of the Torino Games resulted in the lowest number of badminton players ever—over 300.  In past WMG, badminton has been one of the top draws with numbers hovering around one thousand.  I talked with one of the badminton organizers for the 2017 WMG in Auckland and he assured me that badminton will be organized and well-run.  I estimate a minimum of 1200 participants, so start preparing.

What do we remember most?  The day we visited Venice.  In the early morning we made the 120km express train trip from Verona, where we were staying at a B&B.  As good tourists we checked out the Grand Canal, the gondolas, and St. Mark’s square.  By mid-afternoon we were running out of gas, but stumbled upon the Biennial Fair, an assembly of some 70 pavilions with unusual exhibits from all over the world.  In the Russian pavilion Ana grabbed an umbrella and walked into the “Raining Money” exhibit (men not permitted to enter).  While coins pelted down on her umbrella, she scooped up a handful of coins.  She followed the custom of taking the coins and dumping them into a return bucket and saving one coin as a souvenir.   Not all countries had good exhibits.  The absolute low point was the United States exhibit of a garage or workroom where the bric-a-brac (paint cans, tools, bottles, etc.) was tied together with string.  HUH?

The Korea House was the only one with a line of eager people waiting to get in.  The sides and roof of the house were made completely from Fresnel glass, which break apart sunlight into rainbow patterns.  The floor was wall-to-wall mirrors.   Ana could see that it would be too intense for her; but, I signed the extensive waiver, donned the required booties and wandered in.  From all directions I was overwhelmed with the intensity of lights and color.  Amid the whoops and hollers of kids dashing from one glass room to another, I concentrated on moving from the room’s center with intense beams of direct sunlight to the corners where the reflections and prisms were predominant.  About the time I was becoming disoriented I heard my number called, “87.”  I walked over to the exiting area, a heavy insulated door opened, I was directed in, and, “thud,” the door closed.  Pitch black, no sound.  Scary and unnerving.  I reflected on the waiver; they must have people panic at this point.   I felt like I was locked up for 3 or 4 minutes before a welcoming ray of light split the darkness.  Probably was in “solitary” for no more than a minute, but I was completely unbalanced at that point.

Jazzed, we continued on to more remote pavilions.  By the time we had reached, maybe, the half way mark, we realized the last returning train of the night had departed.  The train agent issued us $6 tickets for the local choo-choo train.  “It will get you half way.”  Sure enough, two hours later we reached the end of the line in no-where-ville.  It was near 1am when we flagged down a taxi.  $150 later, Verona.  Gosh, can’t wait to do this again.