The World Games 2017 opening ceremony is this evening, and the Flying Disc (as it’s called in this event) portion of the schedule starts tomorrow, with Poland kicking things off against Canada. The sport was added to this event in 2001, with Canada winning the first tournament on universe point against the USA in Japan and the USA winning the three events since then. While Great Britain are absent for the first time since 2009, there’s still plenty to look out for and the games will be available online here. Here’s a quick primer of what you might be able to see, and what could happen, in Wroclaw.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The USA have won the last three World Games titles, defeating Japan in the final in Chinese Taipei and Australia in the final four years later in Cali, Colombia as well as in Germany in 2005. I’m afraid this portion of the preview might be rather dull – they’re absolutely fantastic. Almost every player on this squad is a superstar not just in the USA but across the Ultimate-playing world.
It’s difficult to find a comparison across other sports for what Beau has been to Ultimate over the past decade; he’s shown players across the world what can happen when you dedicate yourself to not only the elements of training that affect the game directly – throwing, catching, cutting and so on – but also to gym work, track and plyometrics. He was the first globally-known player to be something close to a professional athlete and changed how players all over the globe approach training for the sport. Something like a mix between Roger Bannister, Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan might encapsulate it. He’s won two of these things already and is shooting for an unprecedented (obviously) hat-trick.
Outside of the mononymous Alaskan, the USA have an embarrassment of riches. Sarah ‘Surge’ Griffiths has been a star for Riot for years, while the Fury trio of Claire Desmond, Anna Nazarov and Carolyn Finney have won everything there is to win. Lien Hoffman plays for current powerhouse Brute Squad, while Sandy Jorgensen (Scandal) and Georgia Bosscher (Heist) add extensive experience themselves. Bosscher and Griffiths already have one gold medal, both having been been on the team in Cali. Meanwhile, NexGen stars Jimmy Mickle (Johnny Bravo), Dylan Freechild (Sockeye this year) and Chris Kocher (PoNY) have all made the step up to the highest level, along with fellow USA Men’s National team player Nick Stuart (Sub Zero). The only two players not to have been in London are Revolver teammates George Stubbs (who also already has a World Games gold medal from Cali) and Grant Lindsley (dude lived in a cave for several months, so there’s that).
This team will win, and I doubt anyone scores in double digits against them. Congrats to the four-time champions.
The Canadians feature a number of experienced players. Led by the trio of Mark Lloyd (GOAT), Morgan Hibbert (Furious George) and Catherine Hui (Traffic), all of whom played in Cali, they’ll be a formidable team. The whole squad played in London, all for the Men’s and Women’s teams other than former Furious George player (and MLU MVP) Brendan Wong, who played Mixed. There are two players from GOAT (Andrew Carroll and Geoff Powell) , two from Furious George (Kevin Underhill and Tim Tsang) and two from Iris (Audrey St-Arnaud and Jessie Grignon Tomas) with four more Traffic players (Laura Mason, Rachel Moens, Terri Whitehead and Jessica Rockliff) meaning they make up the bulk of the squad.
With international and high-level experience like this, Canada will be a tough match-up for anybody. They have athletic ability, some excellent handlers and in Hui and Lloyd they have two of the best players in the world. They’re very strong contenders for a medal – I fancy them to succeed against the field but can’t see them making too much of a mark on the USA juggernaut.
The Aussies are the third most successful nation at the World Games, having medalled in the last three Games. They’re defending a silver medal from Cali and have superstar Cat Phillips, captains Sarah Wentworth and Peter Blakelely and handler Seb Barr returning from that team. The rest of the team is made up almost entirely of national team players from London, with only Rebecca Brereton having missed out on that event. The Aussies always rely on strong fundamental skills and excellent fitness. They seem to excel at grinding out results and one of their strongest attributes is always the chemistry they possess as a squad.
The team is relatively young, though, and missing perennial fixture Tom Rogacki for the first time in a while. Both Wentworth and Vivan Stettner are 42 years old and will bring their experience to a squad with only one other player outside their 20s (Blakeley is 30) but it will be interesting to see how they fare against the top two. Given the situation of other teams in Poland, though, they’ll be in the mix for a medal. I think they’ll come home with some bronze medals.
Colombia are the best-case scenario for the hosts, Poland. They qualified as hosts four years ago but have blossomed into a true global power. Their women, particularly, have performed superbly since their sudden-death loss to Canada in the bronze medal game in Cali, winning silver medals in London. All of the women in their squad here were part of that team, including Laura Ospina, Elizabeth Mosquera and crucially Yina Cartagena. Cartagena is generally regarded as one of the finest players in the world, and her performance in the final of WUGC last year, where she was involved in four of Colombia’s seven goals against yet another powerhouse USA team, confirmed that standing. She is an outstanding handler with exceptional footwork downfield – she’s one to watch if you get a chance. So are the Cardenas twins, who are competing in the World Games – the pinnacle of our sport, remember – at the age of 17, which is frankly outrageous. Both are excellent players already, and with so much time left before they hit their peak Manuela and Valeria have a chance to be both the present and future of Colombian Ultimate. (See from 55 seconds here for what they can do. That block is just filth.)
Their men are no mugs either. Alexander Ford, Santiago Montano and Julio Duque return from Cali as well, and Duque, Mauricio Martinez and Ivan Alba were three of the highest scorers for the Men’s team in London. Their men are always athletic and physical, and they will certainly stand up to the challenge of the bigger teams. You sense that this team will go as far as their women can take them, though, particularly Cartagena and Mosquera, who is an outstanding cutter who excels in creating play after making the first cut. I think this they’re going to be fighting with the Canadians and the Aussies for the hardware behind the Americans, and if I had to guess I think they’ll be left on the outside looking in.
This is the hardest team to project. The Japanese are always strong and are the other team to have won a medal at the World Games – only four teams have done so. However, the controversy around Buzz Bullets has cost the team a number of their best players – superstars Masahiro Matsuno and Taiyo Arakawa were on the squad to start with, as were 2016 Men’s team members Keiichiro Shiba, Kurono Masahashi and Yuti Inomata. It’s still unclear what happened to cost Japan these players, but they’ll certainly be worse off for it. Matsuno may well be the best male player in the world outside of North America, while Arakawa was a heat-seeking missile in London, scoring a huge number of points with his precise and devastatingly effective diagonal cuts.
The whole squad was in London, the vast majority in the Mixed division. Only Takaharu Komori and Taku Honna played Men’s, with the other five men in the Mixed team alongside three of the women. It’s likely that Andrew Kunieda, Goku Genshima and Ayumi Fujioka will be key players, along with Kana Kobayashi and Risa Shimada. Whether this team has the power to outlast their opponents given that they’re missing stars like Matsuno and Arakawa remains to be seen, but they’re still very talented and should be able to play that very unique Japanese style well. They also have more WUGC teammates than the other top teams, so that cohesion could play well for them. Still, I see them fifth.
The hosts look like the outsiders here. Their entire team played Mixed in London, and they finished second (in contentious circumstances) at Windmill. You’d imagine that they’ll play well together and that their team chemistry, understanding and cohesion will be excellent. However, it’s going to be tough for them matching up against the teams that are in the draw with them. Filip Stepniak and Filip Dobranowski are two very good players, and the rest of the squad are steady and more athletic than the other teams might be expecting – it wouldn’t be a surprise for Poland to catch some teams out early on in games if they’re underestimated.
Still, seeing this team win a game on home soil would be a massive, massive surprise. They’ve done an impressive job in preparing for this and have worked on their team for over a year. Hopefully they can see some return on that effort, give it their best shot and cause some upsets. Because if there’s one thing everyone loves, it’s chaos caused by the underdog.