Today didn’t start out any better than yesterday. Our indoor volleyball team, which had never played together before, was quickly eliminated by Oxford. There was no time to dwell on it, however, as our beach volleyball pairs match, also against Oxford, started immediately afterward. My partner, Mario, was still swimming at the time so his alternate, Martin, joined me on the court.
Martin and I had never played together but he did an excellent job of playing good, consistent volleyball. In contrast to the previous day’s 4s, the ref today was calling tight beach rules. Considering Martin’s inexperience with these rules and the large court size (still configured for 4s), we decided on a basic, consistent, let-them-make-the-mistakes strategy. It worked; we won very decisively and advanced to the next round. It wasn’t always pretty volleyball but it got the job done.
In the meantime, basketball won its first game of the day (despite our captain’s early ejection) and some of our swimmers were winning their heats so things were looking up. Martin’s and my next beach volleyball game was against IE. In this game we gelled more as a team and were able to play a little more aggressively. Martin continued to play very well and gave me some dime sets that I was able to put away hard. 20-30 IMD supporters came out for the game and cheered us on, which felt really great. I’m used to playing with maybe a few cheerleaders on the side; having 20-30 yelling for us made a real difference!
We won another game after lunch (where the food was, again, terrible) to make it into the final three. Naturally HEC was disorganized and no one could tell us exactly when these semifinals would be. Plus, what kind of tournament format has a final three instead of final four?! I didn’t have time to stick around and argue as it was almost time for the Tug of War to begin.
Tug teams were composed of five men and three women. Most of our men and all of our women had never tugged before. Furthermore we were significantly undersized relative to the other teams–that’s what happens when you’re the smallest school in the tourney! Still, I had tried over the preceding month to research best practices (Do yourself a favor and read the training section at the Scottish Tug of War Association’s website; you won’t be disappointed.) and teach them to our team during short breaks between classes. IMD’s maintenance staff was kind enough to provide some rope for practice.
However, due to injuries and some of our tuggers taking off to spend the day in Paris, four of our starting team had to be replaced at the last minute. This lightened up our team even more and added the challenge of teaching our technique to half the team in just a few minutes. Many thanks to Lucy, Aoife, Bevan, and Sergei for stepping up.
So here it was, the moment I had been waiting for. Could we win with heart and technique instead of size? I sure believed we could but now it was time to find out. I sprinted across campus to the tug pitch where, surprise surprise, things were disorganized and running behind. Our first tug was against Cambridge and started half an hour late. The extra preparation time didn’t help them as we won very quickly. There’s nothing quite like pulling with every muscle in your body while your opponent, just a few feet from you and trying desperately to resist, is drawn closer and closer to the mid-line until . . . you’ve won! What a rush!
I was told by the organizers that our next tug would be in 30 minutes, which would give me just enough time to tug then sprint back to beach volleyball for the semis. Unfortunately 30 minutes came and went and we were still no nearer to our next tug so I had to leave.
In the beach volleyball semifinals against ESADE, Mario was available so he played with me instead of Martin. We never quite got it together and lost 16-14 in a very even match. While it was a disappointment to be sure, Mario, Martin, and I were happy with taking home IMD’s first medals of the tournament, even if they were bronze.
Word came from our fans that IMD had won its second tug (against Oxford) and that its third would be starting soon. Many thanks to Matt for captaining in my absence and to Joonwon for pulling in my stead. Many thanks as well to Mathieu, who gave me a ride back to the tug pitch, saving me 10 minutes and arriving just in time for me to tug against HEC. There may have been some latent frustration released against our hosts but, whatever the motivation, we beat them to advance to the finals against SDA Bocconi.
The final match against our hotel-mates was a real battle. They easily outweighed us and their technique was good to boot. Moreover, their captain could have been my [evil] twin. We dug our heels in and tugged our hearts out. In the end, it wasn’t enough. After what seemed like an eternity of stalemate, we began to lose traction and slide toward the midline. I worked feverishly to stop the movement but my shoes slipped too and I, as IMD’s frontman, was pulled over the midline. So ended IMD’s cinderella story and my long-time unbeaten streak in tug of war. My hat is off to Bocconi and Mike, their captain, as a worthy adversary. Still, we took silver, our second medal of the tournament, and proved that it wasn’t the size of the team in the fight, but the size of the fight in the team that mattered.
With sports competition behind us, it was then time to celebrate with the closing BBQ on the lake. As a Texan, I was interested to see what the French called a “BBQ.” We went back to the hotel to clean up and then returned to campus. On our way we encountered a Manchester University student whose car had slid off the road into a ditch. Fortunately it was a Fiat 500 so we got out and helped him lift it up out of the ditch and back onto the road. While we didn’t get a medal for it, helping out a peer in need was probably the most rewarding feeling of the weekend.
The “BBQ” was, sure enough, just a cookout, but I wasn’t complaining. It was a lot better than their cafeteria food and it was fun to wind down with all the other schools. In true HEC fashion they ran out of beer an hour into the event. “But don’t worry,” they told us, “there is still plenty of wine.” The fermented grape juice they were referring to was in giant boxes and was terrible. Here we were in Paris, France, and they expected us to drink box wine. Au contraire, mon frere!