Ten-time Canadian champions chase elusive world tug-of-war title September 4-7 in Sweden
Photos and story by Casey Lessard
They’ve been the best tug-of-war team in Canada since 1997, but they’ve never tasted success on the world stage. For the Bluewater squad based at Matthias Metzger’s farm northwest of Dashwood, this year is different. “If they believe they can win a gold medal, I think they can,” says coach Jim Connolly of London. The team heads to Stenungsund, Sweden to fight for the world championships September 4-7. The difference this year, Connolly says, is the team has a cohesive plan to win thanks to help from his son-in-law, life coach Rob Di Cesare. He’s been helping the team overcome the mental barriers to their success. “I always noticed that in and around Ontario and this area, they dominate,” says Di Cesare, who has been following their progress over the years. “They’re physically stronger and better trained than any other team. However, whenever they go to competitions in Europe, even as they prepared, you would see a difference. The results would show.” “We tend to put our (international) opposition up on a pedestal,” Connolly says. “You can’t beat them if you’ve already done that. Rob has taught us to concentrate more on ourselves than on our competition. We’re ready this time.” For Di Cesare, the first step was setting a cohesive goal for the team. “Everyone had a different idea of why they were going to Sweden,” he says. “Some of them were going to finish in the top six. Some were going to finish in the top four. Some were going to win a medal. Some were going just to compete.” Di Cesare encouraged the men to decide on a team goal, and they decided it was to win the world championships. The quest to achieve that goal hasn’t been easy; the team reached a breaking point last month. “On their way to achieving the gold medal,” he says, “they had to set some smaller goals, and one of them was that in order for the team to go to Sweden, each had to hold their own weight for five minutes by Monday, July 21. If even one of them couldn’t do it, the team wasn’t going, even though they’d already bought their plane tickets, etc. They had three weeks to get to that point. “In my Friday night session before the deadline, I checked in with the guys and none of them was able to do it. They couldn’t even get past a minute-and-a-half. That night, they suggested they should move the deadline back because the goal was too high. I called them on their backing down and said the deadline wasn’t changing. “That Monday morning, Matthias tried several times and couldn’t hold it for even a minute-and-a-half. But that night at training, something changed and every single guy held it for at least five minutes. The lowest was 5:09, and the longest was close to nine minutes. Nothing changed physically, but mentally something changed and they made up their minds that they were going to do this.” Even the casual observer would see the team is focused on their goal; it’s a stark contrast to when Rob Hoffman went to his first world championships in 1996. “I went over with an all-star team from Ontario, and we weren’t fit to do the laces of the European teams,” Hoffman says. “The following year, Bluewater won the right to represent Canada, and we’ve been doing that for the last 10 years. This is the best team we’ve had.” “I think there will be a different result this time,” says Di Cesare. “We’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the Olympics. Stereotypically, Canadians will say they’re there to do their best and to participate. If you asked an American athlete, stereotypically they say they’re there to win a gold medal. Nothing else is acceptable. That’s probably the fundamental reason the Americans do better than Canadians.” “At this point we’ve trained hard and we’ve been there enough to know we’re as fit as the other teams,” says team captain Ted Hoffman. “Tug of war becomes very mental when you get into the top four and the team that doesn’t give in to the strain and the pain will win.” “It’s a good feeling to be on top in Ontario or Canada,” says Matthias Metzger, a puller since 1991. “But you always want to do more. We’ve been somewhat successful at the international level, but now it’s time to win a gold medal.” For more info: //www.tug-of-war.net.