The opening events of the week in Cincinnati didn't disappoint.
July 24, 2022 by Jonah Lee-Ash and Claire James in Recap with 0 comments
One hundred and twenty eight teams from 30 countries convened at Atrium Stadium in Mason, OH, for the opening ceremonies of the 2022 World Ultimate Club Championships on Saturday. Featuring the customary parade of flags, spectacular aerial theatrics, and a high-octane showcase game between Traffic (CAN) and MUD (JPN), the opening ceremonies were, in many ways, a grand return to play for the international ultimate community.
After a successful run for both the World Masters Ultimate Club Championships and the World Games within the last month, international ultimate’s triumphant return in the post-COVID era seems to finally be upon us. Players were free to mingle and chat, old friends were reunited, and despite laying dormant for three years, the competitive spirit is undoubtedly still alive and well in Cincinnati.
Walking into the venue, fans were treated to a carnival of activities. A speed gun was set up for players to test how fast they could throw a disc. Snow cones were handed out to players free of charge (which, in the humid, 90°F heat, was a welcome treat). The line for the merch tent wrapped around the bleachers and disappeared down the cart path beyond. In short: the place was packed, the players were excited.
As you passed through the bazaar, the bleachers sprawling around the football field were filling up well in advance of the official kickoff time. Teams — largely dressed in their club’s matching jerseys — were carving out swathes in the bleachers, nestling in with their teammates and countrymen, and creating a striking collage of colors. Adorned with bright new uniforms, the players blanketed the stands like sections of a patchwork quilt. The reds and whites of Canada and Singapore. The yellows of Venezuela and Colombia. To see the stands packed with so many frisbee players felt almost like a family reunion. For most, attending the opening ceremonies was like coming home after a long time away.
“I thought the opening ceremony was fabulous,” commented Isaac Tan of the Singapore Otters mixed team. “To see so many teams after four years and the pandemic and other issues, I think it’s great to see so many clubs from all around the world come here and play together again. I’m so excited for the upcoming week of frisbee for all of us.”
The day’s festivities began as most opening ceremonies do: with speeches and awards. This year, WFDF recognized three long-standing community members and bestowed upon them lifetime achievement awards. Following this, Great Britain received their award for being the most spirited team at the World Games event last week. All the while, teams were trickling in and continuing to fill the stands.
The main event for the opening ceremonies was the parade of flags. Unfortunately, due to COVID continuing to be a concern for attendants, the tradition of having teams or representatives march their flag around the parade ground was abandoned. Instead, event volunteers acted as national surrogates, hoisting the flags at a safe distance.
As the flag presentation began to wind down, the crowd’s attention started to shift upward. There, a small speck circled overhead.
It wouldn’t be an opening ceremony without some theatrics, and Cincinnati did not disappoint. With the US national anthem ringing out from the PA system, the attention of everyone in attendance was raptly watching the skies above. Soaring high above the stadium, three brave souls plunged headfirst from a plane. Decked with streamers, smoke, and an American flag the size of a Winnebago, three parachutists weaved between and around each other, descending from the heavens as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” welled over the loudspeakers.
The first two skydivers slid gracefully onto the playing field, chutes billowing behind them, and were greeted with raucous applause. Following shortly after was the grand finale. One final member remained airborne, with an enormous red, white, and blue flag in tow. After a few moments of suspense, they dove down, pulling up inches from the ground, and landing so gently that despite the weight of both the physical flag and the metaphorical symbolism which it represents, the diver remained firmly on their feet. International broadcaster Tom Styles described the scene, saying, “I thought the star spangled banner flying from the sky just set the scene for an all-American event like no other.”
MUD Upset Traffic to Open Competition
Following the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremonies, the two top teams in Pool G of the Women’s Division duked it out in front of stands overflowing with the rest of the WUCC teams to kick off the week’s competition. MUD came out swinging against Traffic who was seeded first in the pool, looking determined, albeit a little anxious too.
The first point was one of many throughout the game that saw some sloppy play resulting in frequent turns from both sides. Eventually, MUD scored to stay on serve, though Traffic quickly answered back. The Japanese wasted no time getting horizontal with big layout from Shiori Ogawa, and soon the break train had left the station. MUD’s offense and defense cleaned up as they settled in, but the Canadians had a more challenging time finding their groove. Down a pair early, Vancouver’s momentum started to shift, and they caught up to bring it back to even at 4-4.
The next few points were defined by more messy play and unforced turns from both sides as they have trouble moving through each other’s zones and focusing on fundamentals. MUD player Yukie Yamaguchi commented on their nervous energy noting, “half of the team is very young. For [them] it is their first time playing at this kind of world competition, so they get very nervous [but] they got right, relaxed, and comfy and confident.”
Indeed, the Tokyo team did get confident, specifically with their deep shots, smart offensive decisions, and aggression at the disc. What they lack in vertical skill, MUD makes up for with their willingness to bid for anything. Shiori Ogawa, Risa Shimada, and Kanari Imanishi were some of the more threatening players on the field today, reminding us that international teams are not to be underestimated this week.
Traffic had to work to keep up through the first half with nice snags — some impressive, others lucky. MUD held to take half at 8-7 on serve and were able to carry their rising energy into the second half with a bid-heavy point that earned them another break. Despite their low energy, Traffic didn’t let MUD pull away so easily and soon enough we were tied again.
The parity was short-lived however, as MUD finally started capitalizing more on Traffic’s sluggish defense. The points became more and more clinical for the Japanese. A notable block by Yamaguchi led to MUD’s first break of the second frame and a two-point lead at 11-9. Mistakes from MUD here and there gave Traffic essential opportunities to change the tides in their favor, but they were unable to get their machine oiled in time. The cycle of points that slog on ending with a score for MUD became routine as the lead stretched out to five and Traffic fell deeper into the energy pit that any ultimate team knows well. Terry Whitehead, a seasoned Traffic power player, did her best to give her team the energy bump they needed with an epic layout block and a beeline to the end zone where she caught a dime bringing the score to 14-10. Unfortunately, Traffic’s energy boost was not enough to shut down MUD, who made quick and decisive work of their game winning point.
MUD was proud to open the tournament as a “representative of all Japanese teams […] and happy to play.” Their plan as they face other strong teams throughout the week is to continue playing to their strengths — deep looks and the “every disc is yours” mentality, both of which were key to their showcase victory.
When asked what went wrong, Vancouver coach Matt Doyle boiled it down to “trying to do too much with our throws and [not] executing on the looks we were taking as opposed to taking what was available.” Doyle attributed the poor throwing choices to the lack of energy.
Even though the result was not what they were hoping, Traffic saw the showcase game as “a good growing opportunity” and they look forward to focusing on their goals of tenacity and resilience throughout the week.
The showcase game delivered solid ultimate from two strong teams and serves as an important reminder that every day is unpredictable here in Cincinnati.
All in all, this year’s opening ceremony felt short but very sweet. A welcome return for ultimate to the world stage, and a great first day for WUCC 2022.