The unique atmosphere, huge hype and massive media attention surrounding an Olympic Games is enough to throw off any athlete who’s not prepared for what awaits him.
So the smart ones will go to any length to experience the feeling of what it’s like to be at the Olympics.
That’s one of the reasons why Josh Binstock, a Canadian beach volleyball player, was seated six rows behind one of the nets for the Canada-U.S. men’s hockey final at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“I wanted to put myself in the environment just to get the feeling of what it is to be in a situation around the Olympics — just to feel the energy and the city, and I’m glad I did,” Binstock says.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the time, and just being around all the world-class athletes, and the hype, and the patriotism, and watching it and feeling it in Canada, it was just so motivating and inspiring.”
Binstock, a trained chiropractor from Richmond Hill, Ont., and his teammate Martin Reader of Comox, B.C., earned Canada’s lone berth in the Olympic men’s beach volleyball tournament by winning a Canadian qualifier at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto, beating Christian Redman and Ben Saxton.
A former hockey defenceman, Binstock was playing volleyball at the University of Toronto when he fell in love with the beach version of the game.
While playing for a hockey team in Markham, Ont., in his younger years, Binstock was teammate of Phoenix Coyotes bad boy Raffi Torres, who is now serving a 21-game suspension for viciously checking Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
Binstock says it was Torres who once taught him how to body-check.
“He taught me how it works and I literally tasted an elbow from him,” Binstock says with a laugh.
Beach volleyball is a popular sport with Olympic fans, and given the high-profile location of the venue — just down the road from Buckingham Palace — it’s bound to attract a lot of attention at the London Games.
Still, Canadian beach volleyball players don’t make a lot of money playing the game. Factor in travel costs to far-flung reaches of the globe, and the costs become almost impossible.
That's one reason why Reader and Binstock hosted a fundraising event at the beginning of this season. Sure enough, Binstock’s roots in hockey came through.
Mike Cammalleri, now with the Calgary Flames, once played with Binstock on a team in Vaughan, Ont., and when Binstock visited his house prior to the fundraiser, Cammalleri — then with the Montreal Canadiens — donated a few signed jerseys to auction off.
It’s been such a hectic time making Olympic preparations and trying to line up tickets for friends and family that Binstock hasn’t been able to even trade messages with his former hockey mates.
“A friend saw them at a function so they gave their congratulations through him, and my father and [Cammalleri’s] father spoke but I haven’t spoken to either of them yet,” Binstock says.
While he may have hung up his skates, Binstock brings a hockey-level intensity to beach volleyball that occasionally gets him into trouble with the referees.
As a timeout was called in the second set of the match against Redman and Saxton, Binstock smashed a ball that bounced high and into the crowd. He immediately turned to the referee to apologize, and the ref indicated that he’d be keeping his eye on Binstock.
“If someone gets you fired up in hockey you can fight them or hit them through the boards, but you can’t do that in volleyball,” he says. “You have to keep your emotions in check. I’m better now, but there are just times when it takes over.”
Ever the hockey fan, Binstock uses the Los Angeles Kings’ unexpected run to the Stanley Cup to explain how he sees the Olympic beach volleyball tournament could unfold. He and Reader hope to emulate their fellow underdogs and rise to the occasion when the pressure is at its highest.
“You’ve just got to get to the playoffs. And once you get to the playoffs, anything can happen — the Kings showed that,” Binstock says. “But it’s true. We feel like we can beat any team in the world.”
“So I feel a podium finish isn’t unrealistic.”