2012 NMAs: Sports

Before I look at the nominees for the sports category, I must discuss a recent event that may or may not be influencing my judgement. I am writing this not long after Ryder Hesjedal, the Canadian pro cyclist, made history by becoming the first Canuck to win the Giro d’Italia…hell, the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour. That I was barely able to contain my freak out of joy in a public park as I followed the final stage of the race on my phone puts me the small group known as “Canadian cycling fans.” I had a similar freak out, albeit much more subdued, when I saw Richard Poplack’s profile of Hesjedal in The Walrus last year—a long-form article in a Canadian magazine explaining cycling to Canadians. Wonderful! And Poplack nailed it. This article will win the NMA and I don’t think that’s just my cyclo-bias talking.

Giving Poplack’s story a run for its money is Rachel Heinrichs’ “The Running Cult”, which appeared in Toronto Life. Heinrichs looks at how marathon running changed from a strictly sporto pursuit to a popular, Oprah-endorsed journey of self-discovery.

Since this is the Canadian magazine awards, we should have an article on hockey. However, this one comes to us from Russia. “The Team that Disappeared” by Brett Popplewell appeared in the new Sportsnet magazine. This story chronicles the plane crash that killed almost all of the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl and the aftermath of the disaster. Popplewell’s story is a great  piece of reporting. He works in “how did he get that?!” kind of details (and how did the fact checker check ’em?!), such as

And there was Alexander Sizov, a 52-year-old flight engineer, one of two engineers on-board, who had inspected the plane before takeoff and who now sat behind the players, his seatbelt unbuckled.

His seatbelt unbuckled. Nice.

But, the prose in this story doesn’t match the reporting. The words do drift to the purple side of the spectrum. (“And so it began, the shortest journey and the darkest day in the history of hockey.”) And no one should use the phrase “a large black plume rising into the sky” to describe smoke lifting from a wreck. Retire that one, kids.

While I’m picking on prose, Swerve magazine’s “The Kid is The Man” by Scott Penny does not have the lead it needs. I took a look at the story and thought “It’s about the game of horseshoes? BORING!” Jerk reaction? Yes. Totally. But I don’t think I’m in the minority there. This story needs to get to the good stuff quickly. Penny has a great style and great story about Buddy “The Kid” Dyrda, a wunderkind horseshoe tosser whose life was turned around by the sport. But, the first paragraph is a scene setter taking the reader to a horseshoe pitch. Boring…even if it’s “North America’s premier indoor horseshoe pitching facility” and it’s next to a school for attack dogs.

From the hint of violence, we come to actual violence in “Georges St-Pierre, gentleman gladiateur” by Jonathan Trudel for L’actualite, which profiles Montreal’s star UFC fighter. The Aristotle-quoting St-Pierre is a thinking man’s fighter. No wonder Leonardo DiCaprio is a fan.

Rob Duffy’s “The Numbers Game” from The Grid looks at a different find of fight—that between TSN and the young upstart Sportsnet.

explore, a sibling to my magazine, has three entries in this category: “Birdzilla” by J.B. MacKinnon [.pdf of story]; “Mostly Awesome, With Brief Periods of Terrible” by Shaughnesy Bishop-Stall [.pdf of story]; and “The Big Blue” by Charles Wilkins [.pdf of story]. All three writers are out of their elements in adventures that include competitive bird watching, hiking the Bruce trail and paddling the Atlantic, respectively. The average person trying a sport in which he or she has little to no experience is conceit given to us by Papa Plimpton. The everyman/woman is our guide into the world of the specialists. The guide sees things as the reader might. I think MacKinnon is the best of the three at this type of New Journalism. Throughout his story, he remains the reader’s guide. With Bishop-Stall and Wilkins, their stories focus too much on them as actors. The amateurishness of their actions isn’t our amateurishness reflected back at us. It’s just them, as amateurs. MacKinnon is also a fine stylist. My favourite line of his is “only the ruby-crowned kinglet, a minuscule creature that looks like it’s wearing a yarmulke made of hot lava, lights up the gloom.” However, I fear that his story is too quiet in its charms to be a winner.

Finally, we have Toronto Life’s “The Poker Face” by Jason McBride, a profile not only of the dysfunctional poker pro Matt Marafioti, but of the game itself. If the sport category were a bike race, I’d put McBride on a podium next to Poplack and Heinrichs. However, it is more like a poker game, with the winner taking all. While McBride does cover gambling well, my money remains on the story about cycling.

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