Indulge me for a bit. As I prepare for my fifth trip to Rimini and my third to Paganello, I find myself remembering my first trip. Watching the Secrets of Pro Disc Freestyle Volume 2 this week, I saw some footage I had never seen from the 2003 FPAW pairs final. Z’s footage. Fabio sent me his footage a long time ago, but I had not seen any other angles. There are just a few clips on Vol 2, but Z posted the whole thing (3 of the 4 minutes of the routine) on YouTube this week. Thanks Z.
Rimini is very special to me, mostly for the people I have met there and the friendships that deepen every time I return. It’s also special because of the 2003 FPAW pairs title Dave and I won there. It was the first FPA pairs title won in Europe, but more than that it was the competitive round I still consider our peak. Conditions were horrible. Pressure was on. And somehow we both found the zone.
I look at the video and remember the drama that led up to those moments. The day before, Murf and Ted Oberhaus had crushed their semifinal routine, knocked it out of the park, and we had to follow them. There was something special about that week. Even in that moment, Dave and I were so tuned in. The deafening crowd reaction and Murf and Ted’s celebration freaked us out – remember we were two robots with an obsession to win every round – but we brought it back into perspective.
We could have easily gone out, tried to outplay them, dropped everything and missed the final. If we did that, we would have been defeated by our egos. Instead, we realized all we could do was play our game, see how it went, make it to the finals and lay it on the line there. There is something very freeing about saying “they won today. let’s just go out and jam.”
So we played our game. Afterward, people mentioned that we didn’t have the energy they expected, especially after Murf/Ted. Of course. That energy can’t be manufactured. In fact, whatever energy we had on the field as a team worked best when it just flowed out of our performance or the interaction with the crowd. Whenever we tried to force it, it felt…forced.
I’m actually really proud of our semifinal that day. In those four minutes is our biggest co-op ever and some big individual moves. Good enough for second to a historic performance by Murf and Ted.
Finals day was pretty much disastrous from the perspective of a world championships show. It was a blowout. I remember the tournament organizers delaying the pairs final for a while in the hope that the winds would pass. During warmups, there were some calls for moving the final into the warmup tent. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Dave and I were always pretty good in windy conditions. Our home base, Frazier Field in Santa Monica, is known for perfect winds that spoil you. The little known fact is that the winter winds train you twice as much as the summer winds coddle you. Over ten years of playing there, disc angles had become instinctual for us. We knew how to back each other up. We knew how to adjust our throws. It was a given. The unknown, as in every competition, is how the routine will go.
We faced a lot of criticism over the years for our tournament preparation. For putting a ton of thought into routines. For drilling them until they were lodged in our memory. For basically doing what athletes in any other sport do: prepare to give their best. The critique always seemed absurd: how dare we actually come to the world championships ready to play. We needed that kind of preparation. Other teams needed other approaches. We did what worked best for us.
We performed 6th. Usually I tried to tune out audience reactions as much as I could, so I could just focus on my job – do the next move, catch, get the disc to Dave. You can never truly tune out the crowd. I remember what I didn’t hear: an ovation like the one Murf and Ted got on Saturday. That meant no one had crushed it. For all we knew, there could have been an excellent performance, but there wasn’t that this-team-is-going-to-win energy after anyone’s routine. So when we walked onto the red carpet, I knew we could just do our routine and with a little luck set the standard. The conditions sucked…and we were as prepared as we could possibly be. Let’s see what happens.
We stepped onto the stage under the lights. The sun had set during the early teams’ routines. Four minutes later we stepped off really excited because we knew something special had happened.
And until the video, that’s basically all I remembered. We were in the moment, not using any brainpower to make memories, just to perform. Looking at the video now, I see every moment of hard work, of frustration, of discovery, of commitment to exceed ourselves that led to that day. The winters fighting the wind. The one more runthrough after our bodies had told us ENOUGH. The visualization. Throwing out co-ops. Upgrading them. Putting down subpar worlds performances and learning from them. Everything had soaked into our brains and was there for us when we needed it the most.
It turned out that we put down the highest score of the first six teams, and the two teams after us – Tommy/Pat and Murf/Ted – had a few more errors than they needed to win.
My next memory is walking back to the hotel after the final. Terrified. I knew the results at that point. We had won by 6.5 points. I was terrified at what we had done, at where Dave and I had gone with our freestyle that night. Those four minutes were perfect for us as a team (ignoring the drops 😉 ). We went to a place where we were completely connected and immune to conditions. It was frightening to think that this might be the peak, that we may have had a once-in-a-lifetime moment. That there was no going back. I remember glowing over the victory on the way back to the hotel and at the same time thinking “what have we done?”
Dave and I never equaled that moment. We won the next year. In the semis, we arguably played better technical freestyle than in the 2003 final but it was an entirely different moment.
So it was nice to re-experience that 2003 round this week through Z’s footage. I am eternally grateful for the team Dave and I were, for the friendship we forged over all those years, and for the thousands of jamming hours we shared.
As I return to Rimini, I think not only of four minutes in 2003 but of the dozens of Rimini jams since then, of all the people I have met there, and of the future that has emerged around our sport. I’m excited to see the jams and routines from the next generation and watch them sweat out the finals and high winds. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines and through YouTube.
See you at Paga!