Championship match came down to dramatic mixed doubles showdown
© Submitted photo
Team Labrador won a gold medal in badminton during the 2014 NL Winter Games in dramatic fashion. The team included: front (l-r) — Erin Gear, Taylor Jacque, Amanda Dyson, and Mandy Smith; back — Jeff Milley (coach),William Forsey, Sydney Ford, Dylan Andersen, and Erik O’Brien.
The Labrador region won 22 medals during the 2014 NL Winter Games in Clarenville this month. Perhaps none came in a more exciting and dramatic fashion than the gold medal win in badminton.
It was a team that truly represented the Big Land. Between the players and the coaches, five different Labrador communities were present.
The team included: Amanda Dyson, Dylan Andersen, Mandy Smith and Sydney Ford of Makkovik, Erik O'Brien and Will Forsey of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Erin Gear of North West River, Taylor Jacque of Postville, and coaches Jeff Milley and Jenny Bourgeois Labrador West.
Most of these young players had very little experience playing with each other. Heading into the NL Winter Games, there wasn’t much time for them to gel.
“When I first went, I kind of thought that we were going to fall apart because of that reason, where we didn’t get to play together,” said Gear. “But as soon as we all started playing, it flowed together perfectly.”
Working together as a team would be imperative for success. Each matchup consisted of a best-of-five encounter in the following; male and female singles, male and female doubles, and mixed doubles.
Team Labrador won three straight encounters, putting them into the gold medal final on March 8, where they would face a very talented squad from Avalon.
The two teams played each other just two days earlier, with Team Labrador squeaking out a 3-2 win. The gold medal game would turn out to be a nail biter as well.
Labrador’s chances for victory were almost vanquished during the female doubles match, when Amanda Dyson rolled her ankle. But the tough girl from Makkovik refused to leave the court.
“She said, ‘No, I’m not going to hospital. I’m not stopping here,’” recalled Gear.
Dyson and her partner Mandy Smith, narrowly lost the first set 23-21. But, despite Dyson’s bad ankle, they would come back and win the next two sets: 21-14 and 21-17.
Even after the match was over, Dyson wouldn’t leave to have her ankle looked at. There were still more games to be played and she wanted to cheer on her teammates.
“She couldn’t walk on it afterwards it was that bad. But she never gave up,” said Gear.
“They actually put an ice pack on her ankle and wrapped it up in a Labrador flag.”
After the first four games were complete, the series between Avalon and Labrador was tied 2-2. The final game of the match was mixed doubles, where Taylor Jacque and Sydney Ford were in the spotlight for Labrador.
All eyes were on this game. A win would mean a gold medal for the entire team and a loss would mean silver. For 13-year-old Sydney Ford, the pressure was immense.
“It was up to us. I was really nervous because we played the same people the day before and we didn’t do so well,” said Ford.
Luckily for Ford, he and the girl beside him on the court, Taylor Jacque, had some chemistry together. Ford felt at ease playing with her.
“She’s really good, so I had some confidence,” said Ford.
The duo from Avalon did their best to make sure a Labrador win would not come easy. They played the shuttle to all corners of the court, forcing Ford and Jacque to do a lot of running and diving.
“They were making us run a lot. They were tossing the shuttle wherever we weren’t,” recalled Ford. “If I couldn’t dive, I wouldn’t be able to get it.”
Watching from the sidelines, Erin Gear was in awe of how much effort and skill young Ford was showing on the court.
“It was ridiculous. His knees were floor-burned. He was literally running from one side of the court to the other side,” said Gear.
“I’ve never seen someone play such a game as I did with Sydney.”
Ford and Jacque won the first set 21-14. In the second set, they were ahead 20-16, with a chance to win gold.
After Jacque served, the shuttle came back over the net to Ford, who smashed it back over. Avalon was unable to return the smash and, just like that, Team Labrador was celebrating.
“Taylor jumped on (Sydney) and starting hugging him … he was like ‘did we win? Why are you hugging me,’” recalled Gear.
“Sydney started crying. He was crying tears of joy and we all joined in with him. It was such an amazing feeling.”
Even Ford admitted, after the Winter Games were over, that he never played at that kind of level before.
“Unbelievable, I can’t explain the feeling I had when I won that,” said Ford.
“I played really good actually … I think that’s the best I ever played in my life.”