Field of Play: Rivalry is the spice of sport | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Rivalry is the spice of sport

Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 | 05:13 PM

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Ice dance superstars Meryl Davis and Charlie White, left, and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have developed quite a rivalry over the years, according to Scott Russell. (CBCSports.ca/Reuters) Ice dance superstars Meryl Davis and Charlie White, left, and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have developed quite a rivalry over the years, according to Scott Russell. (CBCSports.ca/Reuters)

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There's nothing like a good rivalry to make sport riveting, and this weekend rivalry is the focus of two sports which Canadian fans covet as the 2014 Sochi Olympics loom.
There's nothing like a good rivalry to make sport riveting.

It exists as a matter of course in the realm of professional teams. One thinks of the ongoing hockey hostilities between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts in CFL football. 

South of the border, the NFL boasts the less than neighbourly feeling that prevails between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. In Major League Baseball a certain disdain marks relations whenever the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox meet.

But rivalry is also something which heightens individual athletic encounters. Boxing had Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali. Tennis has Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and still, at times, Roger Federer. Middle distance running boomed when Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett went toe-to-toe.

There's just something about a long standing confrontation that unravels over the course of time. Particularly when two opponents who have a history clash at the height of their powers to determine who can claim bragging rights for a fleeting moment until they meet again.

It's all about the struggle which fun and games are built upon. In the end what's at stake is nothing more than victory or defeat, but what never ceases to amaze is the simple truth that when great rivals collide, sport itself is always the winner. 

This weekend rivalry is the focus of two sports which Canadian fans covet as the Olympics loom.

In Medicine Hat, Alta., the Grand Slam of Curling features the Canadian Open (CBC, CBCSports.ca, Saturday 12 p.m. ET), including seven of the eight men's teams that will contest the national curling trials in Winnipeg early next month.

At stake then will be entry to the Sochi 2014 Olympics and the chance to win a gold medal. On the line this weekend -- and only Brier champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste Marie is absent -- might be the elusive upper hand and the establishment of momentum heading into the trials.

"The Martin-Howard rivalry is still there from the last Olympic Games," said 1998 Olympic silver medallist and analyst Mike Harris.  

Alberta's Kevin Martin defeated Glenn Howard of Ontario at the 2009 Olympic trials in Edmonton, and went on to win the gold medal in Vancouver in 2010.

"They have played each other so often that it becomes almost too familiar. A little more hatred would be good," chuckled Harris.

Still, he predicts frostier days ahead as the curlers, who have long been lauded for their geniality, get close to another Olympic opportunity. 

Of particular note is John Morris, who won gold with Kevin Martin's rink in 2010. He has left that team and gained entry to the trials playing alongside Jim Cotter of Vernon, B.C. It would seem there is no love lost between the former allies Martin and Morris as the Games approach.

"There's a better story when there's some edge to it," admitted Harris. "I'm looking forward to the Olympic trials when those friendships are put on the back burner."

Ice dancing rivalry

In the meantime, a national passion burns bright in Paris this weekend. 

Figure skating's Grand Prix of France (CBC, CBCSports.ca, Saturday 3 p.m. ET) features three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada taking on would-be challengers from Japan and China.

Perhaps the more compelling story this time involves Canadian ice dancers and Olympic gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who are in the midst of one of their sport's greatest rivalries.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States are not only the reigning world champions in the ice dance, they are also the training partners of Virtue and Moir in the Detroit area. 

The Americans are already through to December's Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, an event they've won four years in a row. Virtue and Moir have never won the Grand Prix Final, and yet this year's promises to be a preview of what could transpire in Sochi at the Iceberg Skating Palace in February.

Even though they are travelling and competing in separate circles for the moment, maybe the two best ice dance teams of all time are hurtling towards a showdown in Russia that will put a stamp on their respective careers.

"When you see a rivalry like that it benefits the sport," said 2008 world champion and 2006 Olympic bronze medallist Jeffrey Buttle. "They take it to a whole new level because each thinks of it as an opportunity to beat a great team and thus create a rush. I think when a great rivalry is absent then you often see a dip in the level of competition."

For his part, Buttle points to the great figure skating rivalry of Russians Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko, who won gold at the 2002 and 2006 Olympics respectively. They dominated internationally for most of a decade.

"That really strengthened men's skating," Buttle reckoned.

As for the mystique of the rivalry between Davis-White and Virtue-Moir, Buttle noted a certain tension festering between the training partners which only serves to create a heightened dramatic effect. 

Call it a healthy and competitive animosity.

"I don't think they're going out and having lunch every day in Detroit, let's put it that way," Buttle grinned. "I also don't think they hate each other. They appreciate each other but I don't think they like each other very much. Then again, that's what makes it great."

Indeed, a good rivalry is good for the soul when it comes to sport.

The very best performing at their very best and only one can be the winner.

As a fan you couldn't ask for anything better emerging from the field of play.    

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