From court to course, summer looks sporting in Vancouver
While the summer forecast keeps people guessing in Vancouver, the lineup of first-rate sporting events to take in over the coming months leaves nothing to chance. The summer of 2012 is shaping up to be a hot one when it comes to top-notch action in a wide variety of sports.
On June 29, the B.C. Lions open their defence of the Canadian Football League championship in a rematch of last November’s Grey Cup. The Leos will host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the team they beat 34-23 to cap off their remarkable 2011 season. Not only will the game launch the Lions into their 2012 season, but it will almost surely be a historic night of football, as slotback Geroy Simon needs just 67 yards to break Milt Stegall’s record and become the CFL’s all-time leader in receiving yards.
The hottest name in horseracing is expected to return to town the first weekend of July—and not just for another visit. Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Mario Gutierrez plans to race at Hastings Racecourse on the Canada Day long weekend. Despite not having the chance to complete the Triple Crown earlier this month, Gutierrez has become a hero at Hastings and a rock star in the horseracing industry. It’s bound to be a memorable day, seeing the jockey back in town and back in the saddle at the track he called home for the past five years.
With a new name and a new sponsor, bicycle-racing is returning to the cobblestone streets of Gastown on July 11. Formerly the Tour de Gastown, the race is now known as the Global Relay Gastown Grand Prix. It’s been added to the B.C. Superweek schedule to go along with races at UBC, Burnaby, Delta, and White Rock. With Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal making cycling history by winning the Giro d’Italia last month, interest in cycling is on the rise, and the timing couldn’t be better to get Gastown back on the city’s sports calendar. This is one of the most underrated spectator events going, and the best part is the price: it’s free.
Starting with two weeks in Stanley Park and continuing with a week in West Vancouver, tennis takes centre stage in the city for three weeks in July. The 81st annual Stanley Park Open—North America’s largest community tennis event—runs July 7-22 on 18 courts overlooking English Bay. More than 2,000 players of all ages and skill levels will take part in 80 different categories of competition. A week after the action in the park concludes, the Odlum Brown VanOpen begins at West Vancouver’s Hollyburn Country Club. It’s Western Canada’s largest professional tennis tournament, with a purse of $200,000. This year marks the 10-year anniversary of a fresh-faced 15-year-old Maria Sharapova winning the first VanOpen at Jericho Tennis Club.
The Vancouver Whitecaps better make sure the roof of B.C. Place is open on July 18. It’s bound to get a little steamy when David Beckham heats things up in his first Major League Soccer visit to Vancouver. He and his L.A. Galaxy were here a few years back for a friendly and just about packed the old B.C. Place, but due to a one-game suspension, Becks did not play in this city last year during the ’Caps inaugural MLS season. Not only does Beckham bring drawing power, but the Galaxy is the defending MLS Cup champion, so it should be a good test for the team and a great night for stargazing.
With nine nooners at the Nat and four more Superstar Series appearances—by former Toronto Blue Jays John Olerud, George Bell, Todd Stottlemyre, and Duane Ward—there are plenty of reasons to go see a Vancouver Canadians game this summer. But mark Tuesday, July 24, on your calendar. That’s when the Famous Chicken makes his annual visit to Vancouver. For years now, though, the feathered funnyman has been mulling retirement, so there may not be many more opportunities to catch this cluck’s act.
If you want the big-league baseball experience, perhaps it’s time for a road trip to Seattle. Pack up the car and hit the I-5 when Langley’s Brett Lawrie and the Toronto Blue Jays roll into Safeco Stadium for a three-game midweek set July 30, 31, and August 1. It’s unlikely either team will still be in a pennant chase, but it’s the only time the Jays make their way to the Emerald City this season.
Crankworx has become one of the great summer sports festivals in the area, and this year promises to be no different. From August 10 through 19, freeride mountain bikers take turn Whistler into their own playground as they try to push the limits with pedal power. Big crowds and bigger thrills are two guarantees Crankworx offers as elite mountain bikers from around the world compete in a variety of endurance, speed, and air competitions.
Closer to home, KitsFest returns for a fourth year of mixing sports and Kits Beach. Organizers have billed this as a hip and healthy summer festival. It’s a chance for Vancouverites to take part in or watch top local hard-bodies compete in beach volleyball, beach tennis, basketball, and skateboard events (even beach hockey and a silicone “ice” sheet). KitsFest runs August 10 to 12. Last year, the PGA Tour rolled into town with the RBC Canadian Open at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club. This year, it’s the ladies’ turn as the Vancouver Golf Club in Coquitlam hosts the CN Canadian Women’s Open. The top names in women’s professional golf—Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie—are expected to tee it up in town August 23 to 26. It’s the first time since 2003 that the LPGA has touched down in our city.
So there it is: Vancouver’s summer sports forecast for 2012. There is something for everyone and no shortage of reasons to get out and get into the action.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter @patersonjeff.