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October 25, 2014

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No need to go to London to try your hand at an Olympic sport

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Christopher DeVargas

Students at the Fencing Academy of Nevada practice Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

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So you’re watching the Olympics and thinking that some of the sports might be fun to try. Maybe not the pole vault or the pentathlon or synchronized swimming but hey, you say, I can get my hands on a bow and arrow or a badminton racket. Fencing? Bring it on, Zorro! And if you’re burned out on Strip entertainment, maybe you’d enjoy watching dressage.

Indeed, there are organizations in Las Vegas that welcome new members who want to explore archery, badminton, fencing and dancing horses — Olympic sports, all of them, right here in town.

    • Germany's Juliane Schenk returns a shot to South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun at the Li-Ning Singapore Open Badminton tournament during their semi-finals match held on Saturday June 23, 2012 in Singapore. Schenk won the match 21-11 20-22 21-12.

      Germany's Juliane Schenk returns a shot to South Korea's Sung Ji Hyun at the Li-Ning Singapore Open Badminton tournament during their semi-finals match held on Saturday June 23, 2012 in Singapore. Schenk won the match 21-11 20-22 21-12.

      Badminton

      There’s the backyard variety — oops, there goes another shuttlecock on the roof — and then there’s Don Bolwaire’s brand of badminton: No sissies allowed.

      “When well-played, it’s the world’s fastest racket sport,” he says. “A good smash sends the shuttlecock off the racket at 200 mph,” he says. “In a good game, a shuttlecock flies over the net every two-thirds of a second.”

      Bolwaire, a retired contract negotiator for the Defense Department, founded the Las Vegas Badminton Club in 2001. About 300 families are involved, with 20 to 25 people regularly showing up for open play any given week at one of several community recreation centers around the valley. There are no membership dues but some facilities charge $2 at the door.

      “Badminton is a relatively inexpensive sport,” Bolwaire says. “You can get a decent racket for $40 or $50 — I paid about $230 for mine — and all you need to bring is your racket and a shuttlecock.” (Please wear gym shoes.)

      “Anybody who wants can come in and play. There are all different skill levels and people sort themselves out. And it’s a very civilized sport. The smashes can be very hard and fast, but when a person hits an opponent, they will typically apologize for it. You don’t see that too often in football or basketball.”

    • Japan's Takaharu Furukawa, right, competes in the men's team archery eliminations match against India during the 2012 Summer Olympics at Lord's Cricket Ground on Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London.

      Japan's Takaharu Furukawa, right, competes in the men's team archery eliminations match against India during the 2012 Summer Olympics at Lord's Cricket Ground on Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London.

      Archery

      So you don’t think you could hit the broad side of a barn?

      Las Vegas Archers has a range just outside of town, on Highway 160 near Spring Mountain, with some targets less than 10 feet from the archer. And if you or your children prefer a target other than the classic bull’s-eye, there are novelty shoots featuring Halloween themes (ghosts and bats) and Christmas themes (Santa Clauses and reindeer).

      So yes, this is a sport for all ages, says Jim Marshall, the club’s vice president, who got his first bow when he was 3 years old.

      “You can make archery to be whatever you want it to be — target shooting, or for hunting, fishing or just to have fun with friends,” Marshall says. “The pleasure is in having complete control over what you’re doing. It takes your total focus, and when you do well, the adrenaline rush is tremendous.”

      The club meets weekly at Pacific Archery Sales, 4084 Schiff Drive, near Spring Mountain and Wynn roads. The business has a range where first-timers can rent a bow and give it a try. If it’s love at first twang, a dozen arrows can be purchased for about $100. A good beginner’s bow runs between $300 and $400.

      Club membership starts at $80 for singles, $104 for couples and $114 for families. Skill levels range from pee-wee to adult, and some competition targets at the club’s range are set 100 yards out.

      Besides the club’s activities, there are public ranges in Clark County, including at 6800 E. Russell Road, just east of Sam Boyd Stadium (open 365 days a year and with target distances ranging from 10 to 70 yards), and the Clark County Shooting Complex, 1357 N. Decatur Blvd., which offers archery on Wednesdays from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursdays through Sundays, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    • Students at the Fencing Academy of Nevada practice Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

      Students at the Fencing Academy of Nevada practice Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012.

      Fencing

      Teenage boys, the smart ones, know that fencing is a better chick magnet than most other sports “because it’s a different sport, a combat sport without horrible injuries,” says Colleen Brown, manager of the Fencing Academy of Nevada, which is affiliated with the United States Fencing Association.

      The academy offers entry-level classes for youngsters and adults, each with generally different reasons for wanting to take up fencing.

      “The younger ones want to be like Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp — swashbuckling, theatrical. They like scoring points and hearing the cheering,” Brown says. Older fencers generally use it as a cardiac exercise. The better fencers are coached by French masters with Olympic experience. And participants of all ages learn quickly that fencing is a sort of physical chess, where participants combine strategic thinking — using opening moves to test an opponent’s responses — with an appreciation for martial arts.

      “Height and reach can help, but it won’t beat speed,” Brown says. “If I’m fast and sneaky and have a better strategy, that’s an advantage.”

      She says it’s a family sport and maybe even therapeutic. “I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen a husband and wife come in with their two kids, and they all fence one another — mom versus dad, brother versus daughter, daughter versus mom. ... I think it’s therapy for them.”

      Friendships are formed among fencers, too; they often go out for meals afterward. Their favorite restaurant? “It’s a shish kabob place.” Of course.

    • German Matthias Rath on horse Totilas performs his freestyle during the dressage riding Grand Prix International in Hagen, Germany, Sunday, April 29, 2012.

      German Matthias Rath on horse Totilas performs his freestyle during the dressage riding Grand Prix International in Hagen, Germany, Sunday, April 29, 2012.

      Dressage

      We live in the Wild West, famous for our mustangs, but a different sort of horse is trained here, one that specializes in the sport of dressage, or equestrian dancing.

      That came as something of a surprise to Chris Federer, who moved here two years ago from Ohio with her horse, a Dutch warm blood, that was being trained in dressage. “I dug my heels for over a year before coming out,” she says. Who would have thought of Las Vegas as a home of dressage training? And the heat! “But the lack of humidity, that’s good for horses, too.”

      What Federer found was a small but accomplished group of horse owners and trainers dedicated to the schooling and showing of dressage, the Las Vegas chapter of the California Dressage Society. The center of their activities: Cooper Ranch, near the Las Vegas Beltway at Tenaya Way in the northwest valley, home of 25 horses schooled in dressage.

      In competition, the horse must complete a set of movements “and all eyes are on the horse,” she says. “It looks like the rider is doing absolutely nothing. But in reality, he is working nonstop to make it look effortless. And everything he does with his body — a twitch, a touch of a pinky finger, a shift in the hips, a light tap with a leg — is sending a message to the horse. It’s very subtle, very nuanced.”

      Most of us, of course, don’t own horses. But the public is invited to Cooper Ranch for free shows. The next two events are a schooling show Oct. 20-21 and a formal competition, the Fall Fling, Nov. 17-18.

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