Canadian Olympians getting some help from the stands

Stephen Schalk, who grew up in Cranbrook, is revelling in his Olympic fan experience.

Stephen Schalk

Stephen Schalk

Stephen Schalk didn’t think his Olympic experience would include being on his back in the stands getting roughed up at a beach volleyball match.

But the young dentist who grew up in Cranbrook admitted it was mostly his fault, after he fell down two rows onto some Brazilian fans trying to catch a volleyball that was thrown to him by Chaim Schalk, his cousin and one half of the Canadian men’s beach volleyball team.

He caught it before tumbling down the stands.

“I think they were mad that Brazil had lost more than anything else, but I got kicked and punched a couple times,” Schalk said. “Obviously, I’m in the wrong too, because I was a little bit overeager trying to get the ball because I wanted to give it to my uncle Stan—Chaim’s father—but really, in the grand scheme of it, I bumped maybe one lady as I fell and the other ones I didn’t really hit.

“I did way more damage to myself than anyone else.”

He had to sacrifice the ball to get out of situation, as a smaller group of Brazilians helped him to his feet and out of the the crowd.

“This was just passions flaring up, I mean, we had our own incidents in Vancouver where we looked just as bad, if not worse, so a few punches to the shoulder and little taps with the kicks isn’t the worst in the world,” Schalk said.

Schalk was there to support his cousin, Chaim and teammate Ben Saxton, who had just beaten the Brazilian home due of Evandro Goncalves Oliveira Junior and Pedro Solberg, erasing a one-set deficit to tie it up and win the final tiebreaker.

Keep a close eye on the CBC broadcasts and you might see Schalk in the stands. After all, it’s kind of hard to miss someone wearing a red and white unitard while waving around the Canadian flag and screaming at the top of his lungs.

He’s had his hands full, catching as many events with Canadian athletes as possible, but he’s having trouble finding a schedule or using Google because everything is in Portuguese.

That’s where Kevin Ross, a childhood friend also originally from Cranbrook who now resides in California, steps in to help out.

“Kevin hasn’t been doing any work so, he’s just been feeding me info, telling me where to go, what to do,” Schalk said. “He’s like, ‘At 3 p.m. your time, you should be at this event’.

“And then I’m on the ground thinking, ‘Okay, it’s going to take me an hour and a half, I need to transfer three buses, pick up an Uber, then we’ll be there two minutes beforehand. Lets run!'”

Back in Grande Prairie, AB, where he now resides and has his dental practice—West Grande Prairie Dental—set up, another friend is also using a PVR to record all the events so that they can save any footage that has Schalk in the crowd shots. Schalk also made a special point of thanking his patients for their support in his Olympic travels.

In addition to catching his cousin on the beach, Schalk and his travelling partner Arash Ravanbakhsh have also caught a few other events with Canadian athletes, including being present when Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion captured their bronze medal in the 10-metre synchronized diving event.

“[It was] very, very cool,” Schalk said. “Chills.”

The Canadians needed to beat the North Koreans to vault into third place, which they did, with the Canadian diving team coming over to the stands where Schalk and the Canadian fan contingent were cheering to celebrate.

After the medal ceremony, Benfeito and Filon also made their way over to join their diving teammates.

“I took my flag and just threw it in a ball as hard as I could down to them and they caught it and then they started going around the stadium with my flag, showing off the flag and celebrating,” Schalk said. “It was just so cool.”

One event he has his eye on is making sure he gets into the 100-metre dash so he can support Andre de Grasse, a Canadian sprinter who is making a name for himself in the track disciplines.

“He’s very strong and I think he did very well at the last World Championships, so I’d like to go,” Schalk said. “…It would be so cool to go to that, to see and experience it, especially if there’s a Canadian in it. That’s the pinnacle of sports for the Summer Olympics.”

Being on the ground, Schalk admits that the Games are going as well as he expected and doesn’t carry necessarily the gloom and doom narrative that was being cultivated by the media. While there have been hiccups here and there, in terms of transit and admission into events, there hasn’t been anything unexpected.

“I think you have to be aware of the environment you’re going to and the Olympics are being held in a developing nation and they’re doing well, all things being considered,” Schalk said.

“People are getting into events, transit is happening, safety is good. So even though the media portrays a lot of the negative things that occur, overall, I don’t think it’s as bad as it’s made out to be and I think you need to expect that.

“I think we have very cushy lives in North America where everything runs smoothly and almost perfectly every time, but for the majority of the world, that’s not the case.”

The only thing that Schalk had trouble with during his fan experience thus far was two pieces of fan gear he brought with him that are as Canadian as it gets.

“I travelled around northern Brazil for two weeks with a hockey helmet and hockey gloves to bring to my first event and when I got there, they confiscated them,” Schalk said.

“I was all decked out in a hockey helmet and gloves, ready to go support, but did not make it through security.”