Po­lice, fire­fight­ers clash in friendly com­pe­ti­tion

Public safety work­ers from around world come to Fair­fax for event

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH el­iz­a­beth.koh@wash­post.com

Richard Con­nell says he fights to win. But the New York cor­rec­tions of­fi­cer, ranked na­tion­ally in judo, also fights for another rea­son: honor.

“It’s a very hon­or­able sport, to come out and com­pete with hon­or­able men,” he said.

On Satur­day, he joined thou­sands of fel­low po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers and public safety work­ers in Fair­fax County in the first full day of com­pe­ti­tion at the World Po­lice and Fire Games, an Olympics-like event fea­tur­ing tra­di­tional sports as well as un­con­ven­tional ones, such as stair-rac­ing.

The event has been wel­comed with fanfare in Fair­fax, where plan­ning has been un­der way since 2009. Nearly 6,000 peo­ple, most from North­ern Vir­ginia, vol­un­teered to check in spec­ta­tors, guide ath­letes and set up games dur­ing the 10-day event.

But the turnout— an es­ti­mated 9,600 com­peti­tors — is less than the 12,000 that had been ex­pected. Of­fi­cials now es­ti­mate the games will draw about $55 mil­lion in spend­ing to the county, said Stephen Zack, a spokesman for Fair­fax 2015, the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that is run­ning the event. Pre­vi­ously, the es­ti­mated eco­nomic im­pact had been as high as $80 mil­lion.

Satur­day dawned dark and driz­zly, forc­ing the post­pone­ment of out­door sports such as base­ball and ten­nis. But ath­letes showed up for nearly a dozen other sports, many jug­gling bulky gear bags and um­brel­las.

At Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity in Fair­fax, vol­un­teers re­pur­posed the track and field build­ing by rolling out thick mats for the Ja­panese mar­tial art of judo. In the stands, com­peti­tors put on gis — uni­forms re­sem­bling karate ap­parel— and wrapped their knuck­les with ath­letic tape to pro­tect lig­a­ments from snap­ping.

Sev­eral com­peti­tors said they were there for one rea­son: win­ning.

“I didn’t get dressed up for noth­ing,” said Mark Mont­gomery, 41, of North­ern Ire­land. Mont­gomery, a fire­fighter who has prac­ticed judo since he was 10, ran and lifted weights twice weekly for months to train for the Games.

Con­nell, who trained Satur­day with Mont­gomery, agreed.

“If I win, I want to win with a big throw,” Con­nell said, im­i­tat­ing a move. “I’ve been prac­tic­ing.”

Within the first half hour of judo matches, a com­peti­tor was helped off the mat, bleed­ing from one foot as a Fair­fax County am­bu­lance pulled up out­side.

Spec­ta­tors were split be­tween fam­ily mem­bers and ath­letes from other events sup­port­ing friends. The vast ma­jor­ity were for­eign­ers.

“It’s not ev­ery day you get to take part in an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion,” said rugby player Nigel Sea­man, who­said he was sup­port­ing two other mem­bers of his group of cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers from Eng­land.

He mar­veled at Ma­son’s fa­cil­i­ties. “We don’t have any­thing like this” in Bri­tain, he said.

Else­where on Ma­son’s cam­pus, teams of five prepped for 90-minute matches of bas­ket­ball, pass­ing the ball as their white-soled shoes squeaked on the court.

Some were re­peat com­peti­tors— and win­ners. Agge­los Tripolit­si­o­tis, who coaches the Athens Fire Brigade team from Greece, said this was the team’s third trip to the World Po­lice and Fire Games, af­ter win­ning gold in the last event in2013.

On the side­lines, mem­bers of Prince Wil­liam County’s fire depart­ment, play­ing as first-timers, sized up the Greek play­ers. The two teams are sched­uled to play later in the Games.

“I’m look­ing for ten­den­cies, what kind of de­fenses they play,” said fire­fighter David Wes­ley.

De­spite the com­pet­i­tive zeal, hos­pi­tal­ity also abounded.

Vol­un­teers gave di­rec­tions to par­tic­i­pants who strug­gled to nav­i­gate the cam­pus. Terry Ball, of Fair­fax, staffed a check-in ta­ble Satur­day morn­ing and said she planned to work all 10 days of the event.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally say thanks to our first re­spon­ders,” she said.

Jamel Perkins, a first lieu­tenant in the Fair­fax County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, said or­ga­niz­ing the bas­ket­ball games re­minded him of the20 years he spent as a high school bas­ket­ball coach.

On the court, women’s bas­ket­ball teams ex­changed small sou­venirs from their home coun­tries, said Fair­fax County fire­fighter Liz Wag­ner, such as “pins or patches, shirts, cal­en­dars.” Team­mate Joanna Balin fished from her bag the HongKong team’s sou­venir: a key­chain fea­tur­ing a cheer­ful anime style po­lice­man.

Their team, Fair­fax Finest, was the least ex­pe­ri­enced in the women’s bracket. It split its first two games. But Wag­ner said she was en­joy­ing play­ing bas­ket­ball for the first time since high school. She didn’t rule out try­ing again: The team is con­sid­er­ing a run at the 2017 World Po­lice and Fire Games in Mon­treal.

“We could drive,” Wag­ner said. “It’s not far.”

LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Grace Jiv­i­den-Trues­dale, who com­peted for the U.S. in the 1992 Olympics, faces Re­beca-Lavinia Brata of Ro­ma­nia in women's judo.

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