Why play when you can watch? | VailDaily.com

Why play when you can watch?

Tom Winter

The air is hot and you’re sweating. As the temperature rises, so does the intensity. You can feel the pressure in your gut, a gnawing ulcer that burns as the clock ticks down. Then, quite suddenly, the referee’s whistle blows and the game is over. You collapse in relief and joy.It’s tough being a fan. While there are plenty of opportunities to participate in sports in the Vail Valley, and the participatory factor is a big, big reason why we all live here, another joy to being a resident of Eagle or Summit counties is the opportunity to sit on the sidelines and take in some world-class competition.

Are you ready for some rugby?This point was driven home to me after a stint in Scotland. That year, the Scots pulled off the upset of the decade in the Five Nations Cup, one of rugby’s most cherished prizes. The man of the match was Gavin Hastings. The Scottish international pummeled the English, setting the stage for one of the biggest parties Edinburgh has ever witnessed.Later that year, I was catching a rugby match at the Vail Athletic Field. And there was Hastings himself, a million miles away from the chanting, singing crowds in Edinburgh.The Vail Rugby Football Club may not be quite as talented as that Scottish side, but it does play at a very high level. If you’ve never watched rugby, its worth taking the time to pack a cooler full of beer (hey, drinking beer is a rugby tradition), head on down to Ford Park and catch the local side as they beat up on Breckenridge or some other unsuspecting victims. You’ve got that opportunity Saturday when the Blue and White hosts Steamboat Springs at 3 p.m.But it doesn’t always go Vail’s way. Aspen is notorious for fielding one of the best club teams in the nation and the rivalry is as intense as you’ll find anywhere, including England versus Scotland. The Gents come calling Aug. 14.

Lacrosse, Kloser and MiddaughWhile it’s too late to see world class lacrosse in the Vail Valley, if you missed this year’s Fourth of July Vail Lacrosse Shootout, mark your calendar for next year. The venerable tournament attracts top players from across North America and is arguably the best lax tourney in the world.Then there’s the plethora of mountain bike races, running races, soccer tournaments and other events like the Gore Canyon raft race. In fact, these local events are often showcases for world-class talent. It’s no accident that top competitors make Eagle Country their home. The benefits of training at altitude, a high level of competition and world-class facilities make the region a hot spot when it comes to sports.Catch a local mountain bike race and you’re likely to see some of the legendary figures in the sport, like Mike Kloser, who dominated the sport in his heyday and still kicks serious butt as an adventure racer at the ripe young age of 44. With an impressive list of accomplishments that includes Eco Challenge wins, one of Vail’s athletes shows no sign of slowing down.But while Kloser and other top mountain bikers like Josiah Middaugh, a pro triathalete – who won the North American Snowshoe Championship at Beaver Creek this past winter and the Xterra Central Championships last weekend in Breckenridge – provide fans an up close and personal look at just how good local pro athletes are.

Soccer, anyone?Then, there’s the Vail Invitational Soccer Tournament next weekend, when the Pepi’s men’s soccer team hosts the best in the state.Other events, like the annual fall soccer tournament hosted by the Vail Valley Soccer Club showcase the up and comers. Featuring more than 100 teams of athletes all under the age of 14, the tournament, held in early October, showcases youth sports at their best. The energy of the kids, the excitement and their skills make even the casual fan realize that sometimes it’s actually better to be on the field than on the sidelines. Unless that happens to be Gavin Hastings bearing down on you when you’ve got the rugby ball in your hands.Tom Winter is a freelance writer based in Vail