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October 27, 2011

The Ultimate Sports Fan

Following the U.S. eventing team's performances in the Pan American Games in Mexico showed Sinead Halpin that she has plenty in common with the stereotypical "sports fan" she'd failed to understand before. Photo by Mollie Bailey.

I went to a friend’s house the other night for dinner, and as I walked in, I realized by the way our host was decked out in team gear that we were actually there to watch a football game.

I’ve never quite understood how grown men and women get dressed up in team colors and get so involved to the point of literally a “game” ruining their day, week or even month. They have opinions on the players, the coach, they have notes on the venue and tabs on the weather, and they sometimes even know what’s been going on in the players’ personal lives.

They have parties, all dressing the same way in some way of supporting “their” team (which is often thousands of miles away). It has always been so odd to me. How can someone be so emotional and involved about something from which they’re so far removed?

But then again, as I was driving to this game dinner on Saturday night, and I got an excited and anxious feeling in my stomach. The U.S. team had turned in five double-clear rounds at the Pan American Games.

This year my horses were either too advanced or too green to participate, but even though I played no direct role, I was following the results like my working student follows Facebook statuses… which is to say, like white on rice. I had opinions on the squad picked, I had opinions on the coach, I knew the history of the horses and their riders, I had researched the venue and knew the terrain, I checked the weather. I even went to a party, wore a sombrero and learned some Spanish phrases.

So as I walked into the football party ready to judge, I literally laughed to myself, realizing I have a hell of a lot in common with “the sports fan.”

I surprised myself with how emotional and proud I felt of our U.S. Team. Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at all that goes into a team, not only from the riding point of view but selection, coaching, vet work, logistics and just plain luck.

The thing I’ve realized the most is that we all want the same thing—we want to win. What we disagree on sometimes is what it takes to win, who it takes to win and the order of the steps we need to take to win.

I remember having a conversation with one of the selectors last year before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. I wasn’t in contention, so the conversation was a very honest one. She said, “Sinead, people think we make these decisions on a whim. They don’t understand we have heated meetings and debates. We stay up at night agonizing over who will make up the best team.” I know she wanted to pick a team that would win.

I spoke to one of the riders on the WEG team before the competition. She said, “Sinead, I’m excited. I’ve had the best preparation, my horse is ready, and I’m ready.” She wanted to win

I spoke to the coach. He said, “We have a few horses and riders on this team that could not only bring home a team medal, but an individual gold.” He wanted to win.

Unfortunately, at the WEG we did not win. One or more of the thousands of decisions made by the multiple people involved did not add up to a winning equation. So all of us sport lovers sitting on the couch, dressed up in our USA gear, eating boiled peanuts, start working through the equation. We look at the players, the coach, the selectors, the venue and start to make our opinions.

I again find myself, along with a lot of my friends, being that “sports fan.” In the last year there’s been a lot of talk, some of useful and some useless, to address the issues—because we all want to win.

On Sunday afternoon I was teaching a clinic, and Megan fist-pumped the air from the nearby bench and yelled “America just won the gold medal!”

I have to say I felt like the ultimate sports fan, because mid-lesson I shot both fists in the air to match Megan’s fist pump, and I gave that ape-like “Whoop!” that most middle-aged men elicit when some touchdown somewhere is made.

Our team got it so right, it’s almost silly! So well done to all involved. The selectors nailed it, the coach nailed it, the riders nailed it, and well, the horses, yup, nailed it!

I hope we will be nailing some more gold medals to our American walls soon, and I promise to stop judging the ultimate sports fans. I get it!

-Sinead

Sinead Halpin Equestrian