Armed conflict comes to Winnipeg – Winnipeg Free Press

It’s often seen as a way to prove physical dominance, but arm wrestling is more complex than it seems.

The Canadian National Championships in Winnipeg last weekend drew a record number of over 500 entries. The contestants were looking to reach the top of their classes and rekindle relationships impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I missed it so much,” said Ryan Espey of Portage la Prairie. “It’s like a big family reunion, these people…I consider them family, not just friends.”

Participants from across the country took part in the Canadian Arm Wrestling Championships at the Canad Inns Destination Center on Sunday. (Ethan Cairns/Winnipeg Free Press)

A sea of ​​eyes followed Espey everywhere during Sunday’s event finale with spectators stopping him for handshakes and photos. Cellphones shot through the air with fingers poised to record his matches and many stopped what they were doing to see him in action.

Espey caught the attention of the room not just because of his big biceps, broad shoulders and mountainous build, but because he’s a legend.

The 45-year-old has been arm wrestling since 1997, hailed as the best in Manitoba and one of the best super heavyweights in the country. He is also sought after by competitors around the world for high-stakes supermatches, which have taken him to the United States and abroad.

He fell in love with the sport 25 years ago after competing in a Portage la Prairie bar tournament, but said it had evolved beyond just a bar sport.

“Everyone has that friend who never gets lost, right? ” he said. “I’ve met a ton of these guys and given them their first losses, they don’t realize there are people who do this professionally.”

Espey was a star attraction at this year’s tournament, but the field featured a plethora of emerging talent.

Alberta’s Laya Cornelson is someone to watch in the world of arm wrestling. The 17-year-old has only been there for two years but is already a decorated champion with a thriving collection of medals and title belts.

“I tell people I’m arm wrestling and they’re like ‘oh let’s arm wrestle’, it’s usually guys of course,” Cornelson said with a chuckle. “I just kind of beat them and that’s great.”

Cornelson said the 2022 Nationals featured the most women she had ever seen at an event, adding that they had provided her with great competition.

“The camaraderie that I say is amazing,” Santos said. “You may be enemies at the table, but when you go out you are your friends and that’s what’s so great about this sport.”– Vivian Santos, Point Douglas councilman and arm wrestler

“I like the pressure on my back and I bet the others do too,” Cornelson said. “He’s top of the class, you’re the best. You have to hold your belt, you have to be ready and always be the best and keep learning.

The formula for becoming a championship arm wrestler isn’t just about steaks, weights, and protein shakes. Competitors of all ages focus on technique, pointing out that it’s hard to succeed without a solid fundamental foundation.

“The biggest key to the standoff is table time,” said Point Douglas Councilwoman Vivian Santos. “Training at the table, two to three times a week, is super important because you can do stuff in the gym to perfect your strength and your arms and your hands and your fingers, but nothing beats that. table time.”

Arm wrestling opponents go from fierce table battles to exchanging friendly back-slaps and punches in an instant. Sportsmanship is part of why Santos loves him.

“The camaraderie that I say is amazing,” Santos said. “You may be enemies at the table, but when you go out you are your friends and that’s what’s so great about this sport.”

Event organizers weren’t sure how many attendees would show up for the Nationals, but the smiles on their faces as they talked about the turnout might as well have been as big as some of the biceps in the room.

Manitoba Armwrestling Association president Josee Morneau said the national championships are important for the current generation of athletes and the burgeoning new generation, which includes her 11-year-old daughter.

“I started in 1995 and it’s been 27 years…I still have the passion for it,” she says. “Now my daughter has the passion for it, it gives me a challenge because my daughter’s dream is to fight.”

Espey said that over the past few years there has been a shift where competitors have started to prefer supermatch events since National Championships cannot be held. But he felt any concerns about the Nationals still being a premier event could be dispelled.

“There was some doubt about their return to the Nationals…would the Nationals still draw a crowd,” Espey said. “I think the answer is pretty clear that ‘more than ever’ is the answer to that.”

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