Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Wright Way To Beijing

SUPER MOM: Thelma Wright (1972, 1976; 1,500 metre run)
UBC athlete Anthony Wright is the fifth Canadian Olympian in his family - photo by Martin Dee

By Basil Waugh
Forgive Olympic historians for experiencing déjà vu when Anthony Wright takes to the field hockey pitch in Beijing this summer.
In what surely is an Olympic record, the graduating Human Kinetics student and his national squad and UBC teammate Philip Wright, his younger brother, will become the fourth and fifth members of his family to sport the maple leaf in Olympic competition.
“It feels pretty special,” says Anthony Wright, 24, who counts late grandfather Harold Wright (1932, track and field), mother Thelma Wright (1972, 1976; 1,500 m run) and father Lee Wright (1964, 1976; field hockey) as fellow Olympians.
“I’ve been dreaming of the Olympics since I was five,” says the hard-nosed defender. “For field hockey players, qualifying for the Olympics is our Stanley Cup. You train with one goal in mind with no guarantee that you will achieve it. It is a dream come true.”
Wright, whose parents are both UBC alumni, has added to his family’s impressive athletic legacy in other ways. Winner of the 2008 Bobby Gaul Memorial Trophy as UBC’s Outstanding Graduating Male Athlete of the Year, he followed in the footsteps of his mother, who received the equivalent honour for female athletes in 1974.
Wright chalks up his Olympic development to healthy doses of nature and nurture.
“My parents have been incredibly supportive,” he says: “But I guess it also helps when both your parents are Olympians, gene-wise.”
With seven other current or former Thunderbirds joining Wright on Canada’s 18-member Olympic team, Beijing should be something of a coming-out party for UBC’s men’s field hockey program. League champion for the past three years, the team has not lost a Vancouver Men’s Field Hockey Premier Division game since 2005.
Wright attributes the program’s powerhouse status to three factors: some serious globetrotting, the coaching of former Canadian Olympic team coach Shiaz Virjee, and the distinct advantage of playing home games on Wright Field, a world-class artificial turf facility named in honour of his Olympic forbear Harold Wright.
In addition to UBC trips to Spain and Malaysia, Wright has toured extensively with Canada’s national team, attending the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Australia and qualifying for Beijing by winning gold at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil.
He supplemented these team experiences with a semester of study at University of Queensland thanks to UBC’s Go Global international exchange program.
“Field hockey is not a mainstream sport in North America, so you need to travel to play the top players,” Wright says.
“Seeing how huge the sport is in other countries and learning how they play the game has been essential to my development and an amazing experience.”
Out of appreciation for the opportunities he has been given as an athlete, Wright has been a regular volunteer with I’m Going To UBC, which pairs varsity athletes with inner city kids for campus tours, sports clinics and T-Birds games, with the ultimate goal of increasing access to post-secondary education for children who may think it is beyond their grasp.
He also visits with local elementary students every month as part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Adopt-an-Athlete program, and will write them weekly by email from Beijing.
Wright has also been a heavy-hitter in UBC’s School of Human Kinetics where he has been a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship and a three-time Academic All-Canadian for maintaining an average grade of 80 per cent or higher.