Profile: Greg Van Barben

October 17, 2012

© Louis David Najar

321: How long have you been playing polo?

Greg: I’ve been playing since July 2009, so a bit more than three years.

321: Do you remember the moment when you realized you were addicted to bike polo and how long had you been playing when you came to this realization?

G: I realized really soon. I started in July and at that time we were playing in Palais de Tokyo but by the end of September we couldn’t play there anymore. At the time, that was the only spot in Paris. I put a lot of time and energy to find a new place to play with the guys. I realized at that point that I couldn’t go weeks without playing polo.

Another thing which surprised me a lot came last year. I had a broken finger in April and had to stop to playing for two months. At the end of the second month I remember I had a dream where I was playing polo. I was not doing something extraordinary like scoring crazy goals or have amazing skills; I was just playing polo and was so happy. I think that was so intense that I woke up in the middle of the night thinking I was playing polo, but I checked my finger it was still painful…

321: What kind of bike do you ride and do you have a name for your bike?

G: I’m riding a Victoire Cycle bike (700 wheels), developed for polo. We had two previous prototypes before finalizing this bike. I started to ride the first prototype in June last year. It took us a year to develop a good bike with a good geometry that was strong enough for polo. I received my third frame two weeks before Worlds and I can’t tell you how much the bike rocks.

321: I’m sure you are like most people and started off on an old mountain bike or road bike, but now you have a polo specific bike. In your opinion, what are these polo specific bikes doing for the sport, and what has it done for you?

G: When I started, a lot of us in Paris were playing with old road bikes, and a guy was breaking his frame every month. This is the first thing specific polo bikes bring: They are stronger. Many people and many brands start to produce their own bikes, with their own specifics and I think all those bikes are looking for the same thing, offering riders the best control and velocity. You can easily see how each frame is influenced by the way the player who developed it plays. Mine is really aggressive because I like riding fast on the court. I’m not a guy who has big crashes, so with Victoire we choose lighter tubing to make the bike as reactive as possible, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as strong a MKE Bruiser, for example.

321: How long has Call Me Daddy been a team?

G: Will and Paul have been playing together since October or November of 2010. I joined the team as a sub for WHBPC 2011 and that was the first time we played together. It worked well so we decided to keep playing together.

321: How often do you guys have team practices and what do they consist of?

G: Paul is living in Toulouse and Will was living in Grenoble until five months ago so we never practice as team. We talk each week about what we should work on, but we work on things on our own.

321: Was Worlds 2011 the first time you played polo in America?

G: I played in NYC in September of 2009. I had only been playing for three months and I remember how impressed I was by the speed of Zack, the way Nate and Chombo played, and Chris Robert’s heckles.

321: Coming back to France with the second place trophy in 2011, what did Call Me Daddy feel they needed to change in order to clinch first place the next year?

G: We were so surprised to finish second that we didn’t know what to change. At that time I was still a sub, we did not even know if we were continue to play together but when we decided to continue, we just decided to work harder on the whole because if we have the chance to go to the final again we don’t want to miss it. I played a lot of goalie in Worlds 2011 because it was new for me to play with Will and Paul but we decided that in 2012 I need to play up more to have more options in our game.

321: When the World Championships are in North America, there are obviously more North American teams than European teams, and vice versa when the Worlds Championships are in Europe. Can you describe any difference in the game play between the two tournaments that may be due to where they are held?

G: It’s difficult to compare WHBPC 2010, 2011 and 2012 because the game is evolving so fast, so I don’t know if games were more different because of the numbers of NAs teams or Euros teams. I watched the whole Sunday of the NAHBPC on the live streaming, and I was impressed how open and fast the games were. I think polo in Europe is more static.

© Quentin Bailat

321: During the final game of Worlds 2012, I think I recall a few people in the crowd chanting “Call Me Dirty.” In the heat of the moment, do you hear these sorts of heckles from the crowd? Do they affect you as an individual? What about Call Me Daddy as a team?

G: Yes, you heard that, but it’s part of the game. Some people decide to cheer, some others decide to trash talk or heckled, but when I play, I’m so focused on the game that I don’t really mind. I can say a lot of shit when I’m watching a game, so to me most of that is just second degree.

321: When time ran out of the 2012 championship game, can you recall the first thought that went through your head?

G: The end was so messy, so nobody really understood if the game was finished or why the ref whistled. Then I just thought, “We did it.” We won the Euros in Paris the month before, in my hometown with my friends and family around the court, that day was more emotional for me since I did not really realize we won the worlds.

321: Winning the Hardcourt Bike Polo World Championships is a huge feat for us in the bike polo community. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of sweat and a lot of blood to get to this championship level. You came out of the World Championships in 2012 knowing you are better at one sport than any other team in the whole world, but sadly in the grand scheme of things, it’s not as recognized as winning something like, the FIFA World Cup. How do you think your level of joy over winning the World Championships of bike polo compares to sports that covered by mainstream media? Do you think you would feel differently if bike polo was a mainstream sport?

It does not make any difference to me honestly. I’m playing polo because I love it, I don’t mind about having thousands of strangers yelling around the courts. I cried after the final of the Euros, because I saw tears on my mum’s face. She knew how important it was to me and how strong I worked for that. This day it was more important to have my family around the court than lots of people. Many of my friends don’t know I’m a bike polo world champ. I did it for myself, so I don’t have any problem with the lack of recognition of bike polo.

We beat Edisons in the final of the Euros and Guardians in the finals of Worlds. All those six guys are world class players and champs to me, beating people I consider as champions and for who I have a huge respect is more than enough for me.

© Paulette a Roulettes

321: Which one of you three get to keep the World Championship trophy at their house?

G: Polo did, it’s way better for the trophy. Life is definitely better in the south of France.

321: How many tournaments has Call Me Daddy won now?

G: Not that many. We try to play with other teammates from September to January, it’s a good way to keep the fun in polo. Last winter we had several appearances on the podium, but not a lot of victories. There are two reasons for that. First we tried lots of different things during the winter at tournament since we don’t practice together.

We have to try new stuff at tournaments, because the goal was to be ready for the summer. Secondly, last winter Hooks won almost everything in Europe, they were the best team in Europe at that moment and I think they wanted to win more than us at this period. It was good to have this very good opponent because it forced us to work harder.

321: You’re the first team to make it to the championship game two years in a row, to what do you attribute Call Me Daddy’s success? Are there any secrets you can share to help other teams get to that point?

G: I’m really proud of that, because we all know you need a part of luck to make it that far in a tournament as strong as WHBPC. So going twice in a row to the finals proved to us that we were a good team. We don’t have any a secret. I think we mainly just made our game as efficient as possible. Last winter we tried to have a good and beautiful pass game like the Guardians—honestly everybody would love to play like the Guardians—but we realized that by never playing together it was impossible for us. So we decided to have a game based on our own qualities: easier to play, with a strong defense and efficient fast breaks.

I don’t think there are any secrets, just try to make your game efficient and if you can make it beautiful to watch at the same time, then it’s perfect.

© Pierre Mahieu

321: For noobs and veterans alike, do you have any last words of advice in becoming a World Champion?

G: If you want to be world champ, you need to work hard, mainly on your weaknesses. You need to analyze your game and try to change a lot of stuff (bike set up, way you play, gear) regularly, because it’s a really good way to discover new stuff and continue to improve.

I think the most important thing is to have fun playing polo. In my life, I consider polo to be something which should only be linked to happiness, which is why I recently decided to stop to going on the forums and not being part of the committees. I just want polo to be something fun in my life.