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Getting the Bugs out of the System
By Dan and Joe Kneipp © 2002 SquashTalk; all rights of reproduction reserved
Oct 17, 2002

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There’s another element of tournament preparation that doesn’t get discussed much. One of the great things about the pro squash tour is the diversity of countries that events are held in. At the moment there’s tournaments in both Pakistan and South Africa, next week we go to Qatar, and next month to Toronto. Some of these places have very different food handling restrictions and general hygiene compared to countries like the Netherlands or Australia.

So most players have to be very meticulous about where they eat and what type of food they consume. Things to avoid are milk products, egg products, anything raw like salads and in some countries the tap water even in five star hotels can have you in bed for a week. It doesn’t necessary have to be unhygienic, merely possess bacteria that our bodies aren’t familiar with and will therefore lead to symptoms like stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea.

The recent outbreak of Hepatitis at the Pan Am Games is a great example of this. Different players respond to this element of game preparation in different ways. Some will just eat anything that they want and hope they don’t get sick. At the Pakistan Open in March the Dutch player Tommy Berden was eating a rare steak at a restaurant that no one had eaten at and therefore he didn’t know if the place had any health problems. He had done the same at a previous Pakistan tournament and got violently ill. He still turned up to try to play his match. Fortunately for him the power at the court went off for six hours so the match was postponed to the following day giving him enough time to recover. He went on to win.

Joe and I were extremely meticulous at this year’s Pakistan Open. Almost all of my luggage space was taken up with tinned food, long life milk, cereal and instant noodles. Some of the players even at the five star hotel were getting mild diarrhea. The standard of squash between many of the top players is so close that a minor health issue like that can be the difference between winning and losing. Anthony Ricketts had been eating from the hotel all week with no problems, but as he stepped on the plane to leave Lahore he got very sick and was in bed for the good part of a week. Once Joe had finished the tournament we started eating the hotel food and both got mildy ill. Some players in the past have combated this problem by only eating at McDonalds. All it takes to get sick is for one piece of lettuce to be washed in tap water, which was the case for Alex Gough a few years ago.

Joe Kneipp races past Renan Lavigne in round one.
photo © 2002 Dan Kneipp

Looking after the food has become one of my tasks while we’re travelling to tournaments together. There’s a few reasons that Joe and I have decided to travel to tournaments together. Almost without exception none of the other players take a coach with them. I’ve been working as his coach and training partner since the end of last year. Between tournaments we work on fitness, technique and game tactics, but you don’t see whether this training is working until Joe plays in a tournament. Obviously I’m the one who is most aware of what his strengths and weaknesses are and so it’s very important to be able to watch his matches and talk about whether he is sticking to our initial game plan, what he is doing right and wrong, and anything I can see about his opponent’s play that may be of assistance. A lot of the players tend to use their countrymen for this task. You’ll see Thierry Lincou coaching Renan Lavigne between matches and vice versa. There’s also plenty of other tasks I can help out with like making sure he is properly warmed up for a match and helping him stretch.

Joe had his first round match at midday today against the French world #22 Renan Lavigne. We knew Renan was going to be a tough match. Like most players Joe gets more nervous for the first match of the tournament. In the back of his mind he’s not sure how he’s going to play and it can be easy to be unconfident. One of my tasks is to keep him occupied and help with a game plan that will get any first round bugs out of the system and lead to good squash.

Unfortunately though the only bugs I was helping get out of the system was care of the food poisoning I got last night. The scary thing was Joe and I have eaten virtually exactly the same food since arriving in Pretoria. He’s playing great squash and winning his way through to the quarter finals. I’m just trying to stop throwing up. This will only be an inconvenience to me as long as Joe stays healthy and able to play. The swiss #1 player Lars Harms had some bad salami in a pasta salad that left him sick throughout the night which meant he was extremely weak for his first round encounter with Mark Chaloner. This was expected to be a battle of two very fit court runners, but ended with Lars forfeiting after the second match. This is one of the small aspects of life on the tour that many people probably aren’t aware of.

Mike Way Toronto Clini c Nov 20 2002

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