Friday at the AYF Olympics

Golfers warming up

Friday is the official start of the AYF Olympics for athletes, beginning with golf and tennis in the morning followed by swimming in the late afternoon. Golf and tennis are wonderful ways for AYFers to make new friends while competing. After the athletics, there are three dances, beginning with the Alumni Dance at 7 p.m., the AYF dance at 11 p.m., and, for the young and energetic, AYF hook-up at 2 a.m.  

Golf took place at the Oak Creek Golf Club in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.  The course is beautiful, well kept and glistened with morning dew when we arrived.  Part of the beauty and challenge of the course is its open but rolling terrain, as noted by many golfers. Manoug Habibian from the D.C. Olympic Steering Committee and Mark Manuelian of the Governing Body worked in concert with the congenial Oak Creek staff for a well-organized and good day for golf.

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Over sixty golfers—both current AYFers and alumni, including many familiar faces—arrived by 7:30 a.m., had a light breakfast, warmed up on the driving range and practice green, and headed to their carts for an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start. Last year’s winner for the men, Alex Kassabian, was playing with his brother. On the women’s side, Theresa Jelalian played but was not competing. She opted to do the pentathlon for her last year—something she always wanted to do—and we will see more of her at the games on Sunday.

Women’s Golf Medalists

Mike Manoogian won the alumni golf, Shayna McCarthy from New Jersey took the gold for the women, and on the men’s side, it was Alex Kassabian of New York repeating as the gold medalist with an impressive score of 69.

Women’s Tennis participants

After the second hole, I headed over to tennis at the East Potomac Tennis Center.  By the very nature of the name, the center was on the Potomac River in the heart of D.C. with the Washington Monument towering over the venue.  For the first time ever, we took a photo of all the players together right at the start. As the matches kicked off, fans wondered if the New Jersey women would continue their dominance of tennis. Would Providence sweep tennis on the men’s side, and would Hagop Taraksian not only defend his crown but tie Olympic King Harry Derderian’s impressive record of six straight tennis gold medals?

Women’s tennis medalists
Men’s Tennis Medalists

The New Jersey women certainly dominated with Mia Setrakian taking the gold and the Ayrian sisters taking second and fourth. For the men, Taraksian did indeed take the gold and tie Derderian’s impressive record, but it was not easy. Michael-Armen Kadian of Detroit played brilliantly all day to make it to the final match of the day, which was one of the best tennis matches I have ever seen. Taraksian and Kadian were equally matched, and both were determined to win. Taraksian took the first set 6-4, and Kadian roared back dominating Taraksian 5-2 in the second. It looked like Kadian  was surging, but Taraksian dug deep and took the last set. Both were exhausted, and in the wonderful spirit of the AYF, praised the skills and fortitude of their opponent.

Swimmers diving in
Natalia Oganesian

Next on the Friday agenda was swimming in the beautiful pool at the Wakefield Aquatic Center in Arlington, Virginia. The swim meet began at close to the official start time, the races ran back-to-back, and the medals were awarded with equally efficiency. Kudos to Governing Body members Mark Manuelian, Daron Topouzian and Ara Sarajian for a job well done. Outstanding performers were Natalia Oganesian of Providence with three gold medals and Nareg Minassian of Greater Boston who may have matched Oganesian with three golds.  

Then, it was off to the Alumni Dance—a wonderful evening of dancing to the music of the very talented Yerakouyn Band from Philly.  The dancing was so vibrant, we Armenians broke the dance floor, which the hotel staff expertly repaired to keep the festivities going. The local community provided a lavish table of Armenian delicacies to everyone’s enjoyment. Following the Yerakouyn Band, Armen Chamichyan took over until 2 a.m. when DJ Leo finished the night until 4 a.m.

Olympic King Ara Kouchakdjian and Varadian Spirit Award recipient Elizabeth Chouldjian

A longstanding tradition at the Alumni Dance is to name the Olympic Kings, Queens and recipient(s) of the Varadian Spirit Award. This year, Ara Kouchakdjian was named Olympic King, and the recipient of the Varadian Spirit Award was Elizabeth Chouldjian—both well-deserving of these honors. Kouchakdjian was honored by the award but thought many others were more deserving, and Chouldjian wanted to dedicate the award to the people of Artsakh and their resilient Armenian spirit. 

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Look for the Armenian Weekly’s Special Olympics Issue for more in-depth coverage of all of these events, as well as the honorees.

Next up on Saturday is AYF softball, the picnic and Nersik and Arabo Ispiryan at the evening dance.

Mark Gavoor
Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

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