Josh Binstock has been a volleyball prodigy since he was about 16 years old. Long considered one of the best beach prospects in Canada, the 31-year-old native of Richmond Hill, Ont., is in London this week, fulfilling his dream to compete in the Olympic Games.
Binstock and Martin Reader were selected to represent Canada following a competition earlier this month at Ashbridge’s Bay in Toronto.
They were joined in London by the women’s team of Marie-Andrée Lessard and Annie Martin.
“It’s been a long, hard road for these two teams,” commented Hugh Wong, president of Volleyball Canada, “travelling all over the globe and playing against the best teams in the world. They clearly demonstrated that they belong in the 2012 Olympic beach volleyball tournament by dominating their competition at the Continental Qualifier last month in Mexico, and by their wins [at Ashbridge’s Bay]. We know that they will represent us well at the Olympic Games.”
“Right now, I couldn’t be more excited,” Binstock said. “I played hockey originally, and used to play with lots of emotion. Today, I brought that emotion with me on the beach volleyball court and it helped me.”
Heading into the Games, Binstock and Reader were ranked 34th in the world. At their last pre-Olympic tournament in Klagenfurt, Austria, they finished 41st – the same position as at an event in Rome a month before.
But Binstock’s old coach and friend, George Shermer, believes if he and Reader play up to their potential and things go right, the pair can make it to the Olympic quarter-finals. And from there, anything can happen, Shermer said.
At six-foot-five, Binstock has the size to be successful, but there’s more to his game than that. “He’s tremendously co-ordinated, and mentally, he can focus really well,” said Shermer. “He’s definitely one of the best beach players Canada has ever produced.”
Even for a gifted athlete like Binstock, attaining a national status did not come without setbacks, Shermer continued. “What really held Josh back for a few years was that he developed a serious injury in his shoulder. He needed major reconstructive surgery and it took a lot of physical rehabilitation to get back to compete with the best players in beach [volleyball].
“Nobody believed he could recover and be good enough versus the good, younger players out there,” Shermer said. “But Josh is not a quitter. He got a partner that complemented his play and they have a chance to get to the quarter-finals – one of the eight best teams out of 24 countries competing.”
Shermer’s association with Binstock goes back 15 years to the time when he coached the JCC Blues, a hardcourt volleyball team at the now defunct Bathurst Street Jewish Community Centre.
A native of Czechoslovakia who excelled in volleyball, Shermer took on the coaching job to provide his three sons with a competitive environment in a Jewish milieu. The Blues were one of the city’s best teams.
Binstock was also a key member of the team that Shermer coached at the JCC Maccabi Games – an event that brings together the best Jewish teen athletes in North America each summer.
Binstock, along with Shermer’s sons Elie and Daniel, also competed in hardcourt volleyball at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
Though the team did not win a medal, its presence in Israel marked the return of Canada to volleyball competition after a 20-year hiatus.
Back from Israel, Binstock continued to work out with Shermer, training at Beach Blast, an indoor facility Shermer owns and operates. As Binstock developed as an athlete, Shermer could see he possessed “the strong will and perseverance” necessary to attain excellence.
Next summer, Binstock will again represent Canada – this time at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. He’ll be back on the hardcourt as the Canadians stack their team in a bid to upset the favoured Israeli national team. Joining Binstock on the Canuck squad will be Daniel and Joshua Shermer and Sam Schachter, an up-and-comer on the Canadian beach scene. Schachter has already won the Under-21 World Championship and has a good shot at representing Canada at the next Olympics, Shermer said.
And behind Binstock and Schachter, there’s yet another, younger, elite Jewish volleyballer, Shermer said. He’s Cole Grossinger, who was recently invited by Ontario Volleyball to train at its summer High Performance Centre.