Thursday, November 4, 2021

Waselenchuk addresses his US Open withdrawal & complaints about the IRT

Kane Waselenchuk, the long time #1 player on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT),* was on Sudsy Monchik’s Beyond The Court podcast last month trying to explain his reasons for withdrawing from singles at the US Open prior to his semi-final match with Carlos Keller, despite the fact that Waselenchuk was the 12 time defending champion. His explanation was, well, not very concise. It seems that Waselenchuk feels disrespected by the IRT executive, and was made to feel uncomfortable at the US Open from some things members of the IRT executive did.

If you and Waselenchuk stepped on to an elevator, and you asked him to explain why he withdrew from the US Open, we don’t think he could do it by the time you reached your floor, even if you were going from the first floor of the Sears Tower to the top floor. Does that mean his grievance is unfounded or simply whining? No. Rather, it means it’s a long standing issue that has come to a breaking point for Waselenchuk in a “straw that broke the camel’s back” kind of way.

Waselenchuk feels the IRT hasn’t done enough for him, and that they have been antagonistic towards him recently. We certainly don’t feel that the IRT is blameless in this situation, even if only some of Waselenchuk’s claims are accurate.

But the IRT is in an awkward position as they are trying to be fair to all of their players (we all want competitions to be fair), but there is one player that people regularly cite as the “best ever” or the “Goat” (greatest of all time). That player is Waselenchuk. Shouldn’t the Goat get more than the rest? Doesn’t he deserve that?

On the one hand, it makes total sense for the Goat to get more. But on the other hand, if one player gets more than the others, then that seems unfair. Those are the hands the IRT has been dealt, and how to play them can be tricky, especially if the players involved are uncooperative.

For much of Waselenchuk’s career, he didn't seem to be interested in being putting himself out there or being the face of the IRT. Rather, he seemed to take a “just watch me” position, letting his on court performance speak for him. And it didn’t just speak. It shouted. And echoed.

After more than a decade and a half with that position, you can understand if the current IRT executive assumed Waselenchuk would be maintaining that position. To their credit, the IRT has done more lately to try to put their players’ stories out there by interviewing them post-match on the matches they have streamed on line. Such interviews were rare prior to the current IRT regime.

Waselenchuk gave one such interview following his quarterfinal win over Rocky Carson at the US Open, which put him into the semi-finals against Carlos Keller. After stating that he was proud and happy for Keller reaching the semis, Waselenchuk said “I won’t be so proud and so happy for him tomorrow when I play him.” Thus, there was no indication that Waselenchuk had any intention of withdrawing from the event prior to his match with Keller.

Comparison with Longoria

Late in the podcast, Waselenchuk brought up Paola Longoria, stating “her success has had no correlation to the success in the United States or North America in racquetball.” (1:18:55 into the podcast) Now, last time we checked Mexico, where Longoria hails from, was part of North America, and women’s racquetball in Mexico is doing really well. Moreover, the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour (LPRT) is stronger now than it ever has been (certainly stronger than it’s been in two decades). Some of the younger players have probably been inspired by Longoria, and want to follow in her footsteps.

Geography aside, it’s not completely clear what Waselenchuk’s point is in referencing Longoria, but comparing the two is like apples and oranges or, really, apples and firetrucks. Sure they’re both red, but that’s about as far as it goes. That is, Waselenchuk and Longoria are not in similar places. Longoria as a Mexican player has built a career not simply by winning on the LPRT, but also on playing for her country, and winning gold medals for Mexico.

To understand the significance of that know that Mexico has sent over 2100 athletes to the Summer Olympics and they have come back with 13 gold medals.** In contrast, Longoria has won 42 gold medals in her international career. Included in Longoria’s accomplishments are six World Championships (three in singles & three in doubles), as well as three each in Women’s Singles and Doubles and Women's Team events at the Pan American Games. In brief, she is a sports super star in a country that doesn’t have many such stars.

Waselenchuk spoke of winning World titles, but those are IRT season titles, not International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships, and winning a pro event - even a US Open - isn’t the same as winning a World Championship. He hasn’t won any World Championships in singles or doubles; he did win two team titles. Rocky Carson has five World Championships in Men’s Singles. Waselenchuk has none.

Moreover, Longoria has over 282,000 followers on Twitter and over 348,000 on Instagram. Waselenchuk has 67 followers on Twitter (the @KingKaneRB Twitter account, which we believe had ~2,000 followers, is currently suspended for reasons unknown) and 2,546 on Instagram. That’s a stark contrast. And the LPRT didn’t do all the work to promote Longoria to that level of notoriety. She did it herself.


The Waselenchuk-IRT situation is ugly, which is why we’ve resisted writing about it for so long. But it’s also an important story, because he has been a great player. Would we have advised Waselenchuk to withdraw at the US Open as he did? No. It would have been better to play, win and then air his grievances.

There are issues - and strong wills - on both sides. Thus, there is no clear path to a resolution of their differences.

Athletes don’t often choose their exits from sport. Most often Father Time chooses for them. However, Waselenchuk may have chosen his exit. We only wish it was a happier one.

Follow the bouncing ball…..

* - Note - Waselenchuk is currently #2 behind Daniel De La Rosa following De La Rosa's three straight titles this season.

** - some of Mexico’s gold medals were in team events, so technically more than 13 Mexican athletes have got gold medals at the Summer Olympics, but they’ve only done so in 13 events.

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