Volleyball Olympian Blair Bann starts next chapter
August 01, 2023: After a lengthy career with the men’s National Team including two straight Olympic appearances, Blair Bann has announced his retirement from Team Canada.
Bann last donned the maple leaf in 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics where Canada finished in eighth place.
“Competing in two Olympic games were for sure the biggest moments of my career with Team Canada,” Bann said. “I was never a kid who was dreaming of going to the Olympics, I just didn’t know it was possible. I was watching Olympic volleyball in high school and pretending to be some of those players like Giba or Sergio from Brazil who I saw in the 2004 Olympic final.
“I still didn’t know it was possible for me or for Canada. It was amazing being a part of the team for the last two Olympic games and hopefully showing others in Canada it is possible and even more is possible in the future.”
Tokyo was Bann’s second Olympic appearance, after finishing fifth at the 2016 Rio Games – the best Olympic result for the men’s volleyball team since 1984 and its first appearance since 1992.
The libero has put together quite the resume with Team Canada, including a bronze medal at the 2017 World League, two bronze (2017, 2019), a silver (2013), and a gold medal (2015) at the NORCECA Championships, and a silver medal at the 2009 Pan American Cup. Individually, he was named the Best Digger at the 2011 Pan American Games, Best Libero at the 2017 World League, and Best Receiver at the 2013 NORCECA Championships and 2021 NORCECA Olympic Qualification, where he also won MVP.
“Glenn Hoag and Dan Lewis had a big impact on my development and later, the competitive rivalry between Dan and I really helped push my limits and helped me stay motivated,” Bann explained. “He was a great teammate, coach, and friend.
“I’ve also had some amazing teammates who were part of my journey from beginning to end. Jay Blankenau and Max Burt are two guys I have spent countless hours with and are still pushing me to be better to this day.”
Before his time with the National Team, Bann played for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, leading them to two straight national appearances in 2007 and 2008, finishing fourth and fifth. He received Canada West best libero accolades four times and was CIS (now U Sports) top libero for three seasons.
“My coach at UBC, Richard Schick, was a huge influence on me and my national team career,” Bann reflected. “I remember meeting him in my first year and he told me he wanted me to get to the national team. I don’t think I even realized what that meant at the time but by my third year I made the University Games team for 2009 and I believe he is responsible for pushing me to new heights in volleyball and personally.”
Bann also had an extensive professional career in Germany and France, signing his first deal with Evivo Duren in the German Bundesliga in 2012-13. His pro career is highlighted by a gold medal in the 2021-22 German Cup, along with a silver and three bronze in the same event. He also won silver medals in the French Ligue A and French Cup in 2018-19, among numerous other medals throughout his career.
“In 2017, I played with (Canadians) Blankenau and Rudy Verhoeff and to have two like-minded Canadians by my side for a nine-month season was incredible,” explained Bann. “That season our coach Tommi Tiilikainen completely reshaped how I think and see volleyball and what is possible as a libero and for a team in Europe.
“I was 29 years old had been to the Olympics, played in World League and Continental Championships and realized I didn’t even scratch the surface of my abilities or potential and to this day am still learning from him.”
“Another highlight was during the season we played during Covid with no fans,” Bann continued on his pro career. “We had an amazing group of guys who made a plan of how to get the most out of each other and set goals that we all believed in. We built a really strong culture. We didn’t win, but it stands out as a season I will never forget.”
Bann is the fourth member of the 2020 Olympic team to announce their retirement from Team Canada, following team captain Gord Perrin and fellow veterans Graham Vigrass and TJ Sanders.
The 35-year-old from Edmonton is not looking to move too far from the court though, as Bann now has his eyes set on the sidelines and getting into coaching.
“It’s something I have done a little bit of in the past and for the last few years I have known I want to stay in volleyball and create something in the sport as a coach,” Bann said. “I want to make an amazing experience for athletes and push them to new levels they didn’t know possible.”
Looking back on his career as a long-term member of the national team, a two-time Olympian, and a successful pro, there are several key takeaways that Bann will take with him into this coaching career.
“I learned many lessons and was still working on myself as an athlete up into my last game,” Bann finished. “I believe it’s a process that can never end and you have to enjoy chasing self-improvement in order to be able to come to the gym every day and work.
“There were difficult moments and a lot of struggles, also amazing moments, and life-long memories. I think it’s important to have a clear plan of what you are chasing and do everything you can to get there.”
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Photo: CP Images (Rio 2016)