Vol. 4, Issue 7, December 5, 2006
Think Difference (Engine).

Pro Brushing Circuit Has Its Ups And Downs

For many, four in the morning is a time to roll over in bed with the alarm still hours away. To dedicated competitors like Dan Tifriss, it's just the start of another rigorous day of training.

"You've got to keep a long-term focus, you've got to keep your eyes on the prize," said Tifriss as he went through his warmup routine, not varying in the slightest from his rigid program. "That's the real challenge. It's not the day of the competition, it's the long march of days before, which you don't see on TV."

Up, down, up, down, around and around. Tifriss' movements are like clockwork, regimented and precise, until he slaps down his brush with a flourish. Two minutes exactly.

"This isn't like a lot of other sports, where you have some room for error," he said, flexing his wrists and preparing for the next set. "If you're a second off you're in trouble. Speed isn't the whole story in competitive brushing."

Yes, competitive brushing. Tifriss is one of the rare but increasingly visible members of the professional toothbrushing circuit. This extremely niche sport, which began with an endowment from the American Dental Association in 1999, has gained enormous grassroots support and interest in the few years since its inception, despite a complete lack of television coverage.

"There's an artistic minimalism in competitive toothbrushing, or brossage as the Canadians call it, which is lacking in most other sports today," said Wint Peterson, sports commentator for WGBN Chicago. "There's some talk of a powered brush category - mainly being considered to woo sponsors such as Sonicare - but right now it's just a competitor and his or her brush, a randomly selected toothpaste, and a hundred and twenty seconds. It's almost zen-like, at least if you have a typically shallow and misinformed understanding of what 'zen' means."

Tifriss doesn't hesitate. Aqua-Fresh, Crest, Aim: the tubes are slapped down before him by his trainer, one after the other, and he rapidly draws a fresh brush from his kit to meet each challenge.

"There's a lot of strategy involved," said Mac Gilliam, Tifriss' trainer. "The baking soda toothpastes, for example, have a significant variance in foam viscosity, and that can upset your pacing if you're not careful. And in at least one wildcard event in San Diego last year, they slipped in a kid's toothpaste. Let me tell you, it's hard enough to face these high-pressure events without having 'Spongebob's Bubblemint Surprise' to cope with. But Dan's a real pro. Didn't miss a beat, not even on the rinse-and-spit."

This relatively obscure sport may soon get a lot more interest, as ESPN is negotiating for rights to broadcast the Spring 2007 North American Brushing Championship. Blogs which religiously track Tifriss' record in the regional competition circuit are abuzz with rumors of corporate sponsorships, movie deals, and loving descriptions of the latest brush models from Oral-B. However, there's a resistance in this close-knit community to the prospect of broader exposure; hard-core fans look down upon the poorly informed inquiries of sports reporters trying to come to grips with the novel sport.

"Whatever they do, ESPN had better not confuse pro brushing with flossing," sniffed "brassybristles.com", a leading Tifriss fan blog. "As if flossing was a sport. Geez."

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