Winnipeg runner quicksilver
Sifuentes takes second place in women’s 1,500 metres
TORONTO – Eight one-hundredths of a second. That’s what separated Winnipeg’s Nicole Sifuentes from a gold medal in the 1,500 metres at the Pan Am Games Saturday night.
Over the last 50 metres, she was stride for stride with Colombian Muriel Coneo. As they strained to reach the finish line, Coneo leaned in just ahead of the 29-year-old Vincent Massey Collegiate grad. Coneo had a personal best time of 4:09.05, with Sifuentes at 4:09.13 and fellow Canadian Sasha Gollish taking the bronze in 4:10.11.
“I was on the gold so that’s a little disappointing, but at the same time, coming down the home stretch I did not give up,” said Sifuentes, who is the reigning national champion in the 1,500. “Every second I thought, maybe she’ll falter, but she didn’t, but neither did I. I ran as hard as I could so I have no regrets. I definitely would have liked to hear our national anthem, but it’s still great to have two on the podium. It’s really exciting.”
Sifuentes reflected back to her first international meet representing Canada — the world junior championships in Sherbrooke, Que., in 2003. She had gone an entire career since then without racing in front of her country’s supporters until Saturday.
“Because of that it’s a memory I’ll cherish forever,” she said. “It was so fun to run in front of the home crowd.”
It’s also meaningful because it is not only her highest placement at a major international event — she won bronze at the indoor world championships last year in Poland — but her first time actually standing on the podium for a medal ceremony.
“I was promoted to bronze in Poland because third place was disqualified and she received a medal on the podium. So even though I won a medal, I’ve never been on the podium. I’ve never done a victory lap. I’ve never held the flag, so this is going to be really special.”
She added she has savoured the entire week, as she has parked herself in front of the TV in the lounge at the athletes’ village to cheer on her teammates — many of whom have also won medals.
“I know most of them from previous teams so they’re my friends, and it’s been awesome to see them do well. And I couldn’t wait to get out here tonight.”
Sifuentes wasn’t the only Manitoban to win a medal Saturday. Thompson racquetball veteran Jennifer Saunders claimed bronze in the team competition after she and partner Frederique Lambert defeated Argentina in the quarterfinals. Later in the day, the duo lost to an American pair in the semifinals, but both losing semifinalists are guaranteed bronze medals in racquetball.
At 38 years of age, Saunders is a legend in the sport in Canada, with 11 world championship titles to her name. But she had never won a Pan Am medal.
“To finally get one in Canada feels like a dream come true, although after tonight’s event, it doesn’t feel as great, but I’m sure as things wind down and I get a chance to reflect, I’m going to be very, very pleased with my result,” she said. “I remember being young and you think ‘Yeah, I’m going to have a million chances at this.’ But now I know that this could be one of my last chances, certainly my last chance for a Pan Am Games at home. It really is what I always imagined an Olympic Games would feel like. So I have just been really happy to be here.”
Today is the final day of competition at the Games. Two Manitobans on the men’s volleyball team — Toon Van Lankvelt and Dustin Schneider — have a chance for bronze when Canada faces Puerto Rico.
Winnipeg’s Nicole Sifuentes (third from right) and Canadian teammate Sasha Gollish (fourth from right) finished second and third respectively in the women’s 1,500 final.