Canada ends Games with gold
There wasn’t an All Black, Springbok or Wallaby in sight at the Pan American Games. Which is a good thing when it comes to the chances of winning in rugby sevens.
But there were still plenty of Pumas and Eagles. And the Islandbased Canadian national team outdistanced them all, edging Argentina 26-24 to win the gold medal as the 2011 Pan Am Games concluded Sunday in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Lethally accurate kicking by Nathan Hirayama of the University of Victoria proved decisive as the graceful Vikes star nailed three converts in both the final against the Argentina Pumas and equally tense 21-19 semifinal victory over the U.S. Eagles as rugby sevens was featured to close out the Games.
It was the first major championship for Canada in a sport that makes its Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
“It was a bit different for us because usually in IRB world sevens tournaments we’re not the big dog going in, like we are in the Pan Ams,” said Hirayama, on Monday from Seatac airport, while waiting for a flight back home.
“It was a nice change and it felt surreal to win the gold medal.
“We’ve won the Bowl [consolation final] a few times [in IRB tournaments] but never the gold. This is one of the few opportunities we have to win a tournament.”
And Canada took advantage.
But it was balanced on a knife edge. A missed convert by Argentina on the final play just failed to send the final into overtime while Hirayama’s successful convert on the final play of the semifinal against the U.S. avoided overtime and earned Canada a berth into the gold-medal game.
“Usually, I can clear my mind for a kick, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling the pressure on that game-winning convert against the U.S.,” said Hirayama, one of eight players who also played for Canada in the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“Luckily, I hit it right and it went through.”
Sean Duke and Phil Mack of the Uvic Vikes and Ciaran Hearn of the Castaway Wanderers of Oak Bay scored the tries against the U.S., while John Moonlight of James Bay Athletic Association and Conor Trainor of Vancouver scored two tries each in the gold-medal game win over Argentina.
Nanyak Dala of the Castaway Wanderers and Duke scored two tries each and Hearn, Hirayama and Tyler Ardon added one each with Hirayama striking five converts in the 45-0 quarter-final rout of Mexico.
Also on the Canadian team were Sean White of Victoria and JBAA and Matt Evans of Duncan.
Canada defeated the U.S., Chile and Brazil earlier in the round-robin to finish the Pan Am Games at 6-0 to make up for last year’s disappointing 11thplace finish in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, albeit in a tougher field against more rugby powers.
“We are a tight group and had a lot of trust in each other’s abilities,” said team captain Mack, a graduate of Oak Bay High.
The rugby sevens gold brought to 22 the number of medals won by Island athletes at the 2011 Pan Am Games.
Canada has traditionally been third in the medal standings at both the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games, behind Australia and England in the former and the U.S. and Cuba in the latter. But Canada fell to fourth when India received a massive hosting bump at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.
The status quo also changed at the Pan Am tables at Guadalajara. Canada (30 gold and 119 total medals) placed fifth behind the U.S. (92 and 236), Cuba (58 and 136), Brazil (48 and 141), which is preparing to host the 2014 soccer World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, and host Mexico (42 and 133).
The Pan Am Games will be in Toronto in 2015.