Softball gold highlights final day of competition,
Curt Harnett took to the stage at Canada House, just as he has every day of the Pan Am Games, to celebrate the latest bunch of medallists.
He called them up, one by one — athletics, fencing, boxing, karate, field hockey, table tennis — they just kept coming and his raspy voice, since he’s been doing this for 16 days, got raspier still.
“I love it when it gets crowded up here,” said Canada’s chef de mission as the growing group of athletes threatened to knock him off the stage.
Nearly 40 athletes who had won medals in the 24 hours prior to Sunday morning walked on stage to Florence and the Machine’s catchy lyrics: “The dog days are over, the dog days are done.”
Certainly, the Pan Am Games’ dog days for Canada are over with a grand total of 217 medals, including 78 gold, 69 silver and 70 bronze. That’s nearly 100 more than Canadians won at the previous Pan Ams. And at these Toronto Games, Canada finished on target, in second place behind the United States in the medal count. The American team won 103 golds, 81silver and 81bronze for a total of 265 medals won.
There was so much success at these Games that gold medals became the new norm for Canadian fans, and that represents a monumental shift. The last time the public paid this much attention to these sports was at the 2012 London Olympics, where the wait between medals was lengthy and Canadian athletes came away with a single gold among their 18 medals.
Part of that shift at these Pan Ams came from assembling the biggest team of athletes ever assembled.
There were 715 Canadian athletes competing, including the nation’s best in most of the events.
Another part of it came from the nature of the Pan Am Games themselves. There are athletes from just 41 nations competing and, in the case of the Americans, not always every nation’s best athletes.
That’s why no one is expecting anything close to this sort of medal haul at the upcoming world championships or the 2016 Rio Olympics.
To put things in perspective, Team Canada’s goal here was to finish in the top two; for Rio it will be top 12. That’s what happens when 100 other nations, including all of Europe, Asia and Africa, get added to the Olympic mix.
In athletics at these Pan Ams, Canada won 26 medals, including 11 gold. For Rio?
“Our aim is two or three medals,” Athletics Canada head coach Peter Eriksson said. “I’d prefer gold of course.” In 2012, Canada had eight track and field athletes ranked in the world top 16, which equates to making the semifinals. They left London with a bronze medal in the high jump.
In 2015, Canada has 13 athletes ranked in the top 8, Eriksson said, which equates to making the final. While the Rio goal is two or three medals it could easily be “zero to five,” he said. “You have to be the best on the day.” That’s something many Canadian athletes were very good at doing during at the Pan Ams. And to produce a world-class performance in the pressure cooker conditions of a multisports Games on home soil is an experience that should pay dividends.
Sprinter Andre De Grasse, who won gold in the 100 and 200 metre events, shattered his own record by being the first Canadian man to ever run a sub 20-second 200 with a time of 19.88.
He’s ranked third in the world in that distance this year and he beat the guy ranked second, Jamaica’s Rasheed Dwyer, here.
“There was lot more competition than you’ve ever seen at the Pan Ams before,” Eriksson said.
That’s why so many Pan Am records were broken here, including a dozen by Canadians. Damian Warner set a Pan Am record in decathlon and updated the two-decade old Canadian one.
In track cycling, Monique Sullivan set two Pan Am records, one in the sprint and another with teammate Kate O’Brien in team sprint, and their teammates set a third record in women’s team pursuit.
In the pool, seven Pan Am swimming records were broken, including two by the nation’s best distance man in Ryan Cochrane, a medal favourite in 1,500 freestyle for Rio.
In some cases, athletes who won medals at the Pan Ams have already gone on to do bigger things.
On Saturday in Kazan, Russia, Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware won a silver medal at the world championships in three-metre synchronized diving and earned an Olympic berth for Canada in the process.
In London at the Diamond League
“There was lot more competition than you’ve ever seen at the Pan Ams before.” PETER ERIKSSON ATHLETICS CANADA
meet just days after winning the gold medal in pole vault at the Pan Ams, Shawn Barber jumped 5.93 metres, breaking his Canadian record and cementing himself as the secondbest pole vaulter in the world behind the current world record holder, France’s Renaud Lavillenie.
There has been plenty of talk about the physical legacy of these Games, leaving behind world-class facilities for athletes to train in and, for some of them, that’s the first time they’ve ever had that.
But athletes who are able to use their success here as a springboard for greater success are part of the more immeasurable emotional legacy of the Games.
The 2011 Pan Ams were special for Mandy Bujold, as it marked the debut of women’s boxing at a major games. She was in the first fight there and left with a gold medal.
“I wasn’t sure how these Games were going to turn out because of all the talk before they started,” she said, referring to everything from traffic woes to poor ticket sales.
“When I got there and saw how amazing the crowds were and how they were behind us — even if they didn’t know much about boxing they were cheering for us,” she said. “Every time I went out in the stadium I felt proud to be Canadian.”
Throughout the Pan Ams, pride and inspiration went both ways between athletes and spectators.
Canadian race walker Evan Dunfee was watching track a couple days after he won a gold medal and a 13- year-old sprinter struck up a conversation with him. “Do you have your medal?” He pulled the gold medal out, she looked at it and then looked at him.
“I’ll get mine in four years.”