By Rob Ficiur
Three months ago a friend told me he was going to Toronto this summer, but he scheduled his trip to avoid the Pan Am games. “Oh?” I thought to myself, “are the Pan Am games this year? Are they in Toronto? Have I ever watched the Pan Am Games?” How big are the Pan American games? Turns out they are bigger than I thought. The calculated the average number of athletes attending the last four editions of four big time competitions. The averages are as follows: Summer Olympics 10,696 athletes; Pan American Games 5748; Commonwealth Games 4689 and Winter Olympics 2587. The Pan Am games are second to the Summer Olympics and have double the participants of the Winter Olympics.
The first official Pan American Games were held in Argentina in 1951. Attempts had been made in the 1930’s to set up a Pan American games to run the year before the Olympics. In 1937 Dallas held the Greater Texas and Pan American Exposition. It drew little attention and is not counted in Pan American Games history. The first Pan American Games was awarded to Argentina for 1942 but World War 2 cancelled those games.
Since 1951 the Pan American Games have been held every four years; the year before the Summer Olympic Games. Winnipeg is the only other Canadian city to host the Pan American games; in 1997 and 1967. In 1990 the first and only Winter Pan American Games was held in Argentina. When only 97 athletes from eight countries participated no attempt was made to do another Winter Pan Am games.
Canada has traditionally done well at these games. When all the years are totaled Canada ranks third in total medals with 1696; the United States is first with 4172 and Cuba second with 1932. In keeping with Olympic tradition the Paralympic version of the games will be held in Toronto later this summer. The Para-Pan games have been held after every Pan Am games since 1999. Interestingly the top medalling countries in the Para-Pan Am Games are different than the traditional games: Mexico (809 medals), Brazil (769) and Argentina (423).
The history and cumulative medal totals is not what has engaged Canadians in the last two weeks. Canadians have been engaged by on field play that draws fans to the television (if I knew what channel) or to the internet. The following are some of the events that caught my attention:
1. Men’s Gold Medal Baseball – Cuba won ten Pan Am Baseball gold medals in a row from 1971-2007. In 2011 Canada won its first baseball gold. Canada defended its Pan Am gold in an unforgettable finish this past week. With the game tied 4-4 the teams went into extra innings International Style. By these rules teams start extra innings with runners on first and second. The Americans took a 6-4 lead and were only three outs away from Gold going into the bottom of the tenth.
With the Americans up 7-6 and runners on first and second, American pitcher David Huff tried to pick off Pete Orr at first base, but his throw went into right field. Skyler Stromsmoe of Etzikom (see front page of last week’s commentator) scored to tie the game. On that same play the USA right-fielder threw the ball to third base. The throw was off base and Pete Orr ran into score the winning run. Watch the video clip on You Tube! I have never seen a critical game decided in such a bizarre manner. As you were watching the Canadians celebrate their gold medal at home plate, I felt bad for the Americans (a little).
If you missed watching the Gold Medal baseball game live, you are not alone. Only in Cuba could anyone watch the game on live TV. The CBC blames the Pan Am organizers for restricting what they can broadcast. Whatever the rules are someone dropped the ball in thinking what sports fans might want to watch.
2. In the Men’s basketball semi-final the Canadians upset the Americans in overtime. Eighteen year old Jamal Murray scored all of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He hit a 3 point shot to tie the game. His three pointer was the margin of victory in overtime. It was the first time that Canada has beaten the USA in a major basketball tournament. The next day the Canadians lost the Gold Medal game to Brazil; but this silver medal looks gold to most fans.
3. Sprinter Anthony De Grasse won Gold in the 200 meter and the 100 meter dash. De Grasse is what the Pan Am games should be about. Most of us never heard of him. Now, a year before the summer Olympics, we get to know someone who could become a big story in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Canada finished second in total medals (214) to the USA (261) and second in Gold (77) to the United States (102). As always the numbers only begin to tell you the story. You Tube re-runs of the baseball, basketball, sprinting; these three are just as exciting to watch over and over even when you know the final outcome.