The Pan American Games should be very familiar to Winnipeggers. Our fair city has hosted he event twice, in 1967 and 1999. If you turn on the TV or read the paper, however, you would be hard pressed to find a sign of its existence.
This year, the XVI Pan American Games were held in Guadalajara, Mexico from Oct. 14-30; Canada sent 794 athletes, coaches and other support staff to the competition. This is the last high-profile event for Canadian athletes before next year’s Summer Olympics in London.
In many Canadian papers the Pan American Games have been reduced to single articles about Canadian medal winners from the previous day. There have been very few articles about specific athletes or the performance of Guadalajara as the host city. Likewise, coverage of the games on television was also lacking.
One main reason for the lack of coverage is that the Pan Am Games don’t usually attract the best athletes. Canada often sends developmental teams to the event, including this year. This is more evident because the Games are being held in October this year, which coincides with the end of the summer sports season.
Media may also be wary of travelling to Guadalajara, one of the centres of Mexico’s war on drugs. It is unfortunate because this event could be the starting point of Canadian Olympic success stories in the future.
The Pan American Games act as Olympic qualifiers for many sports. Canada and Argentina played for a direct Olympic berth and a gold medal in men’s field hockey; this year Argentina won. Athletes can also claim Olympic berths by meeting qualifying standards in sports such as track and field and swimming. Younger athletes use the Pan Am Games to gain international experience. Out of the 18 Canadian medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics, 10 were won by athletes with previous Pan Am Games medals. Therefore, success at this event can translate to Olympic success either next year in London or in 2016 in Rio.
This year’s event has seen some great stories written by Canadian athletes: The women’s 4×100-metre relay swim team wore Mexican wrestler masks before their silver-medal winning race. Dylan Armstrong, the world’s leading shot-putter, defended his Pan Am title with an event record throw. Winnipeg diver Kevin Geyson returned to the water after being hit by a car this past summer. The women’s soccer team won gold in its first major event since a disastrous World Cup last summer. The men’s baseball team also won its first-ever Pan Am Games gold medal. With baseball now excluded from the Olympics, pitcher Scott Richmond stated, “This is our Olympics.” These accomplishments should have been celebrated by Canadians, instead of being relegated to the sports briefs.
While many Canadian sports fans may not have been aware of this year’s event, they should in four years when Toronto hosts the Pan American Games in 2015.
Hopefully, the local Toronto media will also be aware.
illustration by devon kerslake