Toronto Star's View: Parapan athletes did Canada...
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Aug 15, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Toronto Star's View: Parapan athletes did Canada proud

Toronto’s Parapan Am Games completed the Pan Am success


A few years ago 19-year-old para-swimmer Aurelie Rivard would get panic attacks before a meet and throw up on the pool deck. Then, at just 16, the athlete from St. Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec emerged as a rising star at the 2012 London Paralympics, where she won silver.

That marked her as an athlete to watch at Toronto’s Parapan Am Games. And she didn’t disappoint. By Thursday, long before the games closed on Saturday, Rivard’s medal haul included a stunning five golds and a silver. That feat could set her up to be the biggest individual gold medal winner of the Parapan games — depending on her final performance before the end of the games.

Rivard’s success, in fact, reflected that of the country’s entire Parapan team. By Friday Canada was still in a surprising second place finish behind Brazil and ahead of the United States in the overall medal count, and expected to hold that place. That surpassed the goal the Canadian team had set itself for the games: to finish third, up from their fifth-place finish at the last Parapan Am games in 2011.

The surprise medal count was an impressive achievement at what were the largest Parapan games ever held, with more than 1,600 athletes from 28 countries competing in 15 events.

Part of the reason for the successful medal count was that Canada’s contingent of 216 athletes was 60-per-cent larger than the 133 competitors it sent to the last Parapan games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Organizers expected that to translate into more medals, and more interest. And indeed it did.

There were many awesome performances that ramped up excitement about the Parapans. Among them was Wednesday’s well-attended bang-’em-up wheelchair rugby (aka: murderball) game, with star performer Zak Madell. With just six seconds on the clock the Canadians tied the game 51-51 against their American rivals. That forced three minutes of overtime, which tied at 55-55, requiring yet another period. In the end, the Americans won by a single point: 60-59.

And in the pool, Canada was expected to win between 80 and 85 medals. Among Rivard’s gold-winning female teammates were Tess Routliffe of Caledon, Ont., and Morgan Bird of Calgary.

Outside the pool, Michelle Stilwell, a cabinet minister in B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s Liberal government, created excitement by blazing her way to gold ahead of American Kerry Morgan in the 100-metre wheelchair race.

The games aren’t over. Key events still to come include the popular wheelchair basketball. And, of course, the free closing ceremonies at Nathan Phillips Square.

In the end, Toronto’s Parapan games weren’t just bigger and better than their predecessors. They drew more interest, with many sports attracting sellout crowds. Many more watched the games on CBC’s broadcasts and live streaming, with more than five million tuning in to watch Parapan Am coverage on the opening weekend alone.

In short, the Parapan games are finally being noticed for what they are: a celebration of feats of athleticism every bit as amazing as those at the Pan Am Games.

Canada’s Parapan athletes did the country proud. While the Pan Am Games showed Toronto is fully capable of hosting the 2024 Olympic Games, the Parapan games put the icing on the cake for any bid the city might choose to make.

Toronto Star

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