When Chantal Van Landeghem’s long reach just touched the wall a fraction of a second ahead of American Natalie Coughlin, the race favourite, it was more than Canadian pride that burst through Scarborough’s Aquatic Centre in the first night of swimming at the Pan Am Games.
It was a jolt of confidence that reverberated through the team and set off a tidal wave of Canadian medals — six in six races. Three gold, two silver, one bronze.
“It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced, just because it was on home soil in Canada,” said Van Landgeghem, a Winnipeg native. “Seeing that flag raised, I was overcome with so much pride. I love this country.
“This is something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
While the sold-out, low-ceilinged aquatic centre seemed to shake from the cheering over the final few metres, Van Landeghem needed every inch of the wingspan that comes with her 6-foot-3 frame — she towers over the rest of the swimmers — to out-touch Coughlin in a Pan Am and Canadian record time of 53.83.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said Van Landeghem, who ended the night a double-gold medallist. “The crowd was amazing. The energy was palpable. They really helped push through that race. It was unlike anything I’ve ever heard or seen in my life.”
It wasn’t just that Van Landeghem won the evening’s first race that inspired her teammates. It was that she beat Coughlin, a 12-time Olympic medallist. The Americans might not have sent their best team overall, but their team is good and Coughlin is a force.
“It means the world,” said Kenora’s Santo Condorelli, who earned two silvers for his night’s performance. “First day and we all medal in each event. I don’t think we could ask for a better start.
“And it all started with Chantal, coming home and beating Natalie Coughlin,” he added. “We were watching in the waiting room and to see her touch everybody out. We were super psyched. It helped us out. Every event following that, we were rolling and rolling and rolling. You couldn’t stop us.”
Basically, every time you turned around, a Canadian was doing something amazing in the pool. Not just winning medals, but setting Pan Am and Canadian records.
Van Landeghem — in her first multi-games appearance -- won her second gold in the women’s 4x100 freestyle, swimming the final leg after Sandrine Mainville of Boucherville, Que., Michelle Williams of Toronto, and Katerine Savard of Point-Rouge, Que. It was another PanAm and Canadian record: 3:36.80.
Audrey Lacroix, the longest serving member of the national swim team, won gold in the women’s 200-metre butterfly (2:07.67).
“To win in my home pool, here in Canada, is special,” said the 31-year-old Lacroix. “This is what I wanted to experience.”
The men did okay, too, led by Condorelli winning silver in the men’s 100-metre freestyle, then leading off the Canadian 4x100 men’s freestyle silver performance with Calgary’s Karl Krug, Tillsonburg’s Evan van Moerkerke and Calgary’s Yuri Kisil. Condorelli’s relay opening time of 47.98 was the fastest anyone has done that over 100 metres this year.
And Scarborough’s own Zack Chetrat won bronze in the men’s 200-metre butterfly from Lane 7 in his home pool. He set a Canadian record (1:56.90).
The crowd seemed to love every second. And the swimmers fed off that.
“The crowd is full of my family, my friends, people I train with,” said Chetrat. “Everybody I know is in the stands right now. That’s a really special feeling. Normally we go somewhere far flung. Maybe one family member comes. This is unbelievable. To see my whole family up there as I win my first international medal, it’s special.”
- This story is updated from an earlier version