Curt Harnett took to the stage at Canada House, just as he has every other 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, he’s been doing this for 16 days, got raspier still.
“I love it when it gets crowded up here,” said the 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 217 medals, including 78 gold ones. That’s nearly 100 more medals than Canadians won at the last Pan Ams and the nation finished on target, in second place behind the US in the medal count.
There was so much success at these games that gold medals became the new normal for Canadian fans. That’s a monumental shift. The last time the public paid this much attention to these sports was at the 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 came from sending the biggest team of athletes ever assembled for anything, 715 of them, including the nation’s best in most sports.
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 the very best athletes.
That’s why no one is expecting anything close to this sort of medal haul at upcoming world championships or the 2016 Rio Olympics.
To put things in perspective, team Canada’s goal here was to finish top 2; for Rio it’s top 12.
Another digit, that’s what gets added when 100 other nations, including all of Europe, Asia and Africa get added to the mix.
In athletics, Canada won 26 medals, including 11 gold at the Pan Ams.
“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 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 that 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 multi-sports games, on home soil, is an experience that should pay dividends in Rio.
Sprinter Andre De Grasse—who won gold medals in 100m and 200m—shattered his own record by being the first Canadian man to ever run a sub 20-second 200m, with his 19.88 time.
He’s ranked third in the world in that distance this year and he beat the guy ranked second, Jamaica’s Rasheed Dwyer, here at the Pan Ams.
“There was lot more competition than you’ve ever seen at the Pan Ams before,” Eriksson said. “There were no easy events.”
That’s why so many Pan Am records were broken here, including a dozen by Canadians.
Damian Warner set a new 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 distance man Ryan Cochrane, a medal favourite in 1500m freestyle for Rio.
In some cases, athletes who won medals at the Pan Ams have already gone on to do bigger and better 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 London, 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 second best pole vaulter in the world, behind the current world record holder, France’s Renaud Lavillenie.
There’s been lots 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. And the Toronto region now has the facilities to host international competitions in everything from swimming and diving to track cycling and shooting, which wasn’t the case before.
But athletes who are able to use their success here as a springboard for greater success is part of the more immeasurable emotional legacy of the games.
“I really do think that our athletes will go towards Rio with a different attitude, a different energy,” Harnett said.
The 2011 Pan Ams were special for Mandy Bujold as it marked the debut of women’s boxing in a major games. She was in the first fight there and left with a gold medal. That’s hard to top.
“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 games, pride and inspiration when both ways between athletes and spectators.
Evan Dunfee was watching track a couple days after he won a gold medal in race walk and a 13-year-old sprinter struck up a conversation with him.
“Do you have your medal?” she asked.
He pulled it out. She looked at it and then looked at him.
“I’ll get mine in four years.”