There will be questions on end about costs and disruptions.
Did the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games pave the way for a successful Olympics bid or create a needless financial burden?
But there’s one lasting element of the Games that is doubtlessly positive and true: they left Toronto and surrounding regions with a legacy of infrastructure that will help young athletes for generations to come.
The Toronto Star spoke with five young people who will be among the first to benefit from some of the new facilities as they train their way into the top tiers of their chosen sports.
And they’re as delighted with their new digs as they are dedicated to their athletic callings.
A one-stop diving shop
Athlete: Victor Povzner
Venue: Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House (Scarborough)
Cost: $205 million
For two summers running, rising Canadian star Victor Povzner has had to travel to Quebec City to train for the national championships.
The only facility in the GTA remotely comparable to the new aquatic centre was located at the Etobicoke Olympium, and that one was closed due to construction and Pan Am-related events.
And so, among the most important things the new Scarborough aquatic centre will offer the 13-year-old athlete from Maple, Ont., is simply access to a world-class facility at his doorstep.
“It means a lot because at the moment, in the GTA, there’s not that many places that allow you to do actual diving rather than just recreationally playing around in the pool,” Povzner says.
“We always had to move around to look for pools that actually allowed you to do diving.”
The new Pan Am pool, with multiple boards and platforms, provides a “one-stop shopping” facility for young divers, says Povzner, who has already brought home a national junior championship on the one-metre springboard.
That training will also be more diversified, with the new venue offering top-notch weight rooms and other dry-land facilities in the adjoining field house.
“I’ve talked to a few coaches who work with Olympic-level athletes and they say that those athletes do more dry-land practice than actual in-water practice,” he says.
Povzner himself has Olympic ambitions and says the top-level divers the new facility will attract for training and competition will inspire him to better performances.
Indeed, several top divers from across the province have already said they’ll relocate to the Pan Am pool to take advantage of its facilities and a program that will be run by a national team coach.
“Training with top athletes makes me better because then you have something to look up to and say, ‘You know what, I want to be like that soon,’” Povzner says.
Having already used the pool before the Games, Povzner says he also pushes himself to dive up to the facility’s world-class quality.
“When I go to my little Markham pool — I usually train there — it kind of makes me feel like, ‘Well, this seems a little desperate.’”
Following in her heroes’ footsteps
Athlete: Xahria Santiago
Venue: Pan Am/Parapan Am Athletics Stadium (York University)
Cost: $45 million (contractor asking for an undisclosed additional amount)
Xahria Santiago worries that her interview answers may be a little incoherent.
After flying in the previous night from a meet in Colombia, the 15-year-old Ajax athlete was slow getting out of bed in the morning.
And slow just isn’t in her genes.
Already among the nation’s top teenage hurdlers, Santiago collected silver in the women’s 400-metre event at the IAAF World Youth Championships with a personal best of 56.79 seconds — a Canadian record in her age group.
“I know I can do better,” says Santiago, whose parents were high school sprinters.
That confidence, she says, has been bolstered by the opportunity she’ll now have to train at the top-calibre athletics facility that the Pan Am Games have bestowed on the region.
The York University stadium — home to the Games’ track and field events and site of the Parapan Am opening ceremonies — provides the best amenities a budding track star could hope for and a significant upgrade on what she’s been accustomed to, Santiago says.
“I think being able to practise at a facility like that, with everything I need to improve my times, is going to benefit my hurdling skills,” she says.
That the facility will have the prestigious Pan Am imprimatur of star athletes such as Markham sprinter Andre De Grasse — her hero — will also make it a place of athletic inspiration for Santiago.
“It’s definitely going to inspire me to live up to their runs,” she says.
Santiago had done most of her outdoor training at Bill Crothers Secondary School in Unionville.
And while it provided fine hurdling equipment, the high school can’t come close to the new facility at York, she says.
The new stadium will have 5,000 permanent and temporary seats, a 400-metre track, change rooms and classroom space. It sits next to the pre-existing indoor Toronto Track and Field Centre.
“It’s definitely going to be a big change,” Santiago says. “The new track will have a faster surface. I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
Athlete: Curtis Krey
Sport: BMX cycling
Venue: Centennial Park Pan Am BMX Centre
Cost: $4 million
Within months of losing his training wheels, Curtis Krey was cobbling driveway ramps out of bricks and boards and launching his bike into flight.
He’d just turned 3.
“We knew there was something clicking,” recalls his mother, Barbara Langenberger.
A year later, Krey was tooling around a Milton BMX track — developing a derring-do deftness that has already earned him two national titles in his age group in the kamikaze sport.
So Krey, now 12, sees the new Pan Am BMX facility in Etobicoke, just minutes from his home, as both an inspiration and a big-air launching pad for his future career.
“It’s a really tough track to ride, so when I train on that track it’s going to make me train harder,” says Krey, who’s earned the handle “Crusher” on the junior BMX circuits.
He says he’ll also draw spark from the lingering Pan Am sizzle of his hero, Canadian Tory Nyhaug, who took gold at the venue during the Games.
“When I ride on that track, it will make me feel like I can be like him when I grow up.”
Crusher, 100 pounds wet, is also itching to move up from the facility’s junior track to itsprofessional track, with its more challenging starts and course setups.
“I’m kind of a crazy person, so I like to do these big jumps and see people’s reactions,” Krey says of the nine- and 12-metre jumps that await him on the big-boy runs.
He also looks forward to the facility’s wider tracks, which offer room for multiple riders, flying side by side, in training and race situations.
“When I ride with other people, it pushes me to go faster,” he says. “And if I see other riders doing it, I’ll just want to go after them and try what they’re doing.”
Krey says the quality of those riders will also improve because of the Pan Am track, which is slated to attract national and international competition, such as Canada Cups, over coming BMX seasons.
“There are kids that are so fast and big out there from across Canada, so when I grow, I’m just going to be flying.”
Athlete: Sam Abbott-Tate
Venue: Welland Pan Am Flatwater Centre
Cost: $10 million
Sam Abbott-Tate wanted to follow his parents into the churnof whitewater kayaking.
But with no navigable whitewater anywhere near his home in Pelham, Ont., he chose the placid flatwater course just down the road in Welland.
Three years later, that course and Abbott-Tate have both improved immensely.
“I’ve progressed drastically every year,” says the 16-year-old, whose main training will now be conducted at the Welland site, which was completely overhauled for the Games. “The new course is going to help me a lot, because it’s such a state-of-the-art facility.”
Not only does the course offer some of the best paddling water in Canada, but Abbott-Tate says its new dry-land equipment will allow him to train year-round.
“We used to have to shut it down and head into the gym for the winter,” he says.
The new facility has an indoor tank, with water flowing through.
“It’s like representing the exact same motions and we’re still on the water, even though it’s in the tank.”
Abbott-Tate watched the top competitors race in Welland during the Games.
“Being able to see all these great athletes has just inspired me so much,” he says. “It’s just given me so much confidence and showed me what I can become.”
Abbott-Tate was also able to get in some training on the course during the Games, alongside the Pan Am athletes before and after events.
“And I’d go watch them after the practices.”
On the fast track
Athlete: Ali van Yzendoorn
Venue: Milton Pan Am/Parapan Am Velodrome
Cost: $56 million
She was riding a borrowed bike when she discovered her talent and passion.
Always athletic, Orillia’s Ali van Yzendoorn was training for triathlons in 2013 and unexpectedly fell in love with the second of the race’s three legs.
“There was a (bike shop owner) in the Lindsay area who had lent her a bike for the cycling part of a triathlon,” says her mother, Sue van Yzendoorn. “And then he saw her time and he said, ‘I think you have something here.’”
By any measure, she did.
Just two years into a cycling career that still flummoxes both her parents, Ali has already claimed a national youth title in team pursuit track racing. And the 16-year-old says the new facility will help her cycling improve immensely — first and foremost by its proximity to her home.
A 90-minute drive away, the Milton facility cuts her travel time in half compared to the banked track in London, Ont., where she used to train two to three times a week.
“And it’s nice having Milton in a central region for a lot of different people,” she says. “There is such a great cycling community that it can serve.”
Unlike the London facility, Milton’s velodrome also features an Olympic-sized track, something that the young racer says is crucial to international success. “All the bigger races, that’s what it is.”
Van Yzendoorn says training on a track that featured some of the athletes she’ll pursue in the near future also gives her a heightened incentive.
“It just reminds me that I’m not that far away from them; if I just keep going, I can be there one day,” she says.
Off-track facilities at the velodrome, including weight rooms and classroom space, will also help, says van Yzendoorn, who is entering Grade 11.
“Sometimes my coach will take my team into the classroom where we can learn about nutrition and the other fitness aspects, like the cross-training of track,” she says.
“And that’s definitely really helpful. The whole (facility) has changed everything.”