The Parapan Ams wrapped up Saturday after eight days of competition and hundreds of medals awarded. Here are the some of best and worst moments from the games.
Canada’s medal haul
Team Canada came into the Games hoping for a third-place finish in the medal count after coming in eighth at the 2011 Parapans. They did one better, finishing second with 168 medals, behind Brazil with 257 and above the third-place U.S., which had 135. The team coming into Toronto was bigger: 216 athletes named at the outset, versus 130 four years ago. The corresponding haul was bigger, too. Much like the Pan Am team, para-athletes beat the previous medal count of 63 handily.
Before the Parapan Am Games began, organizers gathered the volunteers to say thanks for their Pan Am work and continued dedication. Anyone who has been near these orange-shirted balls of energy knows they have super-humanly high levels of enthusiasm. That positivity was on full display during the appreciation event, when volunteers jumped into the reflecting pond at Nathan Phillips Square to sing, sign, and splash along to Games anthem “Together We Are One.” As the song played for the third time that day, and the millionth time that Games, one volunteer could be heard exclaiming, “Oh, I love this song!” These are the people that transfer Pachi’s energy into a human comestible. Organizers should thank them eternally for keeping spirits up.
Inspiring the next generation of para-athletes
Team Canada chef de mission Elisabeth Walker-Young watched as a boy cheered on athletes from the accessible seating at York’s athletics stadium Thursday. As her team approached its goal of a top-three finish, the sight of that fan was all she needed to see.
“Maybe he’s going to be inspired to try out paralympic sport, and I think that’s as important as reaching our top three goal, is having young Canadians who are sick in a hospital or newly injured see that there is an outlet for them to be physically active and participate,” she said.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation took the opportunity to host a running and mobility clinic, where Parapan Am athletes helped kids learn to run on new prosthetics.
Focus on accessibility
An influx of athletes and other visitors with disabilities put accessibility issues top of mind for the week. Ryerson University student Maayan Ziv launched Access Now, a web-based app for crowdsourcing accessible spots around town, to correspond with the Games. “A lot of people are coming to Toronto, and they will be looking for accessible places to eat, things to do, or just go out,” she told the Toronto Star.
The focus on accessibility extended to a handful of the city’s tourist attractions. The CN Tower launched a wheelchair-accessible EdgeWalk on Aug. 7 in tandem with the Games. And the Ontario Celebration Zone, an ongoing festival at Harbourfront Centre associated with the Games, offered an accessible zipline ride.
New venues built for the Games, including the athletes’ village and the aquatics centre at Scarborough’s University of Toronto campus, were designed with accessibility in mind, organizers said, and followed International Paralympic Committee standards, building codes and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
“Wherever possible, the most stringent requirements were applied in the design of our venues,” said Kristina Molloy, TO2015’s director for Parapan planning and integration.
“The best part about it, to me, is that the accessibility of the facility is invisible. So when a venue is designed well for accessible it means that it’s a seamless experience for everyone, whether they have a disability or not,” she said.
In practice, the Games were not quite a seamless experience for athletes and spectators.
Athletes reported the athletes’ village was lacking in braille signs for the visually impaired.
Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky commended the organizers for “a number of good accessibility features,” including live audio description, as he took in the ceremonies, wheelchair basketball and goalball. But the service was not well-publicized, he said.
“There were also some real accessibility deficiencies, which were obvious and should have been prevented,” he said in an email. The website and iPhone app were not accessible to him as a blind person. “I had to get sighted people to buy my tickets for me,” he said.
Whereas the Pan Am Games were able to build momentum and eventually sell more than one million of the 1.2 million available tickets, the Parapans were a tougher sell. With only three days left to go in the Games, organizers said less than 85,000 tickets of 200,000 available had been sold.
Walker-Young concedes the athletes would have liked to see bigger crowds, but there’s still time to build Canadian support for para-sport, especially if Toronto bids for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“It could be Canadians don’t know necessarily how high-performance, how elite, how strong our athletes are — all of the athletes,” she said. “Because when you see them in action and you hear the crash and the bang and the whistles blowing, you get hooked.”
Sexual harassment lawsuit
A lawsuit filed Thursday accused TO2015 chair David Peterson of sexual harassment. The accuser, Ximena Morris, was working for the organizing committee when, she alleges in her statement of claim, Peterson made repeated sexually tinged comments and invaded her personal space with an unwanted hug. She also accused senior managers, including CEO Saad Rafi, of urging her to “let it roll off your back,” according to Morris’ statement of claim. In an emailed statement, Peterson called the allegations “wild and untrue.” None of the allegations has been tested in court.