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Archive for July, 2015

Hi everyone:

As I write this blog entry it’s July 2015 and my home region is getting ready to host one of the world’s great sporting events, the 2015 Pan Am Games. Not familiar with this one? No problem. In fact, I dare say that The Pan American Games are one of those events that are not on the radar for most people in these parts. More about that later on in this article. Allow me to come to the rescue and spend a few minutes today offering some information about this unique event. As an aside, I am aiming to publish this in time for the the Opening Ceremonies on July 10, so don’t be surprised if this whole thing is revised and updated over time, especially if you are reading this after the Games conclude on July 26.

The Pan American Games are the third largest multi-sport event in the world, surpassed only by the Summer and Winter Olympics. There seems to be some dispute about how they came to be and when. A couple of Web sites note that it can be traced back to the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, when some Latin American delegates of the International Olympic Committee suggested that a multi-sport competition modelled on the Olympics, but only for the Americas, take place.  Others go back even further. For example, the official Pan American Games Web site notes that in fact the idea first came to light at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, when representatives from Cuba, Guatemala and Mexico suggested that a similar multi-sport event aimed at the countries of Central America take place. This idea became reality when the Central American Games were held in Mexico City in 1926.

In spite of the above, however, it seems that the first push for what we now know as the Pan American Games actually did happen at those 1932 Games in Los Angeles and this is indeed mentioned if you look at the History page on the official Pan American Games Web site. This led to the first such competition to which all IOC member nations from the Americas were invited, which was held in Dallas in 1937. In spite of their good intentions it seems that it generated little interest. Undeterred by this, the first Pan American Sports Congress (the forerunner of today’s Pan American Sports Organization – PASO – the people who run the Games) was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in August 1940 with a view to trying it again in the Argentinian capital in 1942. But World War 2 got in the way and plans had to be abandoned. At the 1948 London Summer Olympics, it was decided to make another attempt and this time it worked. The first Pan American Games were held in Buenos Aires in 1951 and were considered a success. Four years later in 1955, Mexico City served as the host city, and they have continued to be held every four years since that time. Toronto 2015 marks the 17th edition of the Games. The next Games will be held in Lima, Peru in the summer of 2019.

In many ways, the Pan Am Games take their cue from the Olympics – we have already seen this many times here and will continue for the rest of this article. For example, the Pan Ams are held every four years in the summer just before the Olympics. Which is appropriate, because the best way to define the Games is to say that they are the Olympics for the Americas (aka the Western Hemisphere). In total, 41 nations representing all of North, Central and South America, along with the Caribbean islands, take part. More about that later on in this entry. To be more specific, something like 6,000 athletes will compete in 36 sports, covering 40 disciplines and 825 events during the 2015 Games, being contested at 30 different venues in 18 cities and towns, not only in Toronto itself, but all across Southern Ontario.

One of the most popular sports at the Games is beach volleyball, which made its debut in 1999 in Winnipeg, the last time that Canada was the host country. The court, which is located on the grounds of Exhibition Place, not far from downtown Toronto, uses 30,000 metric tons of sand – which is heavier than the combined weight of 20 blue whales.

Golf and women’s baseball are sports making their debut at the 2015 Games. All 28 of the sports offered at the Summer Olympics are part of the regular Pan Am Games program. But you also see some sports (like bowling) that you don’t normally see at the Olympics. The general rule of thumb is that if a non-Olympic sport is well known throughout the Americas, it will be considered by the Games governing body (the Pan American Sports Organization – PASO), usually at their first meeting after the previous Games. To be included in the next Games, a sport requires a two-thirds majority vote. Some sports, surfing being one example, have never been contested at a Games.  Sambo, a martial art, was included in the 1983 Games in Caracas, Venezuela, but has not been included since.

The Games serve as a qualifier for the following year’s Summer Olympics in 19 sports. Although the Pan Am Games are sometimes frowned upon by sports fans as being a pale imitation of the Olympics, the “qualifier” concept helps ensure that many of the world’s top athletes from the Americas will attend. In spite of that, it seems that some sports federations don’t view the Games that way, which not only lessens their appeal but also means that we don’t always see the best athletes in each sport. As we mentioned earlier, this may explain why the Games do not enjoy as high a profile as they probably should, especially in North America. As an example, many media outlets (such as a New York Times article published just prior to the opening of the 2015 Toronto Games), noted that it seems that most Torontonians had little or no interest in the event.

Sad to say, but I tend to agree with this. In my experience leading up to the Games, it seemed that more people in the Toronto region were angry about the HOV special lanes reserved for Games athletes, officials and media which gummed up the highways in and around the city than cared about the events themselves. This is also borne out in a blog entry published a few days before the Games got underway Sad but true. Most people just don’t seem to care. Given that I am writing this section only a few hours before the opening ceremony, I hope that I can revise this some day with better news. We’ll see.

Canadian mining company Barrick Gold supplied the raw material for the medals that will be awarded – gold from their Ontario mines, silver from the Dominican Republic and copper from Chile. Seems that the company is rather proud of supplying the medals for the 2015 Games, they have even devoted a section of their Web site to it You can also learn more about the medals at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games by clicking on this link.

Although the Games are aimed at all of the nations of the Americas, regardless of their ethnic or cultural backgrounds, they have always had a distinctive Latin American flavour. This was evident right from the very beginning when Canada did not participate in the 1951 Games in Buenos Aires. Of the 17 editions of the Games, it has been held 8 times in North America, with 5 having been held in either Canada or the USA. In addition to the 3 times Canada has done so, the USA has hosted it twice (1959 in Chicago; 1987 in Indianapolis). Those are the only times the Games have taken place outside Latin America.

Toronto 2015 marks the 3rd time for Canada, the other 2 times were when Winnipeg hosted in 1967 and again in 1999, joining Mexico City as the only cities to host the Games twice. They have been hosted 3 times by Caribbean nations (1979 in San Juan, Puerto Rico; 1991 in Havana, Cuba; and 2003 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic).  Mexico is the only other country to have hosted 3 times. In addition to the two Mexico City Games noted above, Guadalajara hosted in 2011.

Two cities have hosted both the Olympics and the Pan Am Games. They are: Mexico City (1955 and 1975 – Pan Ams; 1968 Summer Olympics); and Rio de Janeiro (2007 Pan Ams; 2016 Summer Olympics).

We noted earlier than North America has hosted the Games 8 times, and the Caribbean has done so 3 times. The remaining 6 Games have all been hosted in South America (7 when you include Lima Peru, who will host the next edition in 2019). Argentina and Brazil have each hosted twice (the original Games in Buenos Aires in 1951 followed by Mar del Plata in 1995 for Argentina; 1963 in San Paulo and 2007 in Rio de Janeiro for Brazil); the other South American games were held in Cali, Columbia (1971) and in Caracas, Venezuela (1983).

4283 medals will be awarded in 825 events over the 17 days of the Games. If you want to know more about the medals, use some of the links provided above. This will add to the overall medal counts from the previous 16 Games, which the USA leads by a wide margin. Indeed as noted on the Wikipedia entry for the Pan American Games the USA have won more medals than the next two nations (Cuba and Canada) combined. As of the end of the 2011 Games, the USA total stands at 4172 including 1861 gold medals. Cuba is a distant second at 1932 total medals (839 gold), while Canada is in third place with 1696 medals (377 gold). If past performances are any indication, the 2015 Games may see the Americans have more gold medals than Cuba’s entire medal count.  The host Canadians will remain in third place overall – Brazil has 1066 total medals (287 gold). On the flip side of the ledger, as of the 2011 Games, only two nations (Aruba and the British Virgin Islands) have never won a Pan Am Games medal of any colour.

We have noted in a few places that 41 nations will be competing in Toronto. But if you tell me that this seems like a lot of nations in the Western Hemisphere, this is because the Pan Am Games allow some jurisdictions that would normally be considered part of another country to field their own teams. We just noted the British Virgin Islands as one example. Others include Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Bermuda.

Just as Greece always marches first in the Olympic Games parade of nations at the Opening Ceremony in tribute to the ancient Olympics, so Argentina holds a similar place at the Pan Am Games opening ceremony. As noted elsewhere in this entry, the first meeting of the Pan American Sports Organization was held in Argentina in 1942 and Buenos Aires held the first Games in 1951. After this, the other nations come into the stadium in alphabetical order according to the Spanish alphabet. The host nation comes in last, following another precedent set by the Olympic Games.

Spanish and English are considered as the official languages of the Pan Am Games – along with any other official language of the host country. This means, for example, that for the Toronto 2015 Games everything is done in French as well as in Spanish in English. The same would apply to Portuguese when the Games were held in Brazil.

Taking another cue from the Olympics, the Pan Am Games also has a flame. For the 2015 Toronto Games, a torch relay was a key element in the weeks and months prior to the event, and allowed people across Canada to see the flame for themselves. As an aside, I was there when it arrived here in Hamilton on the evening of June 21 – the welcoming event held on Hamilton’s waterfront was attended by a small, but enthusiastic crowd. For the first Games in 1951 a ceremony was held at the site of the ancient Olympic Games (Olympia, Greece). Then the flame was flown to Argentina. Ever since then, however, one of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (most often the Aztecs of Mexico) have taken this responsibility. Just as with the Olympic flame, this one is also lit from the sun’s rays at the Pyramid of the Sun at the Teotihuacan Pyramids just outside Mexico City. Following special ceremonies in which an Aztec lights the torch of the first runner, responsibility for the flame is passed to the host country, which arranges transportation from Mexico to their host city. PASO also mandates that the flame must be lit for the entire Games, in the stadium where the athletics (aka track and field)  competitions take place. In situations where the opening and closing ceremonies are held in a different location (such as Toronto 2015, where both ceremonies will be held at the the Rogers Centre, while the athletics will be held at York University), the torch will be moved between the respective locations.

There has been one Pan Am Winter Games, held in Las Lenas, Argentina in 1990. While this may seem disappointing at first glance, this was certainly not for lack of trying. When plans were underway for the first Games in Buenos Aires in 1951, the organizers had intended to hold a Winter Games later that same year. Nothing ever came of it and the plans were scrapped. Another attempt was made a few years later, when Lake Placid, New York (which had hosted the 1932 Winter Olympics and would later do it again in 1980) offered to organize a Winter Games in 1959. But just as in Argentina there was not enough interest to make it happen and the idea was shelved. In 1988, PASO really got adventurous. Not only did they award a Winter Games to Las Lenas, to be held in September 1989, but then decided that in future these Games would be held every four years.

But Las Lenas was something less than a success for a variety of reasons. First, a lack of snow that September forced a one year postponement to 1990. When they tried again, only 97 athletes from 8 countries even bothered to show up. Even more than that, 76 of them came from 3 countries: Canada, the USA and the host country of Argentina. Once again, warm weather made for unfavourable conditions, so that only three alpine skiing events (the slalom, giant slalom and the super-G) were contested. Sadly for the hosts, the Canadians and Americans won all 18 medals. Undaunted, PASO then awarded the 1993 Winter Games to Santiago, Chile. Unfortunately, this one never really got going and was eventually scrapped. A key factor was likely when the the United States Olympic Committee went on record as saying that they would only send a team if a full slate of winter events would be offered. When it became apparent that this would not happen, the Americans served notice that they would not be coming. That sealed the fate of not only the 1993 Games, but indeed the entire concept. Ever since, the Pan Ams have been a “summer-only” thing, and I suspect this won’t be changing any time soon.

As always, thanks for reading this blog entry. If you are able to read this in time for the the Toronto 2015 Games, I hope you enjoy them. And if you are reading this after the Games end on July 26, I hope it will evoke some wonderful memories of July 2015. Wishing everyone reading this the very best, until next time!

 

 

 

 

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