TORONTO — Curt Harnett’s voice was raspy, so he was trying to take it easy over the weekend. He hiked up and down the stairs at Varsity Stadium, tossing pins into the crowd at the Pan American Games archery competition, in between waving a huge Canadian flag.
But Canada’s chef de mission — and the team’s head cheerleader — was otherwise keeping quiet.
“Still able to talk (barely), which is a good thing,” Harnett said. “I hit it hard. Of course water polo started on the Wednesday before the opening ceremonies, and I kind of maybe overdid it a little bit.
“I’ve had a couple of days where I’ve tried to stay quiet, and the crowd’s doing their job. But I can’t contain myself, I’m emotionally invested in all of this, the success of our athletes is important to me as a person, it’s a sense of pride that I can’t seem to shake.”
A little over a week into the Pan American Games, there has been plenty of reason to be proud and vocal.
Canada topped the medal table through most of Week 1 before falling to second Saturday night. The United States leads with 59 gold and 160 total medals.
But Canada stayed with the U.S. in the gold medal standings. The host nation boosted its gold-medal total to 54 on Sunday, capping Day 9 with a wild 7-6, 10-inning win over the United States in the men’s baseball final.
Canada’s defence of its 2011 baseball title looked in doubt as it trailed 6-4 heading into the bottom of the 10th. That’s when the Americans completely collapsed.
U.S. pitcher David Huff tried to pick off Canada’s Pete Orr at first base, but his throw went into right field to score Skyler Stromsmoe. The U.S. right-fielder’s throw to third then went wide, allowing Orr to score the winning run as the Canadians beat the Americans for Pan Am gold for the second straight Games.
In all Canada won 16 medals Sunday to sit second overall with 142 (54 gold, 48 silver, 40 bronze).
Evan Dunfee started things off with gold in the men’s 20-kilometre race walk. His teammate Inaki Gomez captured the silver.
Canada had another 1-2 finish in the women’s track cycling sprint, with Monique Sullivan defeating fellow Calgary cyclist Kate O’Brien in the final. Canada finished the day with five total medals in track cycling, while Sullivan became the first Canadian cyclist to win three gold medals at a Pan Am competition.
“That’s pretty cool, I didn’t even know that,” Sullivan said of her historic achievement. “Canada has had a pretty strong history in sprinting in general and those people did it more as individuals who stood up and stood out.
“Now we’re showing a program where we’re doing it together and it’s a group effort so hopefully we’ll see more consistency.”
Jazmyne Denhollander paddled to gold in the women’s K1 whitewater kayak, leading a four-medal day for Canada in canoeing and kayaking slalom events.
Olympic champion Rosie MacLennan defended her Pan Am title in women’s trampoline, with Canadian teammate Karen Cockburn winning bronze. Canada swept the golds when Red Deer’s Keegan Soehn won the men’s competition.
“There’s been a lot of lead-up to this. Everyone knew I was defending champion, so I really wanted put on a good show and I ended up pulling it off,” said Soehn, 22. “The home crowd was fantastic. It felt like I could do no wrong when I hopped up on the tramp.”
Canada will get the chance to try for at least one more gold on Monday. Canada’s women’s basketball team routed Brazil 91-63 Sunday to set up a gold-medal showdown with the Americans.
The Canadians, who came in with a goal of a top-two finish, have never won the Pan Am Games. Canada’s best finish was second in Winnipeg in 1967. But as the host country, Canada compiled its largest — and arguably strongest — team ever, of 719 athletes, and the results are showing.
“The performance of the team is on par with what our targets were. . . and of course knowing that, with the number of athletes that we were bringing, specifically A-team athletes, that performance on the field of play would be top shelf and put them on the podium,” said Harnett, a three-time Olympic medallist in track cycling.
“I think the more exciting thing is the athletes who have risen to the occasion, have taken advantage of the home court, homefield advantage and the home crowd, and raised their game, and captured gold medals,” he added. “So it’s a great combination.”
Canada’s women’s K-4 kayak team of Michelle Russell, Emilie Fournel, KC Fraser and Hannah Vaughan got the parade to the podium going, winning gold on the morning of Day 1.
Numerous memorable performances followed, including:
— Double gold by the men’s and women’s rugby sevens teams. Women’s rugby made its Pan Am debut, and Canada made history in commanding fashion, crushing its opposition 285-19 through six games, and demolishing the U.S. 55-7 in the final. The men clawed their way to a 22-19 win over Argentina.
— Five medals (three gold, a silver and bronze) for Ellie Black, a 19-year-old gymnast from Halifax.
— A one-two finish in women’s mountain biking. Canada’s Emily Batty and Catharine Pendrel pulled away from the pack in what essentially was a two-woman race. Batty, from Brooklin, Ont., won the gold, while Pendrel, from Harvey Station, N.B., claimed silver.
— A Rio Olympic spot secured. Jacqueline Simoneau of Saint-Laurent, Que., and Karine Thomas of Gatineau, Que., dominated the synchronized swimming duet, to win gold and clinch an Olympic berth. The two added another gold when Canada captured the team event.
— A Canadian swim team that raked in 27 medals including eight gold. Victoria’s Ryan Cochrane and Winnipeg’s Chantal Van Landeghem were double gold medallists and 17-year-old Emily Overholt of West Vancouver, B.C., collected one medal of every colour.
Heading into Week 2, Canada can expect many more medals, especially in track and field — based both on the sheer number of medals available and the strength of the squad.
Andre De Grasse, a 20-year-old who won both the 100 and 200 metres at the NCAA championships in stunning fashion, headlines a Canadian team that has numerous top-ranked athletes.
For Harnett, the victories won’t have simply been about the interrupted march to the medal podium, but also the intangibles — the energy and enthusiasm of a Canadian team competing at home, some for the first time.
“The energy in the (athletes) village and the energy is really really significant,” Harnett said. “Just the other day, Ellie Black is walking out of the village and some of the track athletes are coming in and there’s a high-five exchange going on. There’s this collective energy.
“Ellie is high off the five medals she won in gymnastics and these athletes had been watching that on television, and following it through social media and they’re coming in with this energy that keeps us all going. And that’s really what’s exciting about what’s happening here and the overall attitude and spirit of this team.”
And despite dire predictions that Toronto wouldn’t embrace the Games, fans are showing up, most venues are crowded, many are sold out.
Harnett is happy.
“It’s like throwing a 50th birthday party, and sending out 85 invitations, and then waiting to see if anyone turns up,” said Harnett, who turned 50 recently.
They showed up.