Pan Am Games 2015: A tough battle for second place

Dr. Antonio Becali, president of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER) of Cuba

The XVII Pan American Games in Toronto will feature a close race for second place, the chefs de missions for Cuba, Brazil and Canada confirmed on July 8.

Cuba’s INDER president Antonio Becali (pictured), Brazilian Bernard Rajzman and Canadian Curt Harnett confirmed that their three leading Pan American contenders would go all out for the position. The press conference was also attended by their U.S. counterpart.

The Games officially opened on July 10th in a sold-out ceremony held at the Sky Dome. All in all, over 7,500 athletes from 41 countries from the Americas and the Caribbean are participating in the XVII Pan American Games.

“For Cuba it is important to maintain the second place status held since Cali 1971, and to that aim we have executed well-conceived preparations, of which the Central American Games in Veracruz were of vital importance,” said Becali, speaking about the goals on the road to the Toronto games.

Cuba is bringing to the games a delegation of 459 athletes, under 25 years old on average, and which was described by its director as a mixture of young and experienced, with 36.8 per cent being prior champions.

Due to the U.S. blockade, Cuba is not able to compete in all 48 sports and must concentrate on excellence in particular fields. In the Pan American Games, this means Cuba strives for second place which it has consistently won, as it cannot field competitors in many sports in which expensive imported equipment and facilities are key.

Because of the U.S. blockade, Cuba has faced difficulties on a daily basis in obtaining standard brand sports equipment manufactured by U.S. companies, many of which are mandatory according to the official regulations of international sports federations, and participating in sports-related scientific activities and exchange. Just to attend international events and competitions is made more difficult by the blockade’s extra-territorial effects on international organizations.

Even before the Games opened, Cuba had already made a significant contribution to the international festival of sport and culture hosted by Toronto and Southern Ontario. It is the only team with its own blog, and a lively, popular and informative one at that – in three languages, English, French and Spanish.

Rajzman said the Brazilian delegation is the largest they have ever sent with 590 competitors, and that Brazil has its sights on one of the leading positions as a reward for these efforts.

“Without ambition we would not win anything, and I am sure that all three countries be doing their best,” confirmed the former Olympic volleyball team member.

“They’re not all top-notch athletes, but we are bringing very good competitors and we have worked very hard. We brought in nearly 50 foreign coaches and we expect a major improvement in the results,” he added after affirming they will try exceed the total of 140 medals Brazil won in Guadalajara 2011.

Harnett, representing Canada was emphatic in saying that it is “now or never” for the Canadians, and characterized their “pride and commitment” in bearing the maple leaf on their uniforms and knowing they are supported by the fans at each venue.

The Canadian team consists of a record 717 athletes, the largest ever fielded in an international competition – about 200 more than competed at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, where it had both the fourth-most golds (42) and medals (133).

Its medal goal would represent a big improvement from the 2011 Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, where Canada finished fifth in total medals with 119. Canada finished second in the medal standings in 1967, when Winnipeg played host.

The United States, recognized by all as the the undisputed Pan Am winner, acknowledged the event’s importance leading up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, and assured that their athletes will achieve great things and have the opportunity to prove themselves in high level competition.

The press conference also gave recognition to some of the outstanding performers from all four teams, during which Cuba’s baseball tradition was recognized, along with its strength in combat sports, athletics, canoeing and rowing.

Good luck to all athletes!

With a file from Cuba Pan Am 2015

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