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Pan Am squash triple-medalist longs for shot at Olympics

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With her three medals, Sam Cornett won the most medals out of a very well-decorated local Pan Am team. Photo: Steve Kingsman

By Dan Plouffe

Earning a prize from every event she entered, squash player Samantha Cornett was Ottawa’s most decorated athlete of the 2015 Pan Am Games with three medals. She just wishes one of them could have been gold.

“We did amazing. I wouldn’t have expected any less and we were hoping for more,” signals Cornett, who earned her final medal of the Games in the women’s team event – a silver behind USA. “It’s an overall sense of accomplishment, and a tiny little hole that I want to fill one day.”

Earlier at Exhibition Place, Cornett whipped through to the women’s singles semi-finals without dropping a set, and was perfect en route to the women’s doubles final as well, until U.S. foes took her down on both occasions.

The 24-year-old carried high expectations into Toronto 2015, and was glad to live up to her podium aspirations on multiple occasions. The hype for the Games had been building for quite some time, and Cornett had a closeup view of it while training out of the National Squash Academy at Downsview Park at the north end of Toronto.

The Pan Am Games provided a treasured opportunity to play in front of friends, family, supporters and sponsors in a big event at home, Cornett notes.

“This is when everyone that’s helped me can come see me play,” explains the Dunrobin-raised athlete who now lives with her grandparents in Toronto most of the year. “I’m really happy to have everyone that is close to me here. I wish we could have done better, but we worked really well, so I’m happy everyone could see it.”

Sam Cornett won 3 medals at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. Photo: Steve Kingsman

One person Cornett credits for much of her success is Heather Wallace – listed as Cornett’s role model in her official Games bio. Wallace, who reached the highest world ranking ever for a Canadian woman at #6 in 1993, coached Cornett through her teenage years at Queensview Goodlife.

“She always showed me how to do things really well. I never got to see her compete – I would have loved to – but she’s a warrior, and everything she does, she does well,” Cornett highlights. “When you’re 11, you don’t really realize how lucky you are. Now I’m 24, and I’m like, ‘My God, that is pretty special.’”

Another standout moment from Cornett’s Games experience came in her very first match, when International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach was present – especially noteworthy since squash is not currently on the Olympic programme but is pushing for inclusion in the 2020 Games.

Bach spoke to Cornett briefly after the match and gave her an Olympic pin.

“I said, ‘I hope I can wear this in 2020,’” recounts Cornett, now the owner of five Pan Am Games medals after adding to her Guadalajara 2011 haul.

Cornett hadn’t known Bach was in the crowd until someone whispered the news to her between the second and third sets of her match with Guatemala’s Pamela Anckermann. The Canadian champion went out and promptly whipped her opponent 11-0.

“He can come back and watch my games any time,” smiles Cornett.

Squash was one of three finalists for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics, but wrestling was instead chosen to be readmitted. Cornett would love nothing more than to get a chance to play on the world’s biggest sporting stage, and it would carry a host of other benefits, she notes, such as likely increases in funding and general participation

“That’s our dream – ask any squash player,” Cornett underlines. “That would be the pinnacle.”

This story was named the #9 moment in our list of Ottawa Athletes’ Top-10 International Multi-Sport Games Triumphs.

Follow this countdown and others in our OTTAWA SPORTS PAGES TOP-10’S FOR 10 series on our 10th Anniversary Headquarters webpage.

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