By Martin Cleary
Canada. United States.
All you have to do is mention the names of those two countries in a sporting context and the rivalry machinery springs into action.
The blood pressure starts to rise. Beads of perspiration begin to show on the forehead. You’re sitting on a chair, but you’re only using the edge of it.
The cross-border competition/tension was clearly evident on the final Saturday of the Pan-Am Games, which officially closed Sunday in Santiago, Chile.
After two weeks of competition in 423 medal events across 39 sports and 61 disciplines, Canada finished fourth in the official medal standings (based on gold medals) and third overall (based on all medals) – 46 gold, 55 silver and 63 bronze medals for a 164 total.
The United States owned the Games with 286 medals based on 124 gold, 75 silver and 87 bronze. Brazil was second at 66-73-66-205 and Mexico finished third at 52-38-52-142.
For the sake of democracy and international relations, Canada and the U.S. split their four team matches, although the Canadian athletes would have preferred a four-match sweep for double gold instead of double silver.
The Americans won the two most important matches, capturing the gold-medal finals in women’s rugby 7s and women’s water polo, while the Canadians won the men’s rugby 7s bronze-medal game and the men’s table tennis team event semifinal to advance to the final, which eventually produced a silver medal.
On the final two days of the Pan-Am Games, Ottawa and area athletes collected three silver and two bronze medals and finished the multi-sport competition with two gold, seven silver and nine bronze medals.
Canada was in the driver’s seat for the women’s rugby 7s gold medal with less than three minutes remaining in the final and leading 12-7. But the Americans scored two trys in the final 125 seconds and converted one to earn a 19-12 victory.
The final American try by Naya Tapper came with two seconds remaining. Canada scored the opening try in the first half to move ahead 5-0, but trailed 7-5 at halftime. Canada again opened the scoring in the second half with a converted try and earned the lead for the last time at 12-7.
Piper Logan scored both trys for Canada and Charity Williams added one convert.
“I’m a little disappointed for the loss,” Ottawa’s Olivia De Couvreur told High Achievers. “But there’s a lot to build on. It was tough to witness (as a starter who had been substituted off the field in the second half). Anything can happen. Our team was prepared. We had each other’s backs.
“It (silver medal) was bittersweet, for sure.”
Canada will resume training and travel to Dubai for a stop on the 2023-24 World Rugby Sevens Series tour Dec. 2-3.
That bittersweet taste also was left in the mouths of the Canadian water polo players, after they were outscored 20-11 by the Americans in the championship game.
In a match between two high-scoring and defensively-minded sides, Canada only trailed 5-3 after the first quarter and 10-7 at halftime. But the Americans pulled away in the second half with a second delivery of 10 goals to Canada’s four.
Ottawa’s Jessica Gaudreault was the Canadian goalkeeper, stopping 13 of 30 all-action, penalty or extra-player shots.
Former Capital Wave forward Floranne Carroll of Montreal had one shot, but couldn’t turn it into a goal, to go with one turnover and one penalty in five minutes and 27 seconds of play.
Competing in his third Pan-Am Games, former Ottawa player Eugene Wang of Aurora, ON., had his most successful outing, winning three medals and bringing his career total to seven – one gold, one silver and five bronze.
His lone silver came in the men’s team final on Sunday, after Brazil defeated Canada 3-1. Earlier in the Games, Wang captured bronze medals in men’s singles and mixed doubles with former Ottawa player Mo Zhang of Vancouver.
In the gold-medal final, Wang won his singles match to cut the Brazil led to 2-1, after losing his opening doubles game with Simeon Martin.
Canada reached the final by holding off the Americans 3-2 in Saturday’s semifinals. Canada surged into a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five playoff as Wang and Martin scored the doubles victory and Edward Ly posted a singles win.
But the Americans charged back with a pair of singles victories to force a 2-2 tie and a fifth and deciding match. Wang, however, turned back Nandan Naresh 11-8, 9-11, 11-8, 13-11 to allow Canada to advance to Sunday’s final.
After losing its men’s rugby 7s semifinal 21-7 to Argentina, Canada scored a converted, second-half try with about three minutes remaining and held on to edge the United States 19-17 for the bronze medal.
Replacement player Alexander Russell immediately scored a try to snap a 12-12 deadlock and the convert by Lachlan Kratz put Canada ahead 19-12. The Americans threatened to tie the game again, but were unable to convert a try with 13 seconds remaining.
Elias Hancock of Ottawa’s Bytown Blues was part of the Canadian team medal celebration.
The other weekend medal from the Ottawa and area contingent came from Madeline Schmidt of the Rideau Canoe Club and Courtney Stott.
They earned the bronze medal in the women’s K-2 500 metres in one minute, 42.84 seconds. The three medallists were separated by less than one second as Mexico took the gold medal in 1:41.98 and Argentina earned the bronze at 1:42.43.
Canada played for the bronze medal in the women’s field hockey third-place match, but Chile was the dominant team. Denise Rojas Losada scored both goals off penalty corner plays.
Chile fired 10 shots on Ottawa goalkeeper Rowan Harris, but Canada could only manage two shots on the Chile goal.
Midfielder Kenzie Girgis of Ottawa also was on the Canadian roster.
Aleksa Gardijan of Gatineau scored two goals and Bogdan Djerkovic added one as Canada lost the men’s water polo bronze-medal match 12-10 to Argentina. Canada also trailed after the first three quarters – 3-2, 6-3, 8-6.
In women’s karate, Gatineau’s Hana Furumoto-Deshaies was forced to withdraw from the 55-kilogram kumite competition leading up to her fourth round-robin bout because of an injury.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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