Friday, July 24, 2015

Pan Am--day 1 and 2 July 23/24

The Pan Am games started July 7th, but I just arrived-- so yesterday was day 1 for me.

Back in late March/early April I decided that since I have often wondered what it would be like to go to the Olympics, the Pan Am games would be a nice preliminary event to attend. That, plus the fact that a colleague of mine and I are presenting a paper right here in Toronto in a few days, made this trip to Ontario to see the Pan Am games seem like a good one to plan.

Even though I went to buy tickets in March, the tickets were not easy to come by. I had tickets for the games last night on the 23rd, racquetball this morning, and another set for the doubleheader semifinals this evening a half mile from my hotel.  On Saturday I see the Gold medal match in Team Handball.

Despite the fact that the game tickets were difficult to get, there were empty seats at the basketball arena last night. I had purchased the best seats available for all the games figuring how often will I get to an Olympic event.  Nevertheless, my seats last night were not great. High up, no backs, and hot.  I still cannot quite understand why there were so many empty places to sit. The second game of last night's doubleheader was between the US and Brazil. Since Canada had already played and won, the place was really empty for the US game and I was able to move down to more temperate climes and seats with a back.

It was fun to see so many people there with Canada shirts rooting the home country on. Lots of little kids with their parents with hats and flags.  And Canada won easily in the first game beating Mexico by close to twenty.  The US game was surprising to me. I have always thought of the US as an international powerhouse in basketball.  Yet, the team was beaten and, last night at least, it was no fluke.  Not ever really close. Some guy from Brazil was banging in the threes like he should be playing in the NBA. Nobody on the US team could really stay with him.

Between the two games a bunch of fans approached a Canadian player who had parked himself near where I was sitting after his evening of toil.  In waves people came to take their photo with the guy.  Eyeball popping adolescents asked fawningly for a picture with him and came away giving each other skin when they were successful. I never heard of the player but later found out that he is only 18 and was a heavily recruited high schooler last year who will be going to the University of Kentucky next year.  His name is Jamal Murray and must be great as the University of Kentucky only recruits star high schoolers.

Lots of workers are here trying to make the experience at the games pleasant.  Today at the Exhibition Center where the racquetball matches were played there was even more of a presence and signage all over.

Lots of workers, but a shlep to the Exhibition Center from where the cab driver dropped me off.  The area is roped off and no motor vehicles can get close the venues there. It was a very long walk for even a young college professor, let alone one who needs a hip replacement. Fortunately, a golf cart swung by and I got a lift half way.  Even after she dropped me off it was a long walk to the center itself.

I have found with sport that there are of course big fans of the major sports, but also very serious fans of some minor ones.  It was my good fortune today to just happen to park myself at the racquetball venue next to someone who was a former president of the international racquetball confederation or some organization like that.  I was a fair to above average racquetball player in my days with hair, but this guy was in another level. He told me he was in the Racquetball Hall of Fame and spoke of a guy he had beaten who I had heard of as the number one player back in the late 70s. This fellow was quite nice and filled me in on new rules and strategies. Extremely knowledgeable, all racquetball all the time. It was fun to sense his enthusiasm.

In the stands were a vocal group from Mexico as Mexico had both a woman's finalist and a finalist in the men's competition. The Mexican woman beat her Argentinian rival for the Gold medal to the delight of her cheering friends.  At match point the cluster of fans chanted "Uno, uno, uno" either to indicate she was number one or that she had one point to go to win the Gold.  And Paola Langoria did indeed prevail.  I was told she is the number one athlete in Mexico in terms of popularity and endorsements.

The men's final featured a fellow from California versus another Mexican athlete.  In this one the US fellow prevailed to the delight of his parents, who had come from California, and a section of supporters who knew not only the victor's  name, but the names of the USers who would be playing in the doubles gold medal match later.   Nobody seemed disappointed. The shots both players made were brilliant and I found myself "oohhing" and "aahing" marveling at their capabilities.

Toronto is an ethnically diverse city as anyone can deduce from just walking around.  A fellow I met as I was leaving the arena was kind enough to give me a lift back to my hotel. He is a former racquetball player and looks fantastic at 80.  He told me he has lived in Toronto is entire life and the city has morphed from a parochial "hog town" to the multi-ethnic metropolis of today.  I don't remember it being a hick town when I visited in the 1970s but it sure is happening now. I left the arena last night at close to midnight and walked the half mile back to the hotel.  Thursday night, middle of the week, the route was jumping nearly the entire way back to the Doubletree.

Off in a few minutes to cheer for the red, white, and blue as the US plays against Canada in a semi final match up. My voice will no doubt be drowned out by the army of Canadian fans.

No comments:

Post a Comment