Working like a (top) dog

Ross Laver July 26 1999

Working like a (top) dog

Ross Laver July 26 1999

A fanfare for the Pan-Ams

For athletes, the Games are crucial in a pre-Olympic year


Don’t tell Tanya Dubnicoff that the 13th Pan-American Games is a non-event. After all, with more than 5,000 athletes (from 42 countries), it is nearly the same size as the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, and it is by far the biggest PanAms ever staged. Moreover, the 29-year-old track cyclist and Winnipeg native has been chosen to carry the Canadian flag and lead the team into the July 23 opening ceremonies at Winnipeg Stadium, one of the great honours in amateur sport. And if she wins her sprint specialty, Dubnicoff would complete a cycling hat trick—she won Pan-Am gold medals in Cuba in 1991 and in Argentina in 1995, too. So Dubnicoff, who has competed at two Olympics and won the prestigious world sprint championship in 1993, is psyched about racing in Winnipeg. “I can’t wait,” she says. “This undoubtedly will be one of my best experiences ever.”

Despite Dubnicoff s enthusiasm, much of the pre-Games attention was focused on who was avoiding Winnipeg. Top performers in track and field, baseball, beach volleyball, tennis and basketball, among others sports, have all given Manitoba a miss (page 40). None of the big U.S. TV networks bothered to come—officials say increasingly sophisticated fans regard the Pan-Ams as a regional competition. Even some amateur sport officials have openly debated the competitive merits of the Pan-Ams.

But Winnipeg organizers, hoping to spmce up the civic image, promise an exciting Games. Canada’s athletes will be motivated both by home-country support and by the fact that results over the 17 days of competition in Winnipeg will determine berths on the 2000 Olympic team in 10 of the 41 Pan-Am sports, including baseball, field hockey and triathlon. As well, coaches and athletes use the Pan-Ams to get used to the environment of the Olympics. Massive, multi-sport events can be distracting and frustrating, so in Winnipeg, younger Sydney, Australia-bound team members will get a taste of the unusual living conditions, transportation problems and general bureaucracy that govern big Games.

The home audience will have plenty to cheer about. The Canadian Olympic Association, which is organizing the home team, is sending more than 600 athletes to Winnipeg. No one expects them to overtake the powerhouse Americans in the final medal standings, but the Canadians do hope to improve on their 1995 record of 177 medals, including 48

gold. That was good enough for third place overall, but it left them well behind Cuba (238 medals) and the United States (424). In Winnipeg, Canada is favoured for gold in a variety of events, including squash (with world No. 1 Jonathon Power), numerous rowing classes and swimming (individual medley specialists Marianne Limpert and Joanne Malar, and Olympic double-bronze medallist Curtis Myden).

Just back from Europe, where she won two pairs titles at the World Cup regattas in Lucerne, Switzerland, with B.C.’s Theresa Luke, pairs rower Emma Robinson of Winnipeg says she will use the Pan-Am competition as a tune-up for the world championships in St. Catharines, Ont., next month. The big crews from Europe will be missing in Winnipeg, but the Canadians will get to race against tough American scullers who did not compete overseas this season.

Robinson says there is no shortage of motivation. For one thing, she has just regained her form after surgery in March to remove a malignant tumor from her thyroid. “I feel 100 per cent,” she insists. And like Dubnicoff, she is thrilled at the opportunity to compete in Manitoba—most of the big competitions in both cycling and rowing take place in Europe. “It’s incredibly exciting to have a chance to race in front of your home fans,” Robinson says. Now, it’s up to the prodigal daughters to determine if theirs is a triumphant return.

James Deacon