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Toronto's Pan Am potential

Posted: Thursday, November 5, 2009 | 12:21 PM

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Toronto is set to make its pitch to host the 2015 Pan American Games. If it finds the strike zone, high performance athletics in Canada could hit one out of the park.

“This city needs to be inspired,” says Olympic gymnast Alexandra Orlando, who brings an athlete’s voice to the final presentation in Guadalajara, Mexico. Toronto steps to the plate last after Lima, Peru and Bogota, Colombia. “If we’re successful we could change the face of sport in our country.”

Beyond the dreams of the politicians, who have ulterior motives, the second biggest international multi-sport showcase could help inspire Canada’s largest urban population to become participants rather than spectators.

“It is an area where a huge portion of the Canadian population lives, but also an area tremendously lacking in summer sport facilities,” says Chris Rudge, the CEO and Secretary General of the Canadian Olympic Committee who is also in Mexico for the decision.

“Success in obtaining these Games will have almost as great an impact on sport in this country as the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympics will.”

The bid calls for 17 municipalities in the Golden Horseshoe to stage 36 sports and for 16 days be a playground for more than 5,000 athletes from the 42 member nations of the Pan American Sports Organization.

It’s a gathering double the size of the Winter Olympics.

“It could change a lot of lives,” stresses Orlando, the winner of seven Pan Am medals, including three gold at the two Games she competed in at Santo Domingo 2003 and Rio de Janeiro 2007. “There is no permanent environment to develop summer Olympic excellence right now. This could provide it.”

The Toronto 2015 bid calls for a cycling velodrome and 15,000-seat athletics stadium in Hamilton as well as an aquatics centre and Institute of Sport in Toronto. Boxing will be east in Oshawa, whitewater canoeing north in the Haliburton Highlands and rowing south in St. Catharines.

The total budget for infrastructure and legacy is $700 million. It’s an ambitious undertaking - a necessary step before Toronto can make another serious bid for the Olympics.

Then there’s the real up side to this Pan American proposal.

If it flies, it might help change the culture in communities where swimming pools, tracks and high school gymnasiums are closing and where kids are glued to a litany of pro sports on TV instead of becoming active competitors.

“The benefits from these Games would be immeasurable,” figures Orlando. “They will lay the foundation for the next generation of Canadian Olympians.”

Orlando will make that pitch in both Spanish and English in Mexico and hopes Toronto can score its biggest sporting triumph in recent memory.

Everyone knows Canada’s biggest city desperately needs a win.

CBCSports.ca will be streaming the final bids from each city Friday beginning at 10 a.m. ET. Also, join Scott Russell at 5 p.m. ET for a live chat before the 2015 Pan Am decision is handed down.

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