Field of Play: Pan Am test drive begins | Sports | CBC Sports

Pan Am GamesField of Play: Pan Am test drive begins

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2014 | 08:05 PM

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Nathaniel Miller, shown here during his water polo days with the Canadian national team, is now chairing the Athlete Advisory Council for TO2015. (File/Reuters) Nathaniel Miller, shown here during his water polo days with the Canadian national team, is now chairing the Athlete Advisory Council for TO2015. (File/Reuters)

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Before a large series of test events for TO2015 begin this weekend, CBC Sports Weekend host Scott Russell chatted with Nathaniel Miller, the former captain of the national water polo team who is chairing of the Athlete Advisory Council for the event.
Nathaniel Miller was once one of the world's elite water polo players.  

He's calling from Montreal, an Olympic city, and he wants to talk about Toronto, a place that someday hopes to host the Games.

Miller is now retired and the chair of the Athlete Advisory Council for TO2015 and next year's Pan American and Parapan American Games.  He's pointing to this weekend's kickoff of 45 test events over the course of the next 14 months as an obvious chance to build a little buzz in the high-performance sports community in the Golden Horseshoe.

"It's always a challenge," Miller says of the Toronto area where major, professional sport is king. But then again he knows that TO2015 and the Pan American project is bound to have a lasting effect.

"We saw the legacy of the multi-sport Games in Calgary and Vancouver and before that, Montreal," Miller stresses. "The legacy is that a generation of high performance athletes grows out of Games which unfold close to home."

Miller won three bronze medals at three editions of the Pan American Games, including Winnipeg in 1999, Santo Domingo in 2003, and winding up with Rio de Janeiro in 2007. He's also competed at the Olympics in Beijing and won professional titles playing for teams in France and Brazil.  

He's well campaigned at the top level of the sporting landscape, but rarely has he seen venues as promising as the ones being constructed for TO2015. Miller even suggests these Games have the potential to significantly raise the bar for high-performance sport in the Americas.

"Our facilities reflect the level of sophistication in Toronto," Miller claims. "As opposed to other Games I've attended all of these venues are brand new or completely refurbished.

In particular, the aquatics facility at Scarborough College is state-of-the-art and cutting edge which is essential for our flagship region in terms of population. Add to that these Games are on time and on budget and that's a very rare thing in Pan American history."

Sneak peek of TO2015

So when five major events unfold on this long weekend in May, the region's sports fans will get a taste of what's in store just over a year down the line. 

They'll be able to see elite, indoor, volleyball in Mississauga at the NORCECA world championship qualifying tournament where the Canadian men have recently made enormous strides on the international stage.

The Canadian Wheelchair Rugby championships in London, Ont. will showcase a rugged sport which will make its Parapan Am Games debut at TO2015. Canada is among the world leaders, led by superstar David Willsie of Dorchester, Ont.

National championships in taekwondo and bowling will use the Pan American Games, competition ready, venues in Toronto and team handball which is an Olympic fixture and strangely addictive sport will be on display in Mississauga and Toronto.

"It's a chance for fans to get an intimate look at the venues and athletes who might become Olympic heroes in 2016 before they actually get to the big screen," Miller notes.

But the former captain of Canada's national water polo team, who long toiled on the precipice of major international success, sees the threshold of TO2015 as something far more significant than an occasion to expose the so-called "niche" sports to a developing fan base.

"TO2015 is a huge opportunity to tap into the wealth of young, athletic talent in the GTA, our largest area of population," Miller says. "It's an area of the country which has lagged behind in the production of high performance athletes in these kinds of sports in the past."

In other words, as the summer season begins in earnest on the Victoria Day long weekend, TO2015 will be embarking on a significant test drive over the course of 45 similar events.

The Golden Horseshoe is about to host more major international championships than ever before in the region's history.  And they will all occur well in advance of the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.

Down the road organizers are counting on discovering that Canada's most populace and diverse region has the chops to become a major player on the high-performance field of play.

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