Road To The Olympic Games

Olympics·PAN AM GAMES

Canadians leave Lima knowing they're ready to take on the world in 2020

The 2019 Pan American Games came to a close at Estadio Nacional on Sunday night, but not before proving that Canada is ready to take on the world at Tokyo 2020. 35 Canadian athletes and teams can now call themselves Pan Am champions, while 152 total medals were won by Team Canada in Peru.

Team Canada qualifies 7 spots at Tokyo Olympic Games

Ellie Black was Canada's flag-bearer during the closing ceremony of the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Sunday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

LIMA, Peru — The 2019 Pan American Games came to a close at Estadio Nacional on Sunday night, but not before proving that Canada is ready to take on the world at Tokyo 2020.

35 Canadian athletes and teams can now call themselves Pan Am champions, while 152 total medals were won by Team Canada in Peru — good enough for third-most, behind the United States and Brazil.

"[It was] a great games here in Lima," Canadian chef de mission Doug Vandor says. "Every athlete has been really excited to be here and have been performing very well and we're really excited with all the performances."

For some competitors, these performances also came with the knowledge that they've secured a spot for Canada at the next Olympic Summer Games.

Tickets to Tokyo

In all, seven quota spots at Tokyo 2020 were claimed by Canadians in Lima.

The women's water polo team, artistic swimming team and artistic swimming duet squads all sealed spots for Canada in the pool. In equestrian, the dressage and jumping teams locked up their spot in Tokyo.

Team Canada's Erynn Ballard, riding Fellini S, competes in equestrian team jumping during the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Wednesday. Ballard helped Canada qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with two clean rides on Wednesday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

Sailors Alex Heinzmann and Justin Barnes won a bronze in the men's 49er to earn a quota spot, while archer Crispin Duenas took gold in the men's individual recurve for a Canadian spot.

Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith says Canadian athletes left everything they had on the field of play and are coming away from Lima with proof their hard work is paying off.

"The great thing about these games is that we do have a number of Olympic qualifiers," Smith says. "We [also] have athletes that are at a multi-sport games for the first time who also may be in Tokyo, so having this experience is really key.

"I think our athletes have really stepped up to the plate."

The Lima launching pad

While the Olympic quota spots and Pan Am Games hardware are valuable, the experience Canadian athletes have gained in Lima are equally important.

"It's really important for the athletes, regardless of the reason they're here, whether they are next generation athletes, or they're using this to collect points on the road to Tokyo to qualify or whether this is a direct qualifier," Vandor says. "It's all different reasons and it's all very important for every athlete on Team Canada to gain experience for a very important year ahead."

From left to right, Team Canada members Isabela Onyshko, Victoria Woo, Shallon Olsen, Ellie Black and Brooklyn Moors take a selfie after winning the silver medal in the women's artistic gymnastics during the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

Such is the case for Canada's artistic gymnastics team. Canada's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony, Ellie Black, may be the biggest story to come out of these Pan Am Games, but she and her teammates weren't able to qualify for Tokyo. However, their performance in Lima has them looking ready to do so at a later competition.

Black won four individual medals but first helped her squad to a team silver medal. Vandor says her leadership will have them on the road to Tokyo with an increased confidence in their abilities.

"Her performance was outstanding and gave a lot of confidence to the gymnastics team who are heading over to Europe in a couple months with the goal of qualifying for Tokyo," Vandor says.

Gritty Canadian efforts

Vandor says Canadian athletes gave everything they had and it inspired other athletes across all disciplines. One athlete that personified this inspiration to Vandor was men's field hockey player Gordon Johnton, who took a ball to the face in the team's final preliminary game but returned to action to play a big role in helping Canada advance to the gold-medal match.

Canada's Gordon Johnston is helped off the field after sustaining an injury during his team's win over Peru in Lima on Aug. 3. Johnston returned to the team for their knockout matches after undergoing surgery. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

"He went into surgery on Monday morning to get a plate into his mouth and make sure everything was OK, and a couple of days later he's scoring a goal in the semifinals with a special mask made by the outstanding medical team and the field hockey personnel who were trying to make it safe for him to play," Vandor says. "There was nothing holding him back, he was on fire — that's just the determination and the grit of Canadians that are here.

"They are excited to be here and excited to perform and there is nothing that's going to hold them back."

A success on the organizational side

The Pan Ams were the biggest sporting event ever hosted by Peru, and Vandor says it was a task that organizers and volunteers took seriously and pulled off with a smile on their face.

"They have been a success," Vandor says. "I haven't spoken to an athlete who hasn't been so happy with the venues and how it's all come together. I've even heard comments from athletes saying 'it's nicer here than the venue where I train back home.'

"They are going out of their way to make us happy and they are doing everything they can. They are so friendly. They wanted it to be a success and they were working overtime to make sure that it [was]."

Peruvian fans cheer during the women's artistic gymnastics team event during the Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru on July 27. (Carlos Osorio for CBC Sports)

Smith says that they couldn't have asked for a better reaction from fans that flocked to the venues to cheer on the athletes of all countries.

"The crowds here are warm — if an athlete drops something in gymnastics, wherever the athlete is from the crowd gets behind them and encourages them," she says. "It's really lovely, it's just been such a  warm, welcoming feeling in the games here."

Next stop, Tokyo

When the Pan Am cauldron is extinguished on Sunday night, it will mark the end of the final multi-sport warm up on the road to the Olympic Games.

The Tokyo Olympic Games are now less than a calendar year away and Smith is confident the momentum built in Lima will carry through to competitions this fall and through to next summer, especially with the camaraderie built in Lima.

"I think what's really special about this multi-sport environment, and our athletes have said that over the years... you've got the entire team behind you," Smith says. "You look up in the stands and see people from all the other sports there cheering you on and you're back in the village and you're talking with them about your results, it's really something unique and something special.

"The Pan Am Games is a great opportunity to experience that before going into an Olympic Games experience."

WATCH | Ellie Black leads Canada into closing ceremony:

Canada finished the 2019 Pan Am Games with 35 gold, 64 silver and 53 bronze medals. 1:00

Vandor says the Pan Ams once again show how athletic competition can unite and inspire fellow high-performance athletes, as well as the rest of the country and its future Olympians.

"It's moments like this that reinforce how important sport is and how it brings people together from around the world [and] how it brings Canadians together from coast to coast to coast," Vandor says. "It's important for all of us to stick together and support sport in this country.

"All of these athletes here are role models for all Canadians, for every single young kid that's at home."

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