Canada wins 1st medals of Pan Am Games in women's squash

Canada is on the board at the Pan Am Games after squash players Hollie Naughton of Mississauga, Ont., and Samantha Cornett of Deep River, Ont., secured bronze on Saturday.

Ontario's Hollie Naughton, Samantha Cornett take bronze

Canada's Samantha Cornett earned the country's first medal of the Pan Am Games with bronze in squash on Saturday. (Vincent Ethier/HO, COC/The Canadian Press)

Canada's Hollie Naughton was at a crossroads with her squash game three years ago and decided to make changes to try to reach a higher level.

Her efforts helped bring her back to the Pan Am Games and this time, she reached the women's singles podium.

Naughton dropped an 11-6, 12-10, 11-8 semifinal decision to American Amanda Sobhy on Saturday to secure a third-place finish, a result that gave Canada its first medal of the Lima Games.

Literally one minute later on the adjacent court at the Villa Deportiva Nacional Videna, teammate Samantha Cornett lost her semifinal to give Canada another bronze.

The losses were initially tough to accept but both players were beaming with pride after receiving their medals later in the day.

"Finding out that we were Canada's first medallists for the Games, obviously it's such an honour to be that regardless of what colour medal it is," Naughton said. "We're setting the bar for Canada and getting us on the chart."

Cornett, from Deep River, Ont., dropped an 11-7, 11-5, 11-6 decision to Olivia Blatchford of the U.S. Sobhy went on to win gold with a 7-11, 11-5, 11-7, 11-8 victory over her American teammate.

Naughton, from Mississauga, Ont., and Cornett were part of the Canadian side that won silver in the women's team event four years ago in Toronto. Naughton missed the singles podium that year but her game picked up in 2016 as she won the first of two straight national titles.

She struck up a friendship with Sobhy around that time, and became more focused on and off the court and made strides with her mental approach.

"I was at a point where I decided I needed to take things a bit more seriously," said Naughton, now 24. "I found it was who I was hanging out with, after you'd lose a tournament you'd go out and eat rubbish and get into that rhythm and routine. I wanted to change it."

Self-help books also proved beneficial. Many travelling pros don't bring coaches on tour, so Sobhy and Naughton started to help each other out on the road.

They'd do drills on the court and hang out together off it.

"I wanted to take my squash to the next level," Naughton said. "Amanda was up there (in the rankings), she's very professional and everything. I don't know, we ended up both being at a tournament (around 2016) a few days after we'd lost, and (I) was like, 'Do you want to go shopping?"'

"So we went shopping and got coffee and food. We just started chatting and said you know what, we both kind of want the same things. We want to be able to have fun when the time is right but we want to have someone that after you lose, you go to a movie with, or something less crazy. That's where it started."

Sobhy has risen to No. 8 in the world rankings while Naughton has climbed to No. 30.

The American was in form from the start on the all-glass showcourt Saturday, taking the first four points for a comfortable opening game. Naughton forced extra points in the second game but never really found her rhythm.

"I was just really trying to push her (to the back) and then get myself in front to move her around," Naughton said. "It happened in patches but not for long enough."

Sobhy is crafty in all four corners and used punishing length and tight drops in both of her wins. The left-hander has the pace to keep opponents on their heels and uses deft touch up front to great advantage.

"There were patches in that match where I felt like I had it," Naughton said. "That second game, I probably could have closed it out, I'm quite disappointed in that. But she's a top-10 girl and these are the matches that I just need more experience being in them."

Naughton said she has learned to be a more confident player over the last few seasons and can now draw some positivity from her losses.

"Obviously it doesn't happen all the time. My coach says he always looks for the angry text after I come off court," she said with a laugh.

World No. 31 Cornett, meanwhile, saved three match balls before finally succumbing to the 19th-ranked Blatchford.

"I was hoping to assert my game more than worry about hers," Cornett said. "But she was pretty sharp."

The Canadians could get another crack at the Americans if both sides advance in the women's team draw over the coming days.

"It gives them some experience," said Canadian coach Martin Heath. "It wasn't a great day I don't think for either of the players. But at least they'll be able to know what they could do better.

"I don't think they're very happy with their performance today but they've picked up a bit of information so they can change it for next time."

Canada wins 1st ever Pan Am Games medal in taekwondo

Toronto's AJ Assadian etched his name in the history books as the first Canadian ever to reach the Pan American Games podium in taekwondo's poomsae discipline after winning the bronze medal on Saturday morning in Lima, Peru.

"This is a big honour for me. I've dreamt about this day for a long time and I'm so happy I was able to get on the podium today," said Assadian.

"There was a lot of pressure on me today being the first poomsae athlete ever for Canada to compete at the Pan Am Games," added Assadian, who attends Ryerson University in Toronto. "I didn't do anything special or different today. I went about my preparation and performed the same as I always do. I'm just really happy I was able to perform."

"I hope this performance sparks some more attention and participation in poomsae taekwondo," said Assadian. "It has been awesome to have our sport included in the Pan Am Games. It has been an amazing experience."

Calgary's Valerie Ho was the lone Canadian the women's individual poomsae competition. Ho finished in sixth place with a score of 7.010.

Peru's Christian Pacheco smashes marathon record

Peru's Christian Pacheco completed a marathon sweep for the host country when he smashed the Pan Am Games record with a personal best time in winning the men's event.

Carrying a Peruvian flag on his back down the home straight, the 26-year-old crossed the line to huge cheers from a packed crowd on a cool morning.

Pacheco's unofficial time of two hours, nine minutes and 31 seconds smashed the old Pan Am Games record which had stood since 1983.

He finished more than a minute clear of his rivals, and was already taking a victory jog before the Mexican duo of Jose Luis Marin Santana and Juan Pacheco claimed the silver and bronze medals respectively.

Earlier, Gladys Tejeda won the women's race for Peru in a record time of two hours, 30 minutes and 55 seconds.


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