Canadian athletes strongly behind Pan Am bid

One week after officials submitted a beefed-up bid for the Pan American Games, Canadian athletes met in Toronto on Friday to discuss why the city should play host to the 2015 event.

Three-dozen current and former Olympians were in attendance, including cyclist Curt Harnett, trampoline gymnast Karen Cockburn, and wheelchair basketball Paralympian Tracey Ferguson.

All of them agreed that now is the time for Toronto to step into the international sporting spotlight.

“Ontario has produced many great athletes — World champions, Olympic champions, world record holders and Pan American champions,” said Marnie McBean, legendary Canadian rower and a three-time Olympic gold medalist, who was the moderator of the discussion.

“What we’re missing in Ontario are community and amateur sport facilities, and venues suited to host high-performance athletes. The Pan American Games would help address these deficits if Toronto is chosen.”

Many see the PanAms as a trial run for a potential Olympics.

Rio de Jainero, for example, successfully hosted the Pan Am games in 2007, and last month was selected to host the 2015 Summer Olympic Games.

“When it comes down to it, the games can contribute on so many levels,” said David Peterson, chair of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am bid.

“Hosting it in Toronto will have a long-term impact on our capacity for Canadian sport development, serving people in the local community and on our ability to contribute to the international sports community.”

Toronto-born Olympic and Pan Am rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando, believes an affluent province like Ontario and world-class city like Toronto deserve to be a part of this experience come 2015.

Last week an enhanced bid was proposed to the Pan Am Sports Organization, the games’ organizing body, that stressed the athletic experience, and described a detailed transportation plan for the games.

Jagoda Pike, 2015 bid president, told the Hamilton Spectator the upgraded bid was partly in response to an evaluation by a panel that visited Hamilton and Toronto in late August.

The rival bids, including Lima, Peru, and Bogota, Columbia have recently questioned Toronto’s ability to adequately transport the athletes from one facility to another.

Venues are scattered across a region that covers 33,500 square kilometres, strecthing east towards Ajax, and west towards Welland.

However, during their stay the panel members felt the GO train services and widened Queen Elizabeth Way, were good means to move the athletes, Pike said.

A final vote on the games host will take place Nov. 6 in Guadalajara, Mexico.