As Pan Am Games end, Olympic push begins


TORONTO – First came apathy, then dread. But by the time the Pan American Games wrapped up Sunday, Toronto had been won over by the excitement of the international competition with some calling for the city to make a pitch for the Olympics.

Cheering fans packed the stands over the 16 days of competition, Canadian athletes reached new heights on home soil, and widespread fears that the city would grind to a standstill never fully materialized.

In the months leading up to the Games, critics had raised concerns over congestion and spending, and questioned whether residents would embrace the largest multi-sport competition ever held on Canadian soil. A story in the New York Times even chided Toronto for its lukewarm reception.

A few bumps early on — a case of chickenpox in the Mexican delegation, defections from the Cuban camp, and transportation delays for commuters and media — faded as enthusiasm for the Games spiked along with Canada’s medal count.

With only a few hours of competition left, Canadian athletes had racked up 77 gold medals — a new national record for the Pan Am Games — and were second to the U.S. in the overall medal standings. More than 80 Pan Am records were broken over the course of the Games.

Despite a sluggish start, tickets sales picked up after the Games began, and organizers say 1,050,000 were sold overall. Some 120 events, including the July 10 opening ceremony, were sold out.

Demand prompted organizers to release an additional 100,000 tickets, bringing the total available for the Pan Am Games to 1.3 million. Another 200,000 are available for the Parapan Am Games, which begin Aug. 7.

Saad Rafi, CEO of the Games organizing committee, said the Games exceed his expectations.

“Every athlete will tell you that competing at these Games was different than any other experience they’ve had,” he said. “To me, it was just inspiring to see so many people walking around our city with their flag, dressed in red and wearing the Maple Leaf or dressed in any of the other colour of the other 40 nations.”

Adam van Koeverden, who won the bronze medal in men’s 1,000-metre kayak, said he noticed a shift in Toronto as the Games went on.

“I think Toronto got behind it in a really big way. My feeling is Toronto was complaining and whining a little bit before. . . but the thing that drowns out complaining and whining more than anything is cheering. Before any Games, there’s always that feeling of apprehension, ‘What are we doing?’ and that’s really been proven wrong,” he said.

The Pan Am Games have revived talk of a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. Both the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee have called for Toronto to make a pitch, but the city’s mayor has said he won’t make a decision until after the Games.

John Tory said this week officials need to examine the benefits and costs involved in a bid and in hosting the Olympics before deciding whether to proceed.

COC president Marcel Aubut said Sunday his office will “lead and advocate for Toronto’s candidacy for the 2024 Olympic Games.”

“I will work closely with the City of Toronto,” said Aubut. “Nothing can be done without the mayor, without the city. You need a mayor to start the process.”

The Pan Ams paved the way for an Olympic bid, said Aubut.

“This is the momentum we needed to talk seriously about this,” he said.

The deadline for cities to register their interest with the International Olympic Committee is Sept. 15, with the winning city to be chosen in 2017.

Toronto has officially bid and lost twice, most recently for the 2008 Summer Games. Officials also discussed possible bids on three other occasions.

Rafi said the Pan Am organizing committee should have a “rough estimate” of its final budget before the bid deadline.

Capital infrastructure spending has come in about $53.5 million under budget, largely because bidding for major venues was done four to five years ago, organizers said. But the bulk of the operating expenses will be paid after the event because financial reporting follows the fiscal year.

Organizers said in May they had spent about 45 per cent of their $770-million operations budget.

“It’s our objective to be balanced on the operating side or to save some money,” he said Sunday.

Most of the Pan Am Games’ $2.5-billion budget comes from the federal, provincial and Toronto governments, with ticket sales expected to cover abo