For years they’ve been pushing their bodies to run faster, leap higher, throw farther and swim harder than they ever have before. They’ve been training with coaches and teammates to learn their sport inside and out, to come up with the dazzling plays and the incredible feats of athleticism that will carry them to victory – and the gold medal. This summer, almost 7,000 athletes at the very top of their game will converge on Toronto to compete in the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, the world’s third-largest international multi-sport event.
And the University of Toronto community will be right there, cheering them on, with a little extra oomph, perhaps, for the squad of current and former Varsity athletes selected to represent Canada. What’s unique about these Games is that U of T is also playing host – welcoming athletes from 38 countries in at least a dozen events to new aquatic, field and gymnasium facilities at the U of T Scarborough and St. George campuses.
Below, you’ll meet some of the university’s Pan Am athletes – and those who hoped to qualify. We hope you’ll also get a sense of the renaissance in sporting facilities underway at U of T. For a few weeks this summer, we’ll celebrate our athletes’ achievements, but long after the Games, these new facilities will remain to inspire generations of U of T students in their own athletic ambitions.
To read more about the U of T venues and athletes of the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, visit panam2015.utoronto.ca
For Chris Manning (BA 2015 Woodsworth), Paige Schultz and Zack Chetrat(BA 2014 New), years of gruelling practices, intense weight training and inspired coaching led them to a crucial point in their swimming careers: a meet at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at U of T Scarborough in early April.
There, the three veteran Varsity Blues athletes raced for the chance to swim for Canada at the Pan Am Games in July.
Chetrat made the cut. The three-time U of T male athlete of the year will compete in the 200-metre butterfly. On race day, in front of his cheering friends and family, his main goal will be to stay calm. “Swimming is a one-shot sport,” he says. “Your future’s decided in the next two minutes of your life. I’ve learned not to worry about those minutes but to make sure everything I’ve done leading up to those minutes is the best it can be.”
Manning and Schultz (who is entering her final year at U of T) say they’ll keep swimming in the hope of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics. But this July, they’ll be in the stands at the Toronto Pan Am Centre, rooting for their former teammate.
The spectacular new Toronto Pan Am Sport Centre, which opened last fall at U of T Scarborough, will host the aquatics, fencing and modern pentathlon components of the Pan Am Games and sitting volleyball of the Parapan Am Games.
UTSC Principal Bruce Kidd says the centre’s arrival marks a watershed moment: “When the Games are over and the international spotlight has dimmed, this world-class complex will create a powerful legacy of inspiration, recreation, education and transformation for the UTSC community and the entire eastern Greater Toronto Area.”
About the size of five football fields, the $200-million centre includes two Olympic-size pools (doubling the number in the Toronto area) and a five-metre-deep diving tank. The centre’s field house features a recreational track, gymnasium and a rock climbing wall.
As a teenager, Jason Wurster was playing competitive hockey when he decided to give pole vaulting a try. Weeks later, when he finished second in an Ontario championship, he opted to give up hockey to stick with his new sport. “It’s never boring because no two jumps are ever the same,” he says. “And you get to fly 18 feet through the air!”
Flash forward 15 years, and the U of T geography grad (BA 2011) has leapt into top-10 finishes at the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and Francophone Games in 2013. To compete at the Pan Am Games, he must be ranked in the top two in Canada in mid-June (he was second as of late May). Wurster, 30, hopes to compete in Rio next year as well, but says he’s taking things one step at a time, working full-time on construction management and “just happy to compete at a high level.”
Sasha Gollish (BA 2003 UC, MEng 2010) started in U of T’s junior development track program almost 20 years ago, and now this home-grown talent hopes to qualify for the Pan Am Games – in the 800-metre, 1,500-metre or 5,000-metre races.
Gollish, 33, works as an engineering consultant and is earning her PhD in engineering at U of T. Currently ranked sixth in the world for 1,000 metres (an indoor event), Gollish, like the rest of her track-and-field peers, will find out if she makes the cut for Pan Am in late June. Until then, you’ll probably find her, with her teammates, on the Varsity Centre track. “To me it is a magical place,” she says.
Vanessa Lee (BPHE 2011), picked up archery as a teenager after taking a trip to South Korea and watching Park Sung Hyun, a South Korean archer, win two gold medals at the 2004 Olympics. “I was amazed at how cool, calm and confident she was under all the pressure and I wanted to be like her,” says Lee. “I decided I was buying a bow as soon as I came home.”
Now 25, Lee is hoping to qualify for Archery Canada’s National Team, and compete at the Pan Am Games. Her mission is straightforward but extremely challenging: standing at a distance of 70 metres, she must aim arrows at a bull’s-eye that’s only 12.2 centimetres across. Demonstrating her skills in front of a home crowd would be a dream come true, she says.
Varsity Centre will host archery during the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. The facility, which replaced Varsity Stadium in 2007, includes seating for 5,000, a 400-metre, eight-lane track and an artificial turf field with a dome for winter use.
Amanda Woodcroft is a concurrent education student in the Faculty of Kinesiology, but in January she put her degree on hold to devote herself to full-time training with the Canadian women’s field hockey team in Vancouver. The goal: to be one of the 16 players chosen for the Pan Am Games. It’s not the kind of sport where you can train individually and then come together for the competitions, she says. “You need to practice as a team. Everyone needs to learn how the others play.”
Canada finished fifth in women’s field hockey in the 2011 Pan Am Games. To win gold this year, they’ll have to defeat Argentina and the United States, the two top-ranked teams in the Americas. But regardless of the team’s final performance, Woodcroft says making the cut and playing on U of T’s Back Campus Fields in front of a home crowd would be a thrill unlike any other: “I’m looking forward to every moment.”
The impressive new Back Campus Fields, completed last fall, will host Pan Am field hockey, as well as five-a-side and seven-a-side Parapan Am football matches. After the Games, the fields will be open to the almost 3,000 U of T students who participate in intramural field sports – and other members of the university community.
Rosie MacLennan (BPHE 2011), the reigning world trampoline champion, is hoping to defend her Olympic gold medal in trampoline at the Pan Am Games. MacLennan, 27, started on the trampoline two decades ago, and by the time she was 11, was competing internationally. She won her first Canadian National Women’s title in 2005 and qualified for the Olympics for the first time three years later, competing in Beijing.
The Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport will not be a Pan Am competition site, but its international-grade field house will serve as a practice venue for men’s and women’s volleyball. The centre, which was made possible with donations from the Goldring, Stollery and Kimel families, also houses an expanded David L. MacIntosh Sports Medicine Clinic, classrooms and research labs, a strength and conditioning centre and a fitness studio – all for use by members of the U of T community.