The Pan American Games finished with a triumphant celebration Sunday evening, the host country walking away with the second-most medals and Toronto starting to ponder what this means for a possible Olympic bid.
Tens of thousands gathered at the Rogers Centre to mark the end of the Games with a pageant of colour and choreography. The spectators – some with national colours painted on their faces – offered thunderous applause as the athletes marched into the venue, closing the 17-day competition.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Winnipegger Jason Sheps said. A child when his city hosted these Games in 1999, he made multiple trips to Toronto to see events, as well as both the opening and closing ceremonies.
“Canada has done very well and, really, it’s just amazing all the feats the athletes here do.”
The closing ceremony got a major publicity boost when superstar rapper Kanye West was confirmed as the headliner. The choice also sparked an anti-Kanye petition, which had gathered about 55,000 signatures by the weekend but didn’t move the organizers. Many spectators were similarly unmoved by the argument that the artist didn’t represent the values of the Games. Some said they came just because he would be there.
“He’s huge, maybe best in the world,” Selena Reyes said on her way into the venue. “They wouldn’t have this many people without him.”
Appearing solo on the starkly bare edge of the stage, Kanye launched into his hit song Stronger, sparking a massive response. The lights came up as he moved into the third track, revealing a stadium in which just about everyone was standing, the controversy evidently forgotten.
The show also featured Canadian singer-songwriter Serena Ryder – who performed the official Games song Together We Are One early in the show and then played a well-received short set later. American rapper Pitbull was on the bill as well, with a solid performance that had the crowd roaring.
Kanye came on last. His set capped a varied night of dance routines, speeches from dignitaries, fireworks launched off a 20-metre replica CN Tower inside the venue and an official flag handover to the mayor of Lima, host city of the next Pan Am Games, in 2019.
The Games in Toronto were billed as likely to attract up to 250,000 visitors. They got off to a slow start, with huge numbers of tickets remaining unsold even as competition began. There were also concerns about traffic and a dampening effect on non-Games tourism. But by the end, politicians and sporting officials were bragging about the Games being a huge success.
Canada won 217 medals. This put the country behind the United States, which took 265, but the host country’s total was much higher than third-place Brazil, at 141.
“What has occurred over these last two weeks has been incredibly powerful. This city, the region, have been forever transformed by the power of sport, by the brilliance of our athletes,” Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut said earlier Sunday. Placing in the top two “was an ambitious objective, the way we like them.”
The Parapan Am Games begin Aug. 7 and run for nine days. But there is already talk of using Toronto’s host role to springboard to bigger sporting events.
“There’s a whole variety of international events and sporting competitions that we’re now in a position to host, which I think is good for Toronto, good for Ontario and good for Canada, and the Olympics is one of those, obviously, about which there’s a great discussion,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said last week.
To hold the 2024 Olympics, the city would have to get a letter of application into the International Olympic Committee by mid-September.
An Olympic bid could be boosted by Pan Am-related infrastructure, built at locations across Southern Ontario, spread out so that more jurisdictions would benefit from the investments. This also diffused the buzz associated with the Pan Am Games – it was possible to live and work in the area with little sense the events were under way.
There were many shared moments, though. And a surprise hit was the large 3-D sign spelling out “Toronto” installed at City Hall, with residents congregating around the public art piece.
TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jul. 26, 2015 11:46PM EDT
Last updated Monday, Jul. 27, 2015 8:57AM EDT