Nick Butler

Much as we were enjoying the sport three days into the Pan American Games, we just felt it needed a story to spark it into life, something really interesting to get our journalistic juices flowing.

A tweet from Canadian NBA (National Basketball Association) star Anthony Bennett revealing the soon-to-be-confirmed news that Kanye West would be headlining the Closing Ceremony was all that was required.

Suddenly we had petitions, explosive press conferences - “Did you not think of the children, the children?” being my favourite question from an increasingly riled member of the Canadian press - and plenty of appalling jokes about how there could have been a “Stronger” choice or that the American superstar was being a “Gold Digger” for performing.

And then, when he finally took to the stage last night, we had the farcical turning on of the lights to create the ambiance of a nightclub at 6am after the last song has been played and everyone is walking out. This was swiftly followed by Kanye doing exactly that 13 minutes in, hurling his microphone high into the air after it stopped working with all the agility of a rhythmic gymnast performing a clubs exercise. The only difference was that by the time it landed and smashed onto the ground he was already offstage and en route to his dressing room.

It was all really rather wonderful and it says much for the success of these Games that this was probably the most controversial talking point. In fact, I would argue that the whole “Kanye-da” saga was actually good publicity helping to stir some interest in non-sporting quarters.

Coverage of Kanye West's Closing Ceremony performance has spread around the world today ©Getty Images
Coverage of Kanye West's Closing Ceremony performance has spread around the world today ©Getty Images

Aside from the individual stories you tend to get at these events: the Cuban rowers defecting and the worrying case of an arrest warrant being issued for a Brazilian water polo player accused of sexual assault, the other blemish was the abnormally high number of 15 athletes failing or being notified of doping failures.

It will be argued that the fact so many were being caught shows the war against doping is being won by the authorities, but there are certainly questions that need to be addressed in Latin America, from where every failed test originated.

What concerned me was the products they were failing for. Rather than stimulants as we have seen at other recent multisport Games, we had anabolic steroids, erythropoietin (EPO) and a dangerous new compound called FG4592, known colloquially as “oxygen in a pill".

Yet these issues failed to detract from the success of the Games, which began with the widely praised Opening Ceremony and seemed to gain further momentum by the day.

I think the main difference with the other continental events I have attended in Incheon and Baku in recent months was the crowd support.

Virtually every venue and certainly every one in which medals were awarded was packed, and packed with fans from different parts of the Pan Americas rather than just the host country. The relative smallness of some of the venues no doubt helped to enhance this feeling, but it was clear Torontonians were fully embracing these Games and just walking around the Exhibition Park revived memories of similar feelings at London 2012.

In terms of sporting highlights, many peoples have mentioned the final straight of the men’s 4x400 metres relay, where Trinidad and Tobago youngster Machel Cedenio launched an astonishing burst to take gold from nowhere coming off the bend. While this was going on I was at a similarly engrossing men’s handball final as Brazil held their nerve to overcome arch-rivals Argentina in an overtime period after a penalty-shot to win the game in the final seconds of regulation time was saved.

Rarely have I seen such a sense of contrast as at the end of the match. Brazilian players and fans were celebrating as only Brazilians can, dancing, singing and forming a spontaneous conga line around the court, while the Argentinians seemed utterly heartbroken when commiserating with friends and family. The ecstasy and cruelty of sport on show at the same time.

Brazil celebrate after clinching men's handball gold over Argentina ©Getty Images
Brazil celebrate after clinching men's handball gold over Argentina ©Getty Images

As I wrote earlier in the Games, it was probably the men’s baseball final which was my overall highlight, as Canada won with the sort of dramatic turnaround only sport can produce.

It was one of 78 golds and 217 medals for the host nation as a new generation of Canadian stars were born. It will now be interesting to see how many of these new-found talents, like gymnast Ellie Black, swimmer Emily Overholt and decathlete Damian Warner, can step up to Olympic success next year in Rio de Janeiro.

Speaking of the Olympics, how much has the last three weeks helped Toronto’s much muted and seemingly highly likely bid for the 2024 Games? If you spend too much time listening to Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut, you would be forgiven for believing all the other contenders may as well give up giving how strong and enticing the Toronto prospect is.

It is certainly an attractive bid, taking advantage of many of the successful facilities used at the Pan American Games and, no doubt,  appealing to some voters more than the prospect of an American bid.

Challenges certainly remain however and some observers yesterday felt that, in the cold light of day once the immediate Toronto 2015 fervour has died away, the city’s Mayor and ruling Council may be less enthusiastic given the economic problems currently being faced across Ontario.

Yet, if Aubut can successfully keep in their minds the image of the last three weeks and remind them of how all of these feelings would be boosted five-fold at an Olympics, then they have a chance.

Success at the Pan American Games has certainly generated momentum for a Toronto 2024 Olympic bid ©Getty Images
Success at the Pan American Games has certainly generated momentum for a Toronto 2024 Olympic bid ©Getty Images

I am writing this at the airport about to board a mammoth flight - via Hong Kong - to Kuala Lumpur for the 128th International Olympic Committee Session and by the time I land it is likely Boston will no longer be in the race for 2024. Even if the US switch to another bid this would vastly help Toronto and, much as influential powerbrokers like NBC would desire a US Games, they may be just as content with a Canadian one as well.

This is all for the future however. For now it is still time to dwell on the success of the Pan American Games and, as I begin my journey across the North Pole, I am doing so humming along to Kanye West and watching baseball on TV once again, nodding with vague understanding at previously incomprehensible concepts like a “sacrifice fly” and “international extra innings rules”.

Is that not a legacy enough for Toronto 2015?