Duncan Mackay
Tom Degun_in_GuadjalaraSometimes it is best not to Google the place you are soon to be visiting; a rule probably applies more than most to Mexico.

A brief online search of the country told me that drug trafficking and organised crime are increasingly a major source of violent random attacks in Mexico, especially in major urban centres.

One of the more unnerving news articles I came across told of how just last month, a group of gangsters dumped some 35 battered corpses out of a van into the middle of a highway during rush hour.

I decided to narrow my search to Guadalajara, the Mexican city I would be visiting for just under a month for the 2011 Pan American Games and was relieved to find that the competition was "expected to provide relief from the daily mass killings and kidnappings in a country savaged by drug-related violence that has killed more than 35,000 people since late 2006."

This is because the Organising Committee have pumped $10 million (£6.4 million/€7.3 million) into a plan that calls for 10,000 municipal state and Federal police, as well as elements from the Mexican army and navy, to patrol Guadalajara's streets 24 hours per day during the competition.

There were also major construction delays in Guadalajara, to the point where the Telmex Athletics Stadium was completed less than a week before the start of competition, but this was no great problem considering that the city was on red alert to make sure I didn't add to Mexico's alarming death toll.

So all seemed well. That was until on route to Guadalajara; I stopped over briefly in Los Angeles only to hear that the tail end of Hurricane Jova was battering Mexico's Pacific Coast and producing heavy rain around some of the key sporting venues for the Pan American Games.

It was not long after that I arrived in Guadalajara to find the reports were irritatingly accurate and that rain was pelting down with relenting force.

And following a soaking-wet walk to the Main Press Centre (MPC) later that day – due to the fact that I hadn't packed an umbrella - I discovered that the Opening Ceremony may be shortened or even cancelled due to the horrific weather.

But as the day of reckoning arrived, something rather miraculous happened.

The rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out to dry Guadalajara's streets almost instantaneously and the Opening Ceremony at the 50,000 capacity Omnilife Stadium appeared as if it was never in doubt.

The venue itself is one of the more remarkable structures I have seen. It rather looks like a space shuttle that has landed on top of a giant hill.

Pan American_Games_opening_ceremony_October_2011
But one thing is for certain, it can host a spectacular Opening Ceremony.

Mexican tradition set the backdrop for a quite wonderful display of music, dancing, fireworks and even Mexican vaqueros - better known as cowboys - riding their horses at a quick gallop around the centre of the arena in front of the loudest, most deafening crowd I remember sitting among.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge and the Mexican President Felipe Calderón were also spectators of the wonderful event (the latter officially declaring the 2011 Pan American Games open) and so far, things have gone extremely well.

The sport has been top class, the arenas have been world class and as an added bonus the sun has been out for every day of the competition brightening the colourful city where stereotypes like tacos, tequila and Tapatio really are out in force.

That is not to say everything is absolutely perfect.

The transport system hasn't exactly run like clockwork on the busy roads and there have been some technical difficulties – not least the internet continuously going down in the MPC on the first few days here, which I assure you is a journalist's worst nightmare!

The issue of contaminated meat containing the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol has also reared its ugly head with 19 of the 24 teams from the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Mexico earlier this year having just returned positive doping tests though assurances have been made by the Organising Committee that meat supplies in the Athletes' Village are 100 per cent clean.

But overall, things have been impressive for an event that must continually excel to justify its existence on an increasingly hectic sporting calendar that includes the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, multiple World Championships, various national competitions and a whole host of other sporting events that fill the demands of elite athletes.

That is the main reason why Usain Bolt isn't here competing for Jamaica in athletics and why Michael Phelps didn't come to Guadalajara for the swimming event.

So is it still a relevant event?

It is a question I levelled at Michael Fennell, a man rather qualified to answer as the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) President, Jamaican Olympic Association (JOA) President, the Pan American Games Organisation (PASO) vice-president and perhaps most tellingly in this case, the PASO Technical Commission chairman for Guadalajara 2011.

"The Pan American Games obviously takes place the year before the Summer Olympic Games and therefore acts as the perfect dress-rehearsal for all the countries and the top athletes," Fennell told me here in the Mexican city.

"Obviously this year the event is being held in October which is a bad time of year for some sports, particularly athletics, but you have 36 sports on the programme here and so while some sports may not be at full strength, the majority are at full strength and you also have athletes here looking to secure Olympic qualifying spots and to finalise their preparations for the Olympics.

"So I think if you ask any of the 42 nations competing here if they find this to be a relevant competition and one that is important for them, they would all answer that it certainly is."

Tom Degun_in_Guadjalara_outside_stadium_October_2011
Fennell's comments were quickly backed by Ian Troop, the chief executive of the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games who will next stage the next edition of the competition.

"This is the second biggest big multi-sport event in the world and it will be the biggest ever Games in Canada, including the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games, which shows you the sheer scale," Troop explained.

"It is a great stand-alone competition with some outstanding athletes and it also provides an opportunity to celebrate the very vibrant cultures that exist in Pan American.

"There is an element of this being a warm up for the Olympics but that can only be a good thing and major benefit for all the teams and athletes that want to be involved in the Olympics.

"Guadalajara have done a great job with the 'look and feel' because it really does look like there is a major event happening right here now.

"The Opening Ceremony was great – creative but simple with the audience involved – and it is fantastic to see the amount of patriotism from the Mexican fans that I know we will see in Toronto.

"So I think Guadalajara is doing a great job with what is most definitely a magnificent attractive, compelling, relevant event.

"Our job is to pick up the baton and take it a step further in four years' time when the competition will be equally important for everyone involved."

So the view from the ground here appears unequivocally to be that the second largest multi-sport event on the planet is still very much relevant on the sporting map.

And if Guadalajara can continue in the same vain they have started; the Pan American Flame will move on to Toronto 2015 burning as brightly as ever.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames