'You hear 'Toronto' and your head explodes'

Bill Lankhof, Sun Media

, Last Updated: 3:05 AM ET

They love us. They really, really love us. Who knew?

Finally. Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe won international recognition yesterday winning a bid to host the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Five times local delegations had tried. Five times they had come home losers in two Olympic, two Commonwealth Games and one atttempt to get a World's Fair.

All of which turned the reaction to yesterday's victory over Bogota and Lima into a volcanic explosion of emotion. The Toronto bid committee won with 33 votes on the first ballot, well ahead of Lima's 11 and seven for Bogota. As Pan Am president Mario Vazquez Rana prepared to make the announcement he said "the city to host the 2015 Games is..."

And, he paused.

"It seemed forever," said Jagoda Pike, chief operating officer of the bid committee, "then you hear 'Toronto' and your head explodes, your heart stops, you scream and I just started hugging people. A girl from a TV station kissed me." It was minor pandemonium.

The large Canadian delegation erupted in applause. "This is more nerve-wracking (then competing). There I had control," said former Canadian Olymian Charmaine Crooks, "here you're at the mercy of other people."

Marcel Aubut, the President-in-waiting of the Canadian Olympic Committee was running around giving everyone hand punches yelling: "We won! We finally won!"

Pike, who had twice come down this road and lost those Commonwealth bids in Hamilton, wiped away tears. So did Shelly Peterson, the wife of bid president David Peterson. "I've been down the other road too and I know that doesn't feel so good so I went over to congratulate the people from Bogota and Lima. I'm tired but right now I'm flying on happiness."

Toronto got a huge boost from the 26 countries that make up the Caribbean contingent which Barbados delegate Steve Stoute had pushed towards the Canadian bid.

"Toronto is a fantastic choice. I've been to a lot of these and from a technical perspective it was the best bid. Today's final presentation put them over the top with the support they promised the athletes. It's what delegates wanted to hear," said Stoute. "The Carribean was 99% supportive. There might've been one or two countries who didn't vote for Toronto."

The Canadian bid emphasized that it was the best from both the athlete's and the Pan Am Games organization perspective. And, it worked. Lima's sentimental plea that it should get the Games because smaller, poorer countries deserved a chance failed, in the end, to reasonate with voters.

While Toronto won by a wide margin, this never was a slam dunk. "It felt pretty cathartic," said Chris Rudge, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "It's hard to describe the sense of relieve when your cities name is mentioned. It's pretty exciting. These decisions aren't always made from a rational perspective so you always worry that all the hard work is undermined."

It does happen. Many people within the Canada's amateur sports family still believe the Atlanta Games should've been Toronto's and that the troubled Commonwealth Games in India really belonged to Hamilton.

"We'd tried so many times and you always know (bid fortunes) can change on a dime," said Pike, "but we had so much to offer and it seemed finally the math was working our way. Really, for me, yesterday at the lunch we had for delegates I felt the momentum move to us. Then, today, when we finished our presentation ... I felt it was ours."

Then Rana paused ... and made her head hurt.

After the announcement the Canadian bid team crowded onto the dias, joined hands and raised their arms in triumph. Even David Miller, a reluctant convert at first, looked relieved and smiling, his hair mussed. "I was a little nervous. Once burned, twice shy, right?" he said of his initial wariness. The World's Fair boondoggle is not easily forgotten. But he loves the idea of the athlete's village providing affordable housing, he talked about making these the first carbon-neutral games and how the event will be about more than sports. "I've always thought the Pan Am Games were somethng we should bid for because we have so many Caribean and South American people. My own wife was born in Trinidad and she's from Venezeula. she's a Carribean Latin all in one person. there are so many families in Toronto like that. It was a realistic Games for us."

And all those earlier failures? "What doesn't kill you," smiled McGuinty, "makes you stronger."

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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