'About bloody time,' says Olympian

James Worrall, the Canadian flag bearer during the 1936 Games, and Olympian Marnie McBean celebrate...

James Worrall, the Canadian flag bearer during the 1936 Games, and Olympian Marnie McBean celebrate Toronto's winning bid for the 2015 Pan-Am games. (Mark O'Neill/Sun Media)

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:25 PM ET

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, hurdler James Worrall proudly carried the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies.

Now, 73 years later, the 95-year-old Worrall is just as proud that his adopted hometown, Toronto, has been selected to host the 2015 Pan American Games.

"It's about bloody time," said Worrall yesterday, shortly after the PASO selection committee announced Toronto the winner over Bogota, Colombia and Lima, Peru. "We've been bidding for one games after another, with no luck.

"I look forward to in 2015, that I'll be able to go to these games in my own city the age of 101!," the former president of the Canadian Olympic Association added. "Damn right!"

Reaction to Toronto winning the Pan Ams, after failed bids for other world-class events, including the 1996 and 2008 summer Olympics, was upbeat to say the least amongst a gathering of athletes, politicians and civic boosters at Labatt House on Queen's Quay.

Jessica Chase-Garner, a member of Canada's bronze medal winning synchronized swim team at the 2000 Olympics, said that the lack of sporting facilities in the Toronto area is a sad joke and, hopefully, winning the Pan Am Games will address that.

She remembers the Canadian synchro team having to move its training base from the Etobicoke Olympium to Montreal a few years ago, partly because there weren't enough facilities in this area.

"The move had more to do with the coaching staff, but I remember once they renovated the Olympium pool and, during the last garbage strike in 2002, they closed the Olympium, and we had to train in piddly, outdoor pools," she said.

The Toronto Pan Am Games bid committee has proposed the construction of two 50-metre pools and a Olympic calibre dive tank, among other amateur sport venues, such as a velodrome and main stadium. Right now, Toronto has only two 50-metre pools.

"And one of them leaks," said Peter Fonseca, the Ontario labour minister and former Canadian national team distance runner.

"We have a huge sports infrastructure deficit (in the area) and we're really in need of the pools, and tracks and gymnasiums.

"To see the games coming here and for all those young and new athletes, and for active, healthy living in our community, is just a godsend," Fonseca continued. "This is going to bring affordable housing. It's going to attract, and keep, our athletes here. I think this is the start of something very, very big."

"That was the crux of the bid," three-time Olympic team rower Marnie McBean added. "We really are overdue for some new facilities. We're an international city with far from international level facilities, and we're losing a lot of athletes because of that. We lose them to other provinces, we lose them to other countries. So this news is exciting."

Toronto Centre MPP George Smitherman acknowledged that the public has been slow to embrace the idea of hosting the Pan AM Games, but said that will change now that it's become a reality.

For instance, he said the plans for the athlete's village in the West Donlands, which will later be turned into affordable housing, are breathtaking."

Chase-Garner also believes that the Pan Am Games in Toronto will keep amateur sport in the public eye after this winter's Vancouver Olympics. Often following a games, the Canadian public, the private sector and the various levels of government, forget about Canada's amateur athletes and, consequently, funding drops.

Chase-Garner hopes that new funding initiatives will be set up for Canadian summer sport athletes leading up to the 2015 games, as was the case for winter sport athletes leading up to Vancouver.

"There's been a lot of love and support for the winter games athletes, so it will be nice to see that we have summer sports, too," she said.

"I think because we're much more successful in winter games, Canadians tend to forget our summer athletes. But there are many more summer sports and summer nations that compete."

STEVE.BUFFERY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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