Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy 10th Anniversary '99 Pan Am Gold Medalists!

Ten years ago today the finals of the 1999 Pan Am Games were held in Winnipeg, Canada. The USA swept the gold medals. Adam Karp won the men's gold, Cheryl Gudinas the women's, with the doubles titles going to Doug Ganim and Drew Kachtik in men's and Jackie Paraiso and Joy Mackenzie in women's.

The men's final was an all-USA battle, as Karp defeated countryman Michael Bronfeld for his third big win in a little over a year, as Karp had won the previous two US National Singles titles in 1999 and 1998.

But the other finals were US-Canada match-ups. Gudinas was up against Christie Van Hees. Their match went to a tie-breaker, and late in game three Van Hees was serving up 9-8. She served, but Gudinas didn't move, as she had her racquet up.

Van Hees claimed she had checked the receiver, and when she did so Gudinas didn't have her racquet up. The referee disagreed, ruling that Van Hees had not adequately checked the receiver, and as this was the second time in the match that Van Hees had served with Gudinas signalling she wasn't ready, Van Hees lost the serve.

It was a controversial ruling, causing much protesting in the moment. But with the serve Gudinas took full advantage, winning the next three rallies to take the game, match and gold medal. Canada has yet to win a Pan Am gold medal.

Few matches lead to rule changes, but that one did, as now in games with one serve a server who serves when the receiver is signaling not ready "will be allowed one more opportunity to hit a legal serve." (see USA Racquetball Rule 3.9.j).

In doubles, Ganim and Kachtik defeated Roger Harripersad and Kelly Kerr. It was their second gold together, as they'd won doubles earlier that year at the Tournament of the Americas (now Pan Am Championships). However, prior to that neither had played for Team USA since the early '90s, Kachtik in 1991 and Ganim in 1992. Perhaps more remarkably, it was 15 years since Ganim had made his first appearance on Team USA, having been part of the 1984 World Championship team.

MacKenzie and Paraiso - twin sisters - played their final match together for Team USA 10 years ago, and went out with gold medals, defeating Canadians Lori-Jane Powell and Debbie Ward for the gold medal. The sisters were undefeated in their seven appearances with Team USA.


The racquetball legacy in Winnipeg from the '99 Games has been disappointing, as there wasn't the hoped for bump up in racquetball interest locally. That may be partly due to the fourth place finish by local racquetball hero and 10 time Canadian champion, Sherman Greenfeld, who finished fourth after losing to Bronfeld in the semis and then to Rob DeJesus of Puerto Rico in the bronze medal match.

Greenfeld seemed to have spent all his energy in defeating the then up-and-coming teenager Kane Waselenchuk in a quarter final match that went tie-breaker in what was a very hot facility. The two Canadians met in the quarters because DeJesus had defeated Waselenchuk in one of the preliminary round matches used to make the draw for the medal round.

But in general the lack of increased interest calls into question the effectiveness of hosting a large event to generate interest in a sport. Is spending a lot of money on a big event really going to increase interest in the sports involved after the event is over?

Make no mistake. Sports festivals can be really fun, and are great events in their own right. But whether the interest in the sports will carry on past the end of the events is a open question. Some kind of local, one to one, introduction is likely to be more effective at creating sustained interest than a massive event.

Alternatively, the '99 Pan Ams legacy might have been different if new racquetball facilities had been created or if existing facilities had been upgraded for the Games. But that was not the case. The portable court then used for the US Open in Memphis was brought to Winnipeg, which provided good viewing for the event, but no infrastructure legacy.

A big event can create a legacy for a sport, but it won't do so by itself. Follow-up activities need to be done, and you need places for those activities. Without them it's almost pointless to have the event in the first place, if your goal is boosting interest and participation at the local level.

Follow the bouncing ball...

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