July 24: Table Tennis
We bought the boys a table tennis table for Christmas last year and they’ve been having a bunch of fun with that, so when we asked them to pick a Pan Am event each to go and see, Nicky chose table tennis. Just like handball and beach volleyball, our ticket got us multiple matches. Unlike the others though, we got as many as we wanted. The games started at 4pm and the last one was scheduled at 9:30, and there were multiple matches going on at one time. We stayed for 6 of them: four women’s single matches and two men’s.
And we thought handball was fast. These players were unbelievable – routinely returning smashes that we could barely see, standing 10 feet away from the table and still returning shots, and spinning the ball so much we could see it curving in the air. Below is a short video of two players warming up before their match. Obviously during the game they weren’t hitting it to the same place repeatedly, but the games were just as fast.
The serves were weird. The player would toss the ball into the air, then hit it forward with lots of backspin and a foot stomp, or sometimes twist their wrist just as they were hitting it to give it side spin. After that, almost every shot was hit with top spin. This makes sense – the more top spin, the faster the ball will go after it hits the table and the harder it is to return.
We saw one rally with an American 15-year-old playing an Argentinian where the American kid would smash it as hard as possible only to see the ball returned – FOUR straight times before his fifth smash finally ended it. There were usually multiple games going on so sometimes you’d be watching one and suddenly you’d hear a loud cheer from those in the crowd who were watching the other game. This could be distracting for the players but I imagine that by the time you get to the Pan Am games, you’re used to it and able to focus on your own game.
One Peruvian player rarely smashed it or even hit it hard – no matter how hard the shot was hit at him, he’d softly hit it back, just making sure to hit the table. It seemed that his goal was just to return it and let the other player mess up, as if he was not trying to win, but just trying not to lose. This worked a surprising number of times; his opponent would try to smash the hell out of it and sometimes miss the table or hit it into the net. The Peruvian did eventually lose but he took it to the sixth game (the matches were best-of-7).
This event was in Markham so we drove rather than taking the train. This worked out well – there was a small handicap parking lot next to the building where they allowed me to drop off Gail and my mother-in-law so they didn’t have to walk the 1km or so from the regular parking lot. Parking was free and there was lots of room. Just like the other events we saw, this one ran smoothly with one exception. When we got to the building from the parking lot, there were no signs indicating where to go, so we headed for what looked like the front door. But there were fences around the building and by the time we found the actual entrance, we’d walked 3/4 of the way around the building. This could have better signed.
July 26: Soccer
For Christmas (2014), my sister bought tickets for my dad and I to go and see the Pan Am soccer gold medal match. Despite the fact that BMO Field is in Exhibition Place right next to the whole Pan Am park, the Pan Am soccer games were held at (what is normally) Tim Horton’s field in Hamilton. MLS season is in full swing so perhaps they didn’t want to have to worry about conflicts with Toronto FC. In any case, this was a much shorter drive for us than to the other events. I drove to MacMaster University, where they had set up a parking area, and then had tons of school buses to shuttle people to the stadium. Parking was $10 but if you pre-booked online it was only $5. The bussing worked out really well and even when there was a long line after the game to get back to the parking lot, the line moved fairly quickly.
It was very hot out but we were in the upper deck of the stadium and there was a nice breeze so it wasn’t stifling. We did bring sunscreen so we didn’t fry, and we also brought a couple of empty water bottles which we filled up at a free water station inside the stadium. Despite the fact that there were signs all over the place saying that you cannot bring food or drink (even water) into the stadium, and a person making frequent PA announcements to this effect, the people in front of us in line were still “surprised” when they were stopped and told to either drink or dump their water. There was a very long line for the water filling station (in the west stands, anyway – I assume there was another one in the east stands), but it moved along pretty quickly.
As for the game itself, it was pretty entertaining for a soccer game. It was Uruguay taking on Mexico and even though I’m not the biggest soccer fan around, I do enjoy watching great players (in any sport) do their thing. The ball movement was excellent, and I was stunned at how far the players, particularly the goalies, could kick. Uruguay scored on a penalty kick only 11 minutes into the game and that turned out to be the only goal. Oddly, when they showed the stats at halftime, Uruguay had one goal and zero shots, so I guess penalty kicks don’t count as shots for some reason.
When North American people think of soccer, the first thing many of them think is that soccer players are notorious for faking injuries, and unfortunately, there was plenty of that here too. It’s really rather sad that the when a player goes down, the default assumption is that he’s faking it. I watch a lot of lacrosse, and if I see a lacrosse player hit the floor and the trainer comes out, it rarely crosses my mind that he’s not hurt. It definitely happens in other sports, but not nearly as much as soccer.
There was one play in this game where a player went down and play continued, but he didn’t get up. After a few more seconds of play, the ref blew the whistle and a couple of players went to check on him. One waved the ref over, who waved the trainers in. After a minute or two, I started to believe that maybe this guy actually was injured. The trainers waved in some more people who brought a stretcher onto the field. They carried the player off on the stretcher, and the game continued once they hit the sidelines. Less than a minute later, the “injured” player was jogging back onto the field. “Beautiful game” my ass.
Other game notes:
- The stadium is normally called “Tim Horton’s Field”, but all mention of this was covered up, and the place was officially referred to as “CIBC Pan Am Soccer Stadium”. I imagine that either Tim Horton’s didn’t want to pay extra during the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games, or they were willing but the Pan Am people wanted too much money. I originally thought that maybe it was an ideology thing; the Pan Am people didn’t want to promote corporate sponsorship so they forced the stadium to cover up the names. The Rogers’ Centre (where the opening and closing ceremonies were) was referred to as the Pan Am Dome, and I assumed it was for the same reason. But that couldn’t have been it, since they just gave it a different corporate sponsor (CIBC), and the beach volleyball facility was sponsored (and named) for Chevrolet.
- We got lost inside the stadium. Our seats were on level 6, and we wanted to go back to the concourse to fill the water bottles and my dad wanted to look for a T-shirt for my niece. We got into the elevator and ignoring all the signs saying what floor each thing was on, pressed the button for the first floor. This turned out to be deep in the bowels of the stadium and we found quite quickly that we were in the wrong place. We found a staircase and went up a floor but couldn’t go any further up and we found ourselves coming out of a door marked “Staff only”. After looking around some more (finding a room called the “Kickoff Room”), we couldn’t find another staircase so we found the elevator again (even the elevator signs this deep in the building had the “Tim Horton’s Field” signs covered up) and this time went to the third floor.
- As I mentioned in my handball article, the time on the scoreboard for soccer counts up. Even worse, an arbitrary number of minutes is added to the end of each half to account for time when players were “injured” and the clock kept going during the stoppage in play. Why they can’t just stop the clock when the whistle is blown, I don’t know. But during injury time the clock doesn’t run, so nobody knows how much time is left. This is mind-boggling.
- Local band Monster Truck played a couple of songs at halftime. I was not familiar with them, but I really liked what I heard and have since bought their album Furiosity.
Overall Pan Am Experience
We had a totally positive experience going to the Pan Am events. The transit solutions were great, getting through security was fine, there were lots of concession options which were not outrageously priced, everything seemed well-organized, and the games themselves were exciting. Like I said before, I wasn’t driving in Toronto every day during the games so I can’t comment on the HOV lane changes or things like that. And I understand that a lot of government money was spent on the games, but I think this whole experience has been good for the economy of southern Ontario and it’s great for the next generation of Canadian athletes. Some of the venues, like beach volleyball, were temporary but we now have a permanent “class 1” velodrome in Milton, one of only two in North America. A bunch of new Olympic-size pool facilities were built and they will remain. From now on, Canadian athletes will be able to use these facilities for training rather than having to leave the country to train elsewhere. This may explain why the 2015 Pan Am games were the best ever for Canada.
This will also help Toronto’s potential bid for the 2024 Olympics. Not only do they now have some of the facilities they will need, but they have experience running a similar event.
The Parapan Am Games are coming to Toronto too; they start next week. We’ve already bought tickets for a couple of events: we will be going to see goalball (sort of handball for the blind) and 5-a-side soccer (also for blind athletes). We didn’t intend on just watching sports for the blind, it just worked out that way.