By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – Peru got the Pan Am Games off to a dream start on Saturday, taking gold in both the men’s and women’s marathon to leave an astonished nation in an unfamiliar spot — top of the medal table ahead of the mighty United States.
The powerhouse U.S. rank first on the Pan Am all-time medal table so it was little surprise that normal service resumed quickly with the Americans later leap-frogging the hosts.
Few Peruvians, though, could have imagined a start that provided more fireworks than a spectacular opening ceremony even if it did come with a bit of controversy.
The U.S. collected the first gold medal of the Games when Alex Lee beat Hugo Del Castillo in the men’s taekwondo poomsae final.
However, Peru did not have to wait long to celebrate their first success when just over an hour later Gladys Tejeda claimed a rousing but controversial win in the women’s marathon.
While huge crowds lined the Lima streets to cheer on Tejeda, others were far less enthused with the result by the Peruvian marathoner who was the winner at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games but was stripped of her title after a positive drug test.
None of that mattered, however, for the thousands of flag-waving supporters who lined the route as Tejeda powered home in a Games record time of two hours, 30 minutes and 55 seconds, ahead of fading American Bethany Sachtleben and Colombian Anjie Orjuela Soche.
“This is everything I have dreamed of for four years,” said Tejeda, who received her medal from Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra. “This is so exciting for me because it is the first time I have won in front of all the Peruvian people. They were so loud.
“In Toronto because of negligence I lost my medal but here in Peru it is different because it’s my home and I was very prepared.”
Tejeda, 33, was banned for six months after the 2015 race for testing positive for the banned diuretic furosemide.
While Peru was still celebrating Tejeda’s victory Christian Pacheco completed a marathon sweep for the host country, storming across the finish line carrying a Peruvian flag on his back ahead of the Mexican duo of Jose Luis Marin Santana and Juan Pacheco.
“We are local here and no one can beat us,” said Pacheco. “This is our home.
“I knew the race was mine from the start. It was in my head at the beginning that I was going to win.
“I visualised victory on these streets from the moment I arrived in Lima two weeks ago.”
Hosting their first Games, Peru have never made much of an impression on the Pan Am medal table.
They enjoyed their best ever Games four years ago in Toronto, winning three gold medals, and almost matched that total in the opening hours on Saturday.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)