By Steve Keating
LIMA (Reuters) – For two weeks the warmth emitting from the Pan Am Games took the bite out of the winter chill in the Peruvian capital but as they drew to a close on Sunday, some cold, hard questions about the future of the multi-sport showcase hung heavy in the air.
As the closing ceremonies got underway, Peru was already basking in the afterglow of a highly successful endeavour that clunked along at times but in the end delivered the goods for 6,600 athletes from 41 nations.
“You know, we are not perfect,” said Lima 2019 president Carlos Neuhaus during the final news briefing.
“But the Games are here and everyone has competed and everyone has enjoyed it.
“These days have been difficult. But finishing this great effort that not many people thought would be possible, I thank you.”
In short order, the logistical snarl-ups Lima organisers wrestled with will be forgotten, if they have not been already.
What will linger for some time, however, is a super-charged sense of national pride at what was, from a sporting perspective, a spectacular Games for the hosts with a record 11 gold and 39 total medals.
Three gold medals had given Peru their best ever Games four years ago in Toronto but they nearly matched that tally in the opening hours in Lima when Gladys Tejeda and Christian Pacheco swept the marathon titles.
Organisers were helpless to do anything about Lima’s chaotic traffic or cold weather but delivered first class venues —including a brand new Olympic sized pool — that will be the legacy of these Games.
“This is like a football game, you don’t lower the guard until the whistle blows,” Neuhaus told Reuters just hours before the start of the closing ceremonies.
“I’m happy seeing the kids, the athletes with the medals and seeing the faces of the people of Lima.
“We have these Games and for us it was a very good result, the best thing of this is the athletes, people will be more interested in more sports.
“The main sports in Peru are football and volleyball then surfing, so now we have opened the opportunity for all the young kids to do other things.”
Next to host the Games in 2023 is Santiago with the countdown for the Chilean capital starting in earnest on Sunday.
But the body under real pressure is the Panam Sports Organisation (PSO), which needs to find a way to breathe some relevance into an increasingly marginalized competition.
While Peru can claim to have hosted a successful Games, the regional governing body would have a harder time taking any credit.
The United States once again dominated the show with 120 gold, more than double the tally of Brazil in second place, and 293 total medals.
Only three countries — Brazil, Mexico and Canada — won more total medals than the U.S. haul of golds.
Despite the spectacular medal hauls, though, the Pan Am Games were largely ignored in the U.S. and Canada.
The biggest story to come out of the two week competition for the U.S. media were the podium protests by two of their gold medallists.
Fencer Race Imboden took a knee while his national anthem played and hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist into the air in an attempt to bring attention to social issues back home.
Canadian Press sent one reporter and a photographer to provide on-site coverage, while the country’s national broadcaster live streamed the Games but had no on-air programming.
Coverage by U.S. outlets was equally thin with no major newspapers credentialled and broadcast rights holder ESPN focussing on its Spanish service.
It was not just the media but top athletes who in many cases made the Pan Ams a low priority, leaving many of the sports with a distinct lack of depth.
The PSO conceded that these issues needed to be addressed, but so far have revealed no details of how they plan to generate interest in the lucrative North American markets.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)