Pan Am Adventure pt2: Beer & Pizza at Aquatic Centre… When the F%!K did Swimming Become So Cool?

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One guy with his hand hanging out of an SUV raises his middle finger in salute to our high occupancy lane entitlement. We fly past; I smile and say to no one in particular “should’ve won those Edge interns from Fred & Mel dingus.”

My eleven year old Rowan asks “What Daddy?”

“Nothing”

“Were you talking at other drivers again?”

“I would never dream of it!”

Walking through the gates at the Pan Am Aquatic Centre, I notice huge differences between the Ajax Ball Park, and this new state-of-the-art sports centre. Ajax had tents serving hot dogs and hamburgers, while Scarborough got hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and a tent devoted to shawarma. Dammit, I would’ve eaten here if I’d known I wasn’t limited to chip truck food.

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Taking our seats, I see people walking by with beer and pizza in their hands. WTF – when I was a Speedo-wearing teenage swimmer we couldn’t get a frickin’ chocolate milk into the stands. When did swimming become cool? Could it be swimming is on par with… dare I say… curling. Here, I see smiling patrons walking up the stairs with their hops and barley delights stacked three cans high. That is, until they try to find their seats. The stickers on the metal stairs are small and one gentleman is already so confused he can’t figure out row numbers until I actually count them out for him… three times. Of course, this could be about the heat. The pool seems to be kept at hot tub temperatures, meaning the humidity is worse inside tonight than it was several days ago at the softball game in full afternoon sun.

The first race is the Women’s 400 Individual Medley. Seventeen year old Emily Overholt is taking Canada on a thrill ride. The crowd is going insane. You would swear it was a Stanley Cup playoff game, with fans on their feet screaming encouragement in Portuguese, Spanish, French and English simultaneously. For all of a minute it looked like we would be hearing our national anthem, until some official takes it upon themselves to change the soundtrack.

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First in the women’s 400 IM and then in the men’s, the gold medal wasn’t decided in the pool, but by some overzealous officials in plastic chairs at each end of the pool who disqualified them. First Overholt and then Brazilian Thiago Pereira were stripped of places atop the podium for a non-simultaneous wall touch. This rule, that no one actually enforces, is very hard to catch and is pointless as it doesn’t give a swimmer any clear advantage. Boos rang out and later appeals by the teams were to no avail.

Still, Canadians were undeterred by officiating gaffs, putting in outstanding performances resulting in medals for every event. Sydney Pickrem was bumped up to silver in the Women’s 400 IM and Luke Reilly moved to silver in the men’s event. Noemie Thomas and Katerine Savard finished 2-3 in the Women’s 100 M Butterfly while Santo Condorelli finished with a bronze on the men’s side. Canadians finished the night with a bronze in the 4 x 200 M Women’s Freestyle Relay. By the night’s end Canada took home five medals, a great performance.

Without the familiar “O Canada”, my seven year old son had refused to stand during one medal ceremony, disappointed by hearing an unfamiliar anthem. After it finished playing, I leaned down for a chat.

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“Evan, do you know why I stand and respect national anthems from other countries.”

“No”

“Well, it is because they are us! People come from all over the world to live in Canada, and every flag you see being raised is a part of our flag.”

“No it isn’t.”

Seeing his blank expression I realize a few things. He is seven, this isn’t a TV show life lesson and I’m not Kermit the Frog.

“Ok, here’s the deal. You stand or I can talk at you about trouble and punishment until you cover your ears and beg for mercy.”

In return I get the pouty look of wrath; Evan’s eyes promising that if he remembers this moment in ten years, he’ll make my life a living hell by becoming the teenage version of me.

Leaving the venue I look over at the Shawarma tent and envision athletes gathered around the table like Avengers. Voice over: “After a hard battle against tremendous odds, our heroes enjoy a quiet meal of tangy goodness. All is right again in the world.”

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