TORONTO (AP) — Canada feels the power of the home-field advantage at the Pan Am Games, and Brazil — the host of the Olympics next year in Rio de Janeiro — is watching.
Canada has topped the medal table through the first days of the event and, although it’s sure to relinquish its lead to the powerful Americans, the frenzied home crowds in Toronto are driving the medal count.
“Knowing that most of those people in the stands are there for you is a tremendous confidence builder,” Curt Harnett, head of the Canadian delegation, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “It gives you a significant sense of — I’ll use the word: swagger.”
Canada’s got it. Brazil will need it a year from now. And the Americans always seem to have it at the big events.
Host countries always get a boost at the Olympics, or in large regional events like the Pan Am Games. China did in 2008 in Beijing, and Britain caught Olympic fever three years ago in London.
Canada’s going all out to justify spending $2 billion on the most expensive Pan Am Games in history. It’s treating the games like the Olympics — newspapers are displaying the medal count on the front page — and some see it as a prelude to an eventual Olympic bid.
The hemisphere’s three powers are taking slightly different approaches to the 17-day event.
Harnett said Canada is fielding its “A Team” and its 719-member delegation is the largest of the games, and almost twice as big as its Pan Am team four years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Canada is building on its success at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, where it topped the gold-medal count.
“Canadians found their collective voice and pride at Vancouver, and that surge has carried over here,” Harnett said.
Harnett won three Olympics medals in track cycling, but he’s best known for making a shampoo commercial just before the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
“I probably became better known as the shampoo guy who went to the Olympics, rather than the Olympic guy who did the shampoo commercial,” said Harnett, a 50-year-old who still has long, curly blond hair.
Brazilian officials describe their Pan Am team as a “mix” with perhaps 70 percent from the “A Team.” The goal is to be in the top three in Toronto, and then to start thinking about Rio.
Brazil won 17 medals three years ago in London. Adriana Behar, the deputy head of the Brazilian Pan Am delegation, said the Olympic goal is to reach the top 10 in the total medal count, which probably means winning between 27 and 30.
“We know that at home we have the pressure, with everyone anticipating the results,” said Behar, who won back-to-back Olympic silver medals in beach volleyball in 2000 and 2004.
“We notice how Canada has done here at home,” she said. “I can tell you, for me as an athlete, it makes a huge difference with everyone supporting you; the fans, the atmosphere, to be in a place you are used to.”
Alan Ashley, head of the American delegation in Toronto, said he expects Brazil to get a “good bump” next year in Rio.
“The home-field advantage for the Brazilians next year will be significant,” he said. “It’s an unbelievably great opportunity. You get to enter in some sports you might not have entered, and you have that incredible enthusiasm of the crowds.”
Ashley, who is chief of sport performance for U.S. Olympic Committee, described his team as a “real mix” between world and Olympic champions, “and B and C team athletes that are really still on their way up through the pipeline. So it’s all over the map.”
He used the example of a rowing team that had never rowed together, racing in Toronto after a few days of practice.
“It’s a broad mix.”
The Americans have won twice as many medals as any other country at the Pan Ams since the games started 64 years ago. He said no one needed motivation to continue the dominance.
“The level of athletes that come to these events, they are the type of people that you don’t need to tell them they need to do well. They’ve figured that out.”