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Joy and heartbreak for Island athletes as Pan Am Games reach halfway point

44 Island athletes are on the 473-member Canadian team
Sanoa Dempfle-Olin, left, and Mathea Dempfle-Olin. RUNAMUCK PHOTOGRAPHY / WORLD SURF LEAGUE

Elation and heartbreak mixed for Island athletes, as they often do in the compressed timeline of a multi-sport Games, as the 2023 Pan American Games reached the midway point in Santiago, Chile.

Surfer Sanoa Dempfle-Olin of Tofino assured herself a medal Saturday by navigating difficult waves through the two opening rounds to reach the three-surfer medal round Monday. It will be the second consecutive medal for the Island family as older sister Mathea Dempfle-Olin won bronze in the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games.

“It was so tricky. It was kind of hard to find the waves out there. The conditions deteriorated so quickly,” said the 18-year-old Sanoa Dempfle-Olin, in her post-round media scrum.

“[The second round] was a wave I’ve never surfed before. I really tried to get my two scores on the board and surf to whatever I could get, and luckily, it worked out for me at the end and I’m really happy to be in the medal round. This event is huge and exciting. To stand on the podium and get a medal is amazing.”

Dempfle-Olin will meet Leilani McGonagle of Costa Rica in the head-to-head semifinal Monday of the medal round. The loser will take the bronze medal and the winner will advance to meet Tatiana Weston-Webb of Brazil in the gold-medal final. The gold medallist will qualify their nation a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I’m just living in the moment. It’s very exciting,” said Dempfle-Olin.

“Just being here is such an amazing opportunity and experience.”

The Pan Am Games are also an Olympic qualifier in boxing. Veteran Victoria boxer Bryan Colwell, 33, won a men’s heavyweight bronze medal in the Santiago Pan Am Games but was denied his chance at the gold medal for medical reasons with a cut sustained in an earlier bout that ended his dream at the semifinal stage with his opponent allowed a walkover into the final and a shot at Paris. Semifinal losers at major Games in boxing are automatically awarded bronze medals with third-place bouts not held for safety reasons.

Colwell took the bronze medal in stride and with a sense of perspective: “I’ve put in 15 years to get here. It’s been a long time coming. Obviously it’s not the way we wanted it to go down. But I still have two more opportunities to qualify [at upcoming world Olympic qualifiers for Paris]. This puts me in a good position within the [Canadian] program to get centralized and get some funding and things like that. It was still a successful tournament and I’m really grateful to have come and been a part of it.”

Colwell said it wouldn’t be possible without the support he receives in his hometown: “Thank you so much Victoria. It’s a huge accomplishment for our community. We have a really strong athletic community in Victoria and I’m just paving the way for future athletes. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

There was another bronze medal in the Games for a veteran Island athlete who has also put in a lot of time to earn it. Victoria swimmer Jeremy Bagwell’s bronze medal with the Canadian 4x200 men’s relay team came after competing in the 2018 Gold Coast and 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and 2019 Lima Pan Am Games, and just missing out on making the Olympic team twice at national trials, to finally getting to stand on a Games podium. Every athlete’s dreams and accomplishments are relative and you know that had to be a great feeling for the St. Michaels University School graduate whose previous medals were at Canadian championships and in the NCAA Pac-12 championships for Cal-Berkeley.

Danielle Hanus, twice named UVic Vikes female athlete of the year, recorded multi-medals for the second consecutive Pan Am Games. The former Vikes star won two bronze medals in Santiago to follow up her four medals from the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

“I can never really truly express how grateful I am to my family and coaches for always being there supporting me,” she said.

Among them was UVic Vikes veteran mentor Peter Vizsolyi.

The Island-based Canadian rowing team accounted for four medals in the first half of the Santiago Games. The highlight was Stelly’s Secondary graduate and University of Victoria Vikes rower Abby Speirs reaching the top of the podium with the gold-medallist women’s eights crew which is based in North Cowichan on Quamichan Lake.

Fourth is the most agonizing placing in a Games and it was experienced in Santiago by Central Saanich Boulders Gym wall speed-climber Ethan Flynn-Pitcher after making the semifinals against eventual gold-medallist Samuel Watson of the U.S. and losing the bronze-medal showdown to Carlos Granja of Ecuador. Watson earned a Paris Olympics berth for the U.S.

The 2023 Pan Am Games, with 44 Island athletes on the 473-member Canadian team, begin their second week today and run through next Sunday in the Chilean capital. Second-week highlights will include Paris Olympic berths on the line for Canada field-hockey players James Kirkpatrick, Kathleen Leahy, Anna Mollenhauer of Victoria and Sara Goodman of Duncan. (The Canadian men are 2-0 and Canadian women were 1-0 heading into Saturday’s late match against host Chile).

Victoria rugby sevens players Lachlan Kratz, Jack Carson, Matt Percillier, Jake Thiel, Caroline Crossley and Carissa Norsten will take to the field Friday and Saturday for Canada as medal favourites and world-champion hammer-thrower Ethan Katzberg of Nanaimo to the Estadio Nacional infield next Saturday as the overwhelming favourite.

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