Soccer star Kara Lang and Olympic trampoline silver medallist Jason Burnett were among Canadian athletes who helped Toronto mark the two-year countdown to the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games on Wednesday.
Lang, who won bronze at the 2007 Pan Ams in Rio de Janeiro and Burnett, who won silver that same year, talked about the place the multisport Games held in their athletic development.
"The Pan Am Games for any athlete pursuing the opportunity to play in something like the Olympics is just a great opportunity," said Lang, who's attempting a comeback after two torn ACLs derailed her soccer career.
"To experience a multisport Games, it's such a difference beast from any other competition that you get to compete in. Something like the World Cup, it's only soccer, your only focus is soccer. You get to a multisport event and there's all kinds of other aspects you don't really consider, distractions. . .
"It's a really cool experience obviously being not only part of the Canadian soccer team or whatever your sport may be, but now you're a part of the Canadian Pan Am Games team. I think that's what make the experience so special and why it's a great opportunity to prepare you for something like the Olympics, because really there is nothing like that. In some ways it's crucial before the Olympics for athletes to get that taste of a multisport Games."
Lang, Burnett, Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield and wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy posed for pictures and signed autographs for the Toronto lunchtime crowd, where Mayor Rob Ford proclaimed the day Pan Am/Parapan Am Day in Toronto.
Burnett won silver at the 2007 Pan Ams, and said the timing of the Toronto Games — about a year from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics — makes it the perfect tune-up competition for Canada's top athletes.
"It's one of the very few times athletes have the opportunity to compete at a multisport event, so they get a whole new experience outside of competing in just their individual event," Burnett said in between bounces and flips on a trampoline set up for the festivities. "It's going to be much larger, bigger audiences, a lot more athletes roaming around, a lot more distractions, so it's a great preparation ahead of the Olympics coming up."
Countdown festivities were also held in Hamilton, Welland, Markham, Milton, Ajax, Caledon, Mississauga, Oshawa and St. Catharines — all sites of venues for the 2015 Games.
"This is just the beginning of what the region will look like two years from today. . .," said Ian Troop, CEO of the Toronto 2015 organizing committee.
Canada will send its largest team ever to the Toronto Pan Ams — some 1,100 athletes, coaches and technicians.
"We are enormously proud of our ability to field this large a team for the first time in Canadian Pan Am history," said Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut. "With this investment, we are ensuring that every Canadian athlete who is eligible to compete will compete."
Close to 7,000 athletes will compete in 36 Pan Am sports and 15 Parapan Am sports in the summer of 2015.
The Pan Ams are July 10-26, 2015, while the Parapan Am Games are Aug. 7-14.