MARKHAM, Ont. - Heartbreak has fuelled Canada's water polo teams for the better part of four years.
Both the men and women narrowly missed out on playing in the 2012 London Olympics — the women by virtually the smallest of margins — and they haven't forgotten.
"It's pretty much a constant thing," said men's goalie Robin Randall, who, at 34, has experienced the lows and highs of competing for Canada. "Any time you're in a rut and you need to dig yourself of bed, and get in the car and go to practice, that's something you can think about. . . most of the time it adds to the fire that's already inside you."
Canada's teams opened the UANA Cup on Wednesday night at the ATOS Markham Pan Am Centre, which is the water polo venue for this summer's Pan American Games, and what the players hope will be the backdrop for a happier Olympic qualifying story.
At the 2011 Pan Ams in Guadalajara, a gold medal would have meant an Olympic berth in London, but it wasn't to be for either team. The men lost 7-3 to the U.S. in their final. The women's loss was a more heartwrenching affair, an epic final that is believed to be one of the longest games ever.
After ending regulation tied 8-8, followed by a scoreless overtime period, the U.S. edged Canada 19-18 in a penalty shootout for a 27-26 victory that left the Canadian women distraught on the pool deck.
"It's still motivation for me," said veteran Krystina Alogbo. "It is hard, but all these moments bring that passion, that feeling that you still want it. We did come a hair short from qualifying, and it's just that feeling of almost having it just gives you that extra feeling like you want it, you want to go get it.
"So looking back at small details (in the loss), that's the little things that coaches will give us, details in practices and you try to not to let that happen ever again."
For the men, a victory at the Pan Am Games, July 10-26, would put them into the Rio Olympics. Failing that, they'll have a second-chance qualifier.
"I think we definitely are more prepared than we were (in 2011) to do what will be required to get a gold medal at the Pan American Games," said Canada's captain Kevin Graham, who plays professionally in Hungary. "So, yeah, losses are really disappointing but they can be learned from and used as motivation to get the job done the next time."
The women have to travel a tougher route to win one of the eight Olympic spots through a one-shot qualifying tournament in the spring of 2016.
Canada's men will play Argentina and Brazil in this week's UANA Cup, which is the America's qualifier for this year's world championships and a test event for the Pan Am Games. The women will play only Brazil after Puerto Rico withdrew.
Both both squads it's a chance to get accustomed to the $78 million, 2,000-seat seat Pan Am facility just northeast of Toronto.
"I think it's a bit of a psychological edge," Randall said of a hometown Pan Am Games. "Everybody else has to travel, everything is pretty familiar to us, we have normal food that we're used to, everybody speaks the same language as us, and fans are going to be cheering for us. It will be good."
Canada's men finished 11th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which was the team's first appearance at the Games in 24 years. The Canadian women were fifth at the 2000 Sydney Games, then seventh four years later in Athens. They didn't qualify for Beijing or London.