TORONTO — From Day 1 of the Pan American Games, Curt Harnett says he knew Canadian athletes "were in it to win it."
By the final day, Canada's chef de mission and his team of 717-strong were basking in the most successful Pan Am performance in Canadian history.
"One podium performance quickly followed another, en route to our Top 2 place in the medals table," Harnett said Sunday at the Canadian team's closing news conference. "Like a parent, I could not be more proud, with each and every athlete on Team Canada. You delivered."
Canada set an ambitious goal of finishing second in the medal standings, and brought the team to do it. From swimmer Ryan Cochrane, to decathlete Damian Warner, to kayaker Adam van Koeverden, Canada fielded not only its largest ever team, but arguably strongest, for Toronto. It was a who's who of athletes who will shine on sport's biggest stage at next summer's Rio Olympics.
Canada's women's kayak team of Michelle Russell, Emilie Fournel, KC Fraser and Hannah Vaughan kicked off the record run with gold in the K-4 500 on the morning of Day 1, in the first event of the Games.
And by the time the women's baseball team capped Canada's run to the podium with a silver medal, the host nation had amassed 217 medals, 78 gold, 69 silver, and 70 bronze.
The mighty Americans will take home 265 — 103 gold, 81 silver and 81 bronze. Brazil finished a distant third with 141 medals.
Not everyone brought their top athletes to Toronto. The Americans fielded squads of mainly B-team athletes. Jamaica was missing its best sprinters, like superstar Usain Bolt.
Canada, meanwhile, topped its previous best of 197 medals when Winnipeg hosted the Games in 1999. Canada passed that mark with two days to go.
Along the way, Canadian stars were born, such as Kia Nurse, the 19-year-old who led Canada's women's basketball team to its first ever gold medal. Nurse was chosen to carry Canada's flag in to the closing ceremonies.
There was sprint phenom Andre De Grasse, won both the 100 and 200 metres, shattering his own Canadian record in the 200. The 20-year-old would have captured a third gold had the 4x100-metre relay not been disqualified for a lane violation.
Ellie Black leapt and tumbled to five medals in artistic gymnastics, as Canada's most decorated athlete at the Games. Whitney McClintock in water-skiing, Jasmin Glaesser in cycling, and swimmer Santo Condorelli each won four medals apiece.
Canada's men's softball team kept a firm grasp on gold, winning No. 8 in a row. No other country has ever won the tournament.
"At this Pan Am Games, top 2, I told you it was an ambitious objective, the way we like them. We like ambitious," said Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut. "I told you also that I had incredible faith in this great, great Canadian team."
Canada's total gold medals collected four years ago in Guadalajara was 30. This Canadian team blew by that mark on just Day 5 here. Canada surpassed the 119 total medals from Guadalajara on Day 8.
Canada took a much smaller team to Mexico, mainly because the Games fell so late in the competitive season.
And Canada wasn't the home team.
Aubut said the COC doubled its funding for athletes and sports compared to previous Pan Ams. The federal government provided an extra $3 million to Own The Podium for these Games to assist athletes with medal potential across all sports, not just Olympic and Paralympic sports.
Harnett, who pedalled to three Olympic medals for Canada, said his time as chef de mission is his favourite sports experience.
"There are many individual stories, but we have done one thing very well, and that's inspired Canada in such a significant way, and Canadians have inspired our athletes in such a significant way, that we know that the road to Rio for many of these athletes will bring great things," he said.
Lima, Peru will host the next Pan Am Games four years from now.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press