USA piles up gold again as Pan Am Games woes mount

SANTIAGO, Oct 29 (Reuters) – The United States again piled up Pan American gold on Sunday as problems for organizers and officials mounted after an embarrassing race-walking gaffe and venue problems.

Having hosted its biggest sporting event since the 1962 World Cup, Santiago’s organizers spent the first week dismissing concerns about continued construction and operational lapses while soaking up praise and dreamy talk of hosting a future Olympics.

But Pan Am officials were in full damage control mode Sunday as operational cracks began to appear and the reality of getting the Games to the finish line began to hit home.

The trouble started early on Sunday when it was discovered that the route of the women’s 20km race walk won by Peru’s Kimberly Garcia was almost three kilometers shorter.

Officials realized the mistake when Garcia, the 2022 world champion and silver medalist at the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games, crossed the finish line in a time of one hour, 12 minutes, 26 seconds, which would have destroyed the world record of China’s Jiayu Yang in 1:23.49.

The top three were allowed to keep their medals, but all times were voided and valuable Paris Olympic qualification points were lost.

“We deeply regret the inconvenience to the athletes, their coaches, the public and the press present, but this situation cannot be attributed to the organizing committee,” Santiago’s organizing committee said in a statement, pointing the blame at the Pan American Athletic Association.

The organizing committee also claimed responsibility for a leak in the handball arena that led to Saturday’s premature end to the women’s semifinal match between Brazil and Chile.

There were further delays at the Vina del Mar stadium on Sunday, with the start of the bronze medal match between Paraguay and Chile postponed due to a “technical decision by the stadium manager”.

After hitting the pause button, the United States’ gold medal machine turned on again Sunday, adding seven to their total.

The Americans opened the Games by amassing 59 golds in the first five days, but managed just two in the next three.

The U.S. continues to lead the medal standings with 68 golds and 163 total medals, with Mexico in second place with 35 and 88.

Ashley Twitchell set things in motion with an inspirational swim in the women’s 10km open water race, with the 34-year-old beating Tokyo Olympic champion Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil to the finish.

Brennan Gravely would later win the men’s 10km to give the US a golden sweep of open water racing.

The gold was Twichell’s first at the Pan Ams since taking bronze in the 800-meter freestyle 12 years ago at the Guadalajara Games and provided more motivation to try for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in Paris.

“That (gold) was definitely what I was hoping for, but I really didn’t know,” said Twitchell, who became the oldest American swimmer since 1908 to make her Olympic debut at age 32 at the Tokyo Games.

“I was really excited to see where I was today and feel really strong throughout the race, especially at the end, to feel like I had another gear.”

There was also gold for the Americans on the streets, with Lauren Stevens winning the women’s road cycling race, while Ecuador’s Jonathan Narvaez won in a wild sprint to take the men’s title.

The U.S. also won three of the six gold medals on offer in canoe slalom, while the other three went to Brazil.

Brazil finished the day by winning gold in women’s handball, defeating arch-rivals Argentina 30-18, and in women’s basketball with a 50-40 win over Colombia.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Santiago. Editing by Michael Perry

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