By Steve Keating
SANTIAGO (Reuters) – The United States was back racking up Pan American gold on Sunday while problems mounted for organisers and officials after an embarrassing gaffe in the race walk and trouble at venues.
Hosting their biggest sporting event since the 1962 World Cup, Santiago organisers spent the first week dismissing concerns of ongoing construction and operational lapses as they soaked up praise and dreamy talk of hosting a future Olympics.
But Pan Am officials were in full damage control mode on Sunday as operational cracks began to appear and the reality of getting the Games to the finish line began to hit home.
Problems began early on Sunday when it was discovered the route for the women’s 20 kilometre race walk won by Peru’s Kimberly Garcia was nearly three kilometres short.
Officials realised the error when Garcia, the 2022 world champion and silver medallist at the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games, crossed the finish line in a time of one hour, 12 minutes, 26 seconds which would have demolished China’s Jiayu Yang’s world record of 1:23.49.
The top three were allowed to keep their medals but all times were voided and precious Paris Olympic ranking points lost.
“We deeply regret the inconvenience for the athletes, their coaches, the public and the attending press, but this situation cannot be attributed to the organising committee,” said the Santiago organising committee in a statement pointing the blame at the Pan American Athletics Association.
The organising committee also side stepped responsibility for leaks in the handball arena that brought an early end on Saturday to a women’s semifinal match between Brazil and Chile.
There were further delays at the Vina del Mar venue on Sunday with the start of the bronze medal match between Paraguay and Chile pushed back due to a “technical decision by the venue manager”.
After hitting the pause button the United States gold medal machine was back in gear on Sunday adding seven to their total.
The Americans opened the Games piling up 59 gold over the first five days but managed just two over the next three.
The U.S. continues to lead the medal standings with 68 gold and 163 total medals with Mexico a distant second with 35 and 88.
Ashley Twichell got things rolling with an inspiring swim in the women’s 10km open water race the 34-year-old beating Brazil’s Tokyo Olympic champion Ana Marcela Cunha to the finish.
Brennan Gravley would later win the men’s 10km to give the U.S. a golden sweep of the open water events.
The gold was Twichell’s first at the Pan Ams since taking a bronze in the 800m 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) is what I was definitely hoping for but I really didn’t know,” said Twichell, 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 to feel really strong throughout the whole race especially at the end to feel like I had and another gear.”
There was also gold on the streets for the Americans with Lauren Stephens winning the women’s cycling road race while Ecuador’s Jhonatan Narvaez won in a wild sprint finish to take the men’s title.
The U.S. also won three of the six gold on offer at the canoe slalom while the other three went to Brazil.
Brazil finished the day claiming the gold in women’s handball beating their great 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)