Medal Madness at the Pan Am Games: a participant’s report

By Brian Fawcett | July 23, 2015


I received my third medal in the 2015 Pan Am games this morning, this one a gold. As far as I can figure it out, it was for getting up before 8 A.M.. It was hard to get a clear answer from the games official who delivered it. He was busy setting up the podium on the sidewalk, and rounding up the other medalists, who seemed quite groggy and more confused than I was. I guessed this was their first medal.

My other two medals, both silver, were for walking down to Bloor Street and buying gardening soil at Loblaws, respectively. I’d noticed a woman walking in the direction of Bloor while I was on my run, and she was clearly moving more quickly than I was, so when I was given the silver medal I felt no disappointment either for myself or my country. I admit, however, that I was slightly confused by the garden soil-buying silver. The bags of garden soil, mostly of peat moss, were being sold off at half price in the store’s end-of-season sale, and only I seemed to be interested in loading up the trunk of my car. Hence, I’m a little disappointed at not garnering the gold, particularly since the winner turned out to be one of my neighbours from down the street, a recent immigrant from the Caribbean competing for Trinidad/Tobago who’d carted away just a single bag in one of those two-wheeler cloth-and-metal hand carts. Was the medal for volume of soil, speed and promptness at acquiring it, or was it for the method of removal that counted? The event wasn’t televised, so there was no CBC commentator available to explain to viewers—and in this case to the competing athletes—what the sport was about and what its rules were.

This is all rather heavy-handed of me, but I’m sure you get my point. The games are only two-thirds through, and Canada already has 172 medals, including 64 of the 230 or so gold medals given out. I didn’t know that 230 sports existed, quite frankly, and I’m not sure I believe it now. Some part of me suspects that Canada’s “Own-the-Podium” entrepreneurial program from the last two Olympics has steamed out of control and is now inventing sports that it can own the podium for, or to, or whatever the proper perspective on this is. It couldn’t be more out of kilter than the perspective of the athletic community.

My point is, just in case you haven’t gotten it, that all this medal flogging is, well, unseemly. If you read between the lines, its clear that the Pan Am games are meaningless even in the bizarre world of global competitive sports: one can win a gold at the Pan Am games and not even be in the top twenty global competitors, or your sport—say, the breaking cups and saucers against a concrete wall competition being held in a back alley in Rosedale yesterday afternoon—hasn’t yet been accepted by the IOC as an Olympics-worthy sport (Canada won that competition, in case you missed the television coverage).

I get it that we’re living in a society in which we all deserve medals for our personal bests, whatever they might be: running the marathon, getting to crappy jobs every day in the financial district, biting off the tails of raccoons after midnight, etc. But really, with decaying roads and bridges, a public debt preventing our governments from doing anything but kissing the asses of offshore lenders, and a prime minister who wears baby-blue v-neck sweaters and secretly dreams of the Apocalypse, do we really have two billion dollars to blow on facilities for sports that are so obscure that half the competitors aren’t sure what the rules are?


616 words, July 23, 2015



  • Brian Fawcett

    Brian Fawcett (1944-2022) is a founding co-editor of He's the author of many books, including "Cambodia: A book for people who find television too slow" (1986), "Gender Wars" (1994), "Virtual Clearcut, or The Way Things Are in My Hometown" (2003), "Local Matters: A Defence of Dooney's Cafe and other Non-Globalized People, Places, and Ideas" (2003) and "Human Happiness" (2011).

Posted in: ,

More from Brian Fawcett: