What is not the Pan Ams?

“The Pan Ams are coming!  The Pan Ams are coming!  What’s a Pan Am?” sings a toddler on the streets of Canada’s largest city.  And she echoes the sentiments of many of her fellow metropolites.  The Pan (and Parapan) American Games are opened this past Friday, July 10th in Toronto, Ontario, CANADA.  As per the supposedly “unciteable” website (Wikipedia): The Pan American Games are a major sporting event occurring every four years in the Americas (North, Central, South), featuring summer sports in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions.  See what happened there?  I cited it.

The Pan Ams are coming to Canada for the third time.  The first time, in 1967, Winnipeg hosted the fifth edition of the Games, following the acts of Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Chicago, and Sao Paulo.  For some perspective, the average population of those cities (at roughly the times of their respective host years) was 2,986,200 vs. Winnipeg’s 1970s mark of roughly 533,300 – Buenos Aires brought the average down by probably a mil.

Opening Ceremonies, 1967

Opening Ceremonies, 1967

Pan Am XIII was also hosted by Canada in 1999, by none other than… you guess it… Winnipeg!  With mixed reviews, the legacy of these Games was marred with the controversial drug scandal involving Cuban high-jumper Javier Sotomayor.  Canadian inline hockey (a first-time event) goalie, Steve Vézina, also created a stir, when he tested positive for two banned substances, resulting in the entire team losing their gold medals.  Another fun tidbit: This was also beach volleyball’s first time at the table, and a pair of Canucks (Jody Holden & Conrad Leinemann) kept home the gold.

*** From archive ***  Jody Holden; Conrad Leinemann - Canada's Jody Holden (front) of Shelburne, N.S. and Conrad Leinemann of Kelowna, B.C. celebrate their gold medal win over Brazil at the men's beach volleyball final at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, Wednesday, Aug.4, 1999.   Photosource: CP PHOTO/Pierre Obendrauf   Photodate: 8/4/99  Processed: Tuesday, September 7, 1999 9:58:45 AM


Anyways, the XVII Pan American Games are back on home turf, and the buzz in the city is deafening – literally I can’t hear it.  As an amateur sports enthusiast, I am personally pumped about all this Canadian talent in one location, but I don’t share this enthusiasm with many of my fellow Torontonians.  The Games were epicly advertised, and planned on time, from what my sources tell me [Sidebar: The organic structure of a Games Committee is a fascinating thing.  Think about it, you have to build a company in a matter of five years – adding people bit by bit, as needed – and then you just fold up shop after the closing ceremonies.  Many of these employees are now qualified amateur sports professionals looking for work, or caravaning around the world looking to work for other Games.  Different.].  The sad thing is:  Nobody really cares in Toronto.  Ticket sales are way down, and the expected gridlock in the city’s core is nothing more than the status quo.  So I think it’s fair to say that many Torontonians are echoing the aforementioned little girl, and are just mildly curious about an international sports competition featuring some of the best athletes in the world.  Tisk tisk.

Well you know what is not the Pan Am Games?  The 2015 Universiade in Gwangju, South Korea, which started on July 3rd and has been hopelessly overshadowed by the Pan Ams.  Universiade – what a glorious name for a Games.  It sounds so elegant, something out of a Greek epic.  Etymologically, it’s nothing as fancy as that.  Simply a melange of the words university and olympiad… so thank you to the Greeks, I guess.  I love the Universiade because of the true amateur status of the athletes.  Everything else – Pan Ams, Olympics, Commonwealth, etc. – now includes mostly pros.  The Universiade is still pure, and elegant, and not getting enough attention for its wholesomeness.

Here are some quick facts about the Universiade:

  • They are run by FISU, or Fédération Internationale du Sport Universitaire
  • Summer Stats: 9000+ students from 170+ nations with 13 compulsory disciplines (Athletics, Basketball, Fencing, Football, Artistic Gym, Rhythmic Gym, Judo, Swimming, Diving, Water Polo, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball)
  • Winter Stats: 2500+ students from 50+ nations with 8 compulsory disciplines (Alpine, Cross Country, Biathlon, Snowboarding, Curling, Hockey, Figure Skating, Speed Skating)
  • Winter and Summer Universiades occur in the same year; every two years
  • Gwangju is the 28th edition of the Summer Universiade
  • Granada (Spain) & Strbske Pleso (Slovakia) split the 27th (they’re one behind) Winter Universiade this year (first time that’s happened)
  • The roman numerals started in 1959, with Turin (Italy) hosting.  However, for a variety of reasons, there was usually only one per year until 1981.
  • Before Universiade I, there was an assortment of Student World Games, Youth Festivals, and International University Championships that date back to 1923.
  • Canada hosted the 1983 Summer Universiade XII in Edmonton, with a national record medal haul of 38 (9-10-19), behind the USSR and USA.
  • Taipei & Almaty (Kazakhstan) are set to host the 2017 Summer & Winter Universiades, respectively.

Canadians, historically, have not fared well at these multi-sport competitions, with a Summer Universiade average medal count of 10 [Note: Canada needs to host again, or compete close to home (e.g. Buffalo, 1993, where we pulled in another 38 medals), because our next highest count is 18].  Regardless, to catch up on all of Canada’s performances, check out the CIS’s website, as it is primarily their student-athletes that are representing Canada.  In fact here’s a fun breakdown of Canada’s contingent (by the numbers):

  • 333 Canadians are currently representing us in Gwangju, including mission staff, athletes, and coaching staff.
  • 283 Team Canada members are affiliated with an academic institution, as some of the staff aren’t affiliated.
  • 88 student-athletes hail from the OUA.
  • 43 NCAA schools are represented by Canadians.
  • 19 Rouge et Or are representing the Rouge et Blanc
  • 10 CCAA student-athletes made the cut, while the CIS schools boast 227.


The top ten CIS schools (by number of reps) are listed below.  For a full list of student-athletes and schools, please check out the aforehyperlinked CIS website.


At the end of the day, the Pan Ams are a wonderful international sporting event, which Canada has successfully hosted three times.  This edition, however, seems a little too we-want-an-Olympic-bid-bad-y.  The Universiade, on the other hand is an innocent, competitive, student-based showcase of amateur sports that we, as Canadians, should invest more time in supporting.  There are 333 Canadians on the other side of the world, representing us, and that’s definitely something to write home about.  So I did.

O Canada.


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