The track is gone, but Toronto wins the game at the Pan Am site

It’s been years, but Swimming Canada high performance director John Atkinson vividly remembers putting on a helmet and boots to tour the aquatics center being built for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.

“It was halfway to completion and even then there was excitement about building this phenomenal facility and what it could be – not just for the Games, but for the ‘future,’ he said of the Pan Am Sports Center, the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus.

“You knew this was going to be the catalyst for something special for the sport and for the whole community.”

This is the promise governments make to justify investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new venues for major events. Legacy – inspiring young people, nurturing elite athletes, attracting future events and leaving much-needed infrastructure to the community – is always a key selling point.

It’s one that doesn’t always live up to the billing, but the sports center delivered on all fronts. Atkinson credits the Pan Am Games and the facilities built for them — home to Swimming Canada’s premier high-performance training facility for Olympians and newcomers — to nothing less than the sport’s “resurgence”.

At the two Olympics before the Pan American Games on home soil, Canadian swimmers won three medals combined; in the next two, in Rio and Tokyo, they won 12.

Team Canada's Kylie Masse, Sydney Pickrem, Margaret MacNeil and Penny Oleksiak pose with their medals after the women's 4x100m medley relay at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“We wouldn’t get anywhere near the performance and results that we’ve had without this facility,” Atkinson said.

Kris Westwood, High Performance Director for Cycling Canada, says the same about the Milton cycling velodrome: “We wouldn’t have had Olympic medals in Tokyo or Paralympic without the velodrome; it’s quite simple.

“We always knew this was going to be transformational, which is why we pushed so hard to make sure we got a permanent facility that could house a lot of our high performance programs,” he told About the Mattamy. National Cycling Center.

But not all sites have been successful for the sport they were built for.

Mathieu Gentès, now CEO of Athletics Canada, also remembers the thrill of seeing a stadium built to international standards for athletics at York University.

“There was a lot of excitement around the legacy and the first-class facilities we would have access to,” he said.

Canada's Victor Povzner dives at the new Scarborough Aquatic Center in Toronto.  July 30, 2015.

Athletics Canada had hoped to expand its high-performance training facility, located in the cramped Toronto Athletics Center across the street, to support current and future Olympians. He was also eager to organize national and international meetings to capitalize on the GTA market.

None of this happened.

The track where sprint star Andre De Grasse came out, winning two gold medals in front of a Canadian crowd, has disappeared.

Last December, York University completed a major renovation. It has removed the running track and extended the indoor pitch with new artificial turf that meets professional football and rugby standards. A winter dome was added to make it work all year round, but not for the sport it was originally built for.

“Things have changed quickly in terms of access to this stadium,” said Gentès. “Obviously an Athletics Canada high performance center in York was not a priority for them.

The university owns the facility and says it’s proud to host athletes for the Pan American Games, but “once its initial goal was achieved, York began planning beyond its application as a one-use facility. unique,” spokesman Yanni Dagonas said in a statement.

York Lions Stadium, as it is now known, is now “an all-weather activity destination” for students, and the conversion has enabled partnerships with Toronto FC II and York United FC in football, and the Toronto Arrows of rugby, Dagonas said.

Canada has been dominant in the Olympic pool since the Pan Am Sports Center in Scarborough, built for the 2015 Games, became the sport's top training facility.

But it also left Toronto with no place to properly host the Ontario High School Athletics Championships next week, let alone compete for the high-profile events announced at the time of the federal government’s investment. (In general, Ottawa covered 56% of the cost of Pan Am capital projects, owners 44%.)

Two weeks ago, the Milton Velodrome welcomed the world’s best track cyclists to the Nations Cup circuit. It will host another stop next year, a qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. And this fall, international swimming returns to Toronto with the first FINA World Cup in Canada in more than 20 years.

When it comes to high performance sports, what matters as much as the facility is a plan for its future — and a commitment to make it work, says Swimming Canada. This was especially important when the Scarborough center allowed elite athletes to train safely during the pandemic, following all protocols.

“The way they maintained this facility gave everyone who went to Tokyo last year the opportunity to do well,” Atkinson said.

In light of this, Center General Manager Bob Singleton and Director of Sport and Recreation Rafael Torre will receive the Swimming Canada President’s Award for having a profound impact on the sport.

“Our partnership with Swimming Canada is very strong,” said Singleton, adding that the facility, co-owned by U of T and the city, is also working well for the community.

Canada's Ngaire Barraclough (205), in blue, competes in the second leg of the Women's Open at the UCI Track Nations Cup in Milton, Ont.  on Saturday May 14, 2022.

More than half of the time available for booking is reserved for community use (municipal programs and other clubs), 30% for high-level sport and 17% for university. The millions of dollars the center receives annually from the TO2015 Legacy Fund help make it affordable.

The fund was set up by the federal and provincial governments to offset costs for 20 years at the sports center, velodrome and stadium. (York stopped receiving funding when the stadium conversion began.) It was designed to avoid the white elephants of the past, venues that proved unaffordable after the Games and fell into disrepair.

Milton Director of Recreation Christina Frizzell says funding and good planning have left a positive legacy at the velodrome, which is also part of a recreation center.

“We are very lucky that when the facility was proposed and built there was really good vision from everyone involved…to really think about how we could have this high performance facility that also supports really the community,” says Frizzell.

For athletics, the Pan Am legacy was primarily “ambitious”.

“Our team did very well…a lot of young people were inspired by that,” said Gentès. “From a long-term facilities perspective, we certainly haven’t determined where some of the other sports have.”


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