July 12, 2015 / 3:01 AM / 2 years ago

Canada gets Pan Am Games off to golden start

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada got the Pan American Games off to a golden start topping the medal table after claiming four gold on Saturday and Toronto plenty of reason to come out and join the Pan Am party.

Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas of Canada compete in the synchronized swimming duets during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Pan Am Aquatics UTS Centre and Field House. Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Talk of sluggish ticket sales disappeared under a brilliant Canadian summer sun as large enthusiastic crowds turned out at many venues to cheer on their home country.

But attendance problems appear far from over as large swathes of empty seats could still be seen some events particularly at soccer and rugby.

Canadian synchronized swimmers Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas, Chilean triathlete Barbara Riveros and Mexican divers Rommel Pacheco and Paola Espinosa earned direct qualifying spots into next year’s Rio Olympics as a bonus for winning gold in their events.

Riding a wave of hometown support, Canada’s women kayakers won the first gold of the Games as Michelle Russell, Emilie Fournel, KC Fraser and Hannah Vaughan powered home ahead of Cuba in the K-4 500 meters.

“The crowd was cheering so loud I can’t even explain it. In words, I can’t even explain it,” said Fraser.

“When we got to the last 200 meters of our race you just hear the crowd screaming so loud and it just gives you that drive.”

Canada’s golden success continued in the synchronized swimming pool with Simoneau and Thomas winning the duet competition and then were back in the water a few hours later to help Canada to the team title.

Troy Nyhaug then won the men’s BMX while the hosts also picked up silver in judo and another silver and two bronze from the diving pool to bring their medal total to eight, one ahead of the United States, Mexico and Colombia, who all finished the day on seven medals.

Americans Felicia Stancil took top spot in the women’s BMX, Eva Fabiam in the women’s open water swim while the men won the artistic gymnastics team event.

Mexico continued its domination of the Pan Am diving competition with Pacheco, who competed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, taking gold in the men’s three-meter springboard and Espinosa, a two-times Olympic medalist, winning the women’s 10 meter platform.

Colombia took two gold medals from the weightlifting while Brazil, Ecuador, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Chile also won golds on the first day.

Medals in 12 events will be decided while automatic qualifying spots for the Rio Olympics on offer in triathlon, shooting and equestrian.

Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto

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