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Pan American Championships
Championnat des Panaméricains

formerly Tournament of the Americas : autrefois Tournoi des Amériques

Winnipeg, 1998

From Canadian Racquetball, vol. 1, no. 6.

Approximately 70 players from 12 countries gathered in Winnipeg recently for the Pan-American trials. This event was a lead up to the Pan-Am games that will be held in Winnipeg in August of 1999. The object of the tournament was two fold. The first objective was to confirm the seeding by country according to previous results. The second was to give the local organizing committee a taste of what international racquetball is all about and to better prepare them for the actual staging of the racquetball competition during the games.

The format of the event had the participating countries being placed in pools for a round robin competition, which took place from Saturday until Tuesday, with Wednesday being a day off. In the round-robin portion all players usually play once a day. The end results see the top ten teams after play advancing to the Pan-Am Games in August of 1999.

After four days of round-robin play, both Canada and The United States finished with perfect records. Unlike the Americans, Canada swept through the rounds without losing a singles game in the best two-of-three games format. "We played well," coach Ron Brown told us, after the round-robin portion of the competition concluded. "We were expected to play well. Much like pro sports, only the playoffs count. We're in the playoffs and now is the time to put up (or shut up)." The USA had some close decisions, with The USA's No.2 singles player, Michael Bronfeld, narrowly averting an upset as he struggled back from a 14-9 deficit to down Gerardo Gil - Bolivia's No. 1 player - 15-14, 15-4, and current United States National Champion Dan Obremski squeaked out a 14-15, 15-9, 11-4 victory over Bolivia's Ricardo Monroy.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday, single-elimination brackets got underway. Through each round, points accumulated toward the men's, women's and overall team standings. individual and doubles championships were also awarded. The U.S., Mexico and Canadian teams were definitely the favored teams, but several other countries have shown dramatic improvement over the past year. "I have watched some of these countries," Brown said. "Bolivia and the Argentinian doubles teams are tough. We always expect Mexico and the U.S. to be our main opponents, but I think anybody from these other countries can step up and bite you when you are not looking. We need to be prepared and stay focused." Jim Winterton, coach of the U.S. National Team, was a bit more concerned with the Mexican team after the first four rounds of the tournament. "I'm very impressed with them" he exclaimed. The Mexican players are very focused. We've tried very hard not to get our athletes concerned with one country (Canada). We're in Canada, but I keep reminding them "Don't forget, there's another country just south of (the U.S.) border that's pretty darn tough - that's Mexico." About his own squad, Winterton said, "We're in good shape. We're solid, we've escaped, we've been a little shaky. But, we're going to be ready for the next round."

In the biggest upset of the elimination round, Alvaro Beltran of Tijuana, Mexico downed the fourth-seed Mike Green of Ontario 15-11, 15-13 in the quarterfinals to earn his spot in the final four at the 1998 Pan American Games Racquetball Trials. This is the first time in Pan American and World tournament history, a Mexican has earned a spot in the semifinals of the men's draw. Sherman Greenfeld made short work of Antonio Yamin (Valenzuela) by the scores of 15-2, 15-7, to advance to the semis. On the womens side of the draw, Powell held off a tough Lupita Torres (Mexico) 15-14, 15-8 to earn her chance against the best the sport has

to offer - Michelle Gould. "I wasn't playing how I wanted to in the first game, that's for sure," Powell said after her match. "(Torres) was up 14-12 in the first game and missed a big setup ... I knew right then that I was going to come back". Van Hees, the current Canadian national singles champion, also started slow, but came away with a 15-13, 15-2 victory over Puerto Rico's Anita Maldonado. Both Canada's men's and women's doubles teams all advanced to the semifinals as well.

In the semi-finals, Sherman Greenfeld disposed of Micheal Bronfield, and Dan Obremski got by Mexican upstart Alvaro Beltran, setting the stage for the men's singles final. On the ladies side of the draw, Michelle Gould defeated Canada's Lori-Jane Powell to advance to the final against her teammate Cheryl Gudinas, who Defeated Canada's Christie Van Hees in the doubles, Canada's Mike Ceresia/Jacques Demers and Debbie Ward/Josée Grand'Maître both had semi-final victories to advance to the final round against the USA.

With the stage set for an exciting final day, Sherman Greenfeld held off Dan Obremski of the USA to win the singles competition in front of his hometown crowd for his first international title since he won the men's World Singles Crown in 1994. Michelle Gould held off team mate Cheryl Gudinas to take the ladies tide. Canada's Lori-Jane Powell claimed third place with a victory over team mate Christie Van Hees. Identical twins, Jackie Paraiso and Joy MacKenzie, won the USA's second gold medal of the event with a 15-11, 15-1 victory over second-seeded Josee Grand'Maitre and Debbie Ward of Canada. The U.S. men also won gold as Canadians Mike Ceresia and Jacques Demers fell to Bill Sell and Adam Karp by scores of 15-9, 15-6.

The whole event was an overall success with exciting competition, old rivalries renewed and new ones formed. Plus, Canadians got the chance to experience international racquetball at its finest. The "best" night of the event was the last Friday, or aptly named "Good Friday". There was five local television coverage and the crowd was electric, hooting and hollering, singing and creating a carnival like atmosphere as they took in one of the most exciting matches of the tournament, the Mexico/Canada men's semi-final match.

The final awards banquet held at the Delta Hotel and sponsored by Racquetball Canada was a standout and media coverage for the whole event was excellent. Many thanks to Kevin Viceroy from the USRA for his daily press releases that helped keep everybody who was not in Winnipeg abreast of what was happening.

As always our Canadian Team, 2 coaches and our physiotherapist represented Canada with pride, displaying professional poise and manner both on and off the court and acting as good will ambassadors throughout the tournament. Many thanks to Racquetball Canada for supplying new clothing and warmup suits for our team.

From all indications we can expect to see some very intense and exciting competition next August when The Pan-Am Games get underway. Winnipeg as always will be excellent hosts to not just the racquetball portion of the games, but to all the athletes from all sports who will converge on Winnipeg in August of 1999 to compete for Pan American Gold for their home countries. Hopefully with this increased exposure of the sport we love, racquetball will finally move one step closer to that so far elusive goal, being recognized as an Olympic sport. See you all in Winnipeg!

From Canadian Racquetball, vol. 1, no. 6.

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