Canadians Celebrate, Puerto Ricans Rejoice, United States Magnanimous
2015 Pan American Games
Courtesy of ITTF
July 20, 2015 – Celebration after celebration was the order of the proceedings as play concluded on the second day of action at the 2015 Pan American Games on Monday July 20th in Markham, Toronto.
After Brazil, the top seeds, with Hugo Calderano, Thiago Monteiro and Gustavo Tsuboi on duty, alongside the Paraguayan trio of Marcelo Aguirre, Axel Gavilan and Alejandro Toranzos, the no.10 seeds, had booked their place in the Men’s Team semi-finals, it was the turn of Canada and Puerto Rico, to signal party time on the Atos Arena.
Victory at the quarter-final stage meant a medal; in all events at the 2015 Pan American Games there are two bronze medals. There is no agonizing play-off contest.
First it was Eugene Wang who ignited the passionate crowd as he set Canada, the no.4 seeds, on the path to victory against Argentina, the no.3 seeds.
He accounted for Rodrigo Gilabert (11-7, 11-7, 12-10), before Pierre-Luc Theriault doubled the advantage by overcoming Gaston Alto in a contest, where he held one match point in the third game before securing victory in a full distance duel (11-5, 11-8, 11-13, 7-11, 11-3).
“I think today I played much better than yesterday; after losing the third game I had to find solutions”, said Pierre-Luc Theriault. “Before the start of the fifth game my coach told me to stay calm.”
Pierre-Luc Theriault stayed calm and listened to the words of Maxime Suprenant.
“I made a good start to the fifth game and felt strong mentally, the support from the crowd really lifted me”, concluded Pierre-Luc Theriault. “The crowd, when will you ever have another chance to play in such an atmosphere, it was incredible.”
It was sheer pandemonium and when Marko Medjugorac and Pierre-Luc Theriault combined to win the doubles against Gaston Alto and Pablo Tabachnik by the very narrowest of five game margins (8-11, 11-3, 5-11, 11-9, 11-9), the roof almost blew off the Atos Arena.
Canada rejoiced, some 90 minutes later in drama laden duel the Puerto Rican supporters led by their forward thinking President, Ivan Santos went stark, staring bonkers after a full distance five match win had been secured against the United States.
Three Match Points Saved
Stars of the show were the two brightest teenagers in the whole of the Pan American continent, 18 year old Brian Afanador and 15 year old Kanak Jha.
It was delight for Brian Afanador, it was despair for Kanak Jha; I take my hat off to both for the example they set not only in the level of their play but in the splendid way they conducted themselves in the heat of battle.
In the second match of the engagement Brian Afanador saved three match points against Kanak Jha before emerging victorious; the third being one of stupendous quality; pinned to the ropes he returned lob after lob before exerting a few vital extra degrees of top spin to win the point (11-3, 9-11, 11-3, 6-11, 14-12).
Even the legendary Swede, the master of the art, Mikael Appelgren, would have stood in awe at the fare provided.
“The last time I played Kanak Jha I won three nil”, said Brian Afanador. “Here was totally different; here there was so much intense pressure and I wanted to win so much.”
Success against Kanak Jha kept Puerto Rican hopes alive after Timothy Wang had beaten Daniel Gonzalez in the opening fixture (6-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-8, 11-8); success against Jimmy Butler in the fifth and decisive match of the fixture secured victory (11-6, 12-10, 11-3).
“I was just playing from the heart”, added Brian Afanador. “Against Jimmy Butler I felt confident but it was difficult to find a rhythm against him.”
Two wins from Brian Afanador were crucial; so was the doubles, which witnessed a full distance success for Hector Berrios and Daniel Gonzalez against Jimmy Butler and Timothy Wang (11-13, 11-6, 6-11, 12-10, 11-8).
“In the fifth game we were down 3-5 at the change of ends, the problem was when Jim Butler served to Hector; after the change he served to Daniel but we were behind at 3-7, before eventually winning 11-8”, explained Eladio Afanador, the Puerto Rican coach. “We won, incredible, the first medal for a Puerto Rico in a men’s event at the Pan American Games; I can’t tell you how I feel.”
The doubles win gave Puerto Rico the lead, Kanak Jha levelled matters by beating Hector Berrios in the fourth match of the encounter (11-9, 11-9, 16-14) and underlined his quality not only as a player but as a person.
After the contest against Hector Berrios, he politely shook hands with all concerned; it was exactly the same reaction when he had suffered defeat in the classic duel against Brian Afanador; Kanak Jha was a credit to the United States and the sport of table tennis.
Puerto Rico started proceedings as the no.6 seeds, the United States, the no.8 seeds.
At the semi-final stage, Brazil meets Canada, Paraguay opposes Puerto Rico.
Quotes of the Day
2015 Pan American Games: Quotes of the Day – Monday 20th July
Day Two: First stage of proceedings in Men’s Team and Women’s Team events concludes, medalists decided – Photos by Thorsten Gohl