In a rare opportunity to face off against some of the best that the Western Hemisphere has to offer, a group of Yale athletes strutted their stuff at the Pan-American games in Copacabana late last month.
Rio, Brazil hosted the quadrennial Pan-Am Game, which recently united athletes from across the Americas, including a handful of former and current Yale student-athletes and an Eli coach.
Bulldog swimmers and brothers Kieran Locke ’06 and Morgan Locke ’08 competed for the U.S. Virgin Islands along with sailor Thomas Barrows ’10. The fourth Eli international competitor, softball shortstop Aracelis Torres ’08, was a member of the Puerto Rican contingent.
The international dimension of the competition appealed to first time Pan-Am athlete Barrows.
“I really like the strong sense of identity that each team has for their home country and the exposure to different cultures,” he said.
The United States national team boasted former Eli squash stars Julian Illingworth ’06 and Michelle Quibell ’06, along with swimmer Alex Righi ’09 and Yale basketball head coach James Jones.
The U.S. team was the overall winner – taking home a total 237 medals – and Yale representatives made their mark in Rio as well.
Righi medaled in the 4×100 medley relay and the 4×100 freestyle relay, bringing a gold and a silver back New Haven. He also swam a personal-best 50m freestyle time trial (22.98s), matching the qualifying time for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Illingworth also nabbed silver by dispatching a Colombian player in the semifinals, but he fell in the finals. Quibell was ousted in the quarterfinals at the hands of an American teammate.
The Locke brothers both finished 16th in their individual events and both swam on the three Virgin Islands relay teams, which all finished in the top ten.
“Although I finished 16th in my 200 IM, that was an accomplishment in itself,” Morgan Locke said. “It’s important to keep in mind that these are the best athletes in the Western Hemisphere. I got to swim in the semi-finals, which was definitely a good experience. It’s an incredible event and it’s an honor just to be [at the Games].”
Locke said he plans on using the Pan-Am Games as a path to Olympic qualification.
Torres and the Puerto Rican softball team suffered from a shortened three-game series instead of the traditional seven due to rain. The squad lost to Canada, Venezuela and Argentina, but Torres did record a base hit in the consolation round.
For sailor Barrows, eight races did not yield any medals, but a fifth place finish in the third contest was an acceptable achievement, he said.
“I wasn’t too excited with the outcome of the regatta, but I had some very good races and it was a great learning experience,” he said. “I had some tough breaks in some races that put me a little farther back then I thought I should be.”
Jones’ showing as assistant basketball coach in Brazil contributed to only a fifth place finish for a U.S. team that he said was at a slight disadvantage.
“I’m never satisfied with anything other than first place, and I felt like this team could have done better,” he said. “USA Basketball has an interesting challenge to have teams that never play together to compete nationally. It’s very difficult because most of our opponents play together for many years, which gives them an edge.”
Although six of the eight Bulldog competitors at the Pan-Am Games failed to medal, for most, the experience of competing internationally was memorable and exciting.
For Morgan Locke, a two-time Pan-Am competitor and international veteran, swimming on a regional stage means connecting with fellow contenders.
“My favorite part of international competition is definitely seeing the friends that I have made,” he said. “Whether they are from Barbados, Trinidad or Suriname, it’s nice to see them again each year, it’s a great feeling.”