Pan Ams to Olympics: Toronto 2015 a boost to many Team Canada athletes

Five years ago, more than 6000 athletes from 41 countries put on an outstanding show of speed, strength, and skill at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.

The multi-sport event featured the largest Team Canada ever assembled, with more than 700 athletes. They produced the country’s best ever Pan Am Games performance, with 219 medals won.

RELATED: By the Numbers: Team Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games

For many Team Canada athletes, the Pan Am Games were just the start of their international success. With their eyes on Rio 2016, these athletes used Toronto 2015 to show off their stuff and prepare the world for what was to come the following summer and beyond.

RELATED: See all of Team Canada’s medallists at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games 

Andre De Grasse

Andre De Grasse during his 100m semifinal heat at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Andre De Grasse during his 100m semifinal heat at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

De Grasse may be a household name now, but it was at Toronto 2015 when he first started to turn people’s heads. At just 20-years-old, De Grasse won two gold medals in the 100m and 200m.

His success on home soil was just the beginning as later that year he won double bronze in the 100m and 4x100m relay at the World Athletics Championships. Of course, it was his performance at Rio 2016 that was nothing shy of spectacular, winning three Olympic medals and giving the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, a run for his money. De Grasse’s outlook is equally exciting for Tokyo 2020, coming off his 100m and 200m podiums at the 2019 World Championships.

Ellie Black

Leaping in the air in splits

Ellie Black competes in women’s balance beam at the Pan Am Games on July 15, 2015.

Black was Canada’s most decorated athlete of the home Pan Am Games, winning three golds, one silver and one bronze at Toronto 2015. The next summer, she posted Canada’s best ever Olympic all-around result, finishing fifth in Rio. She made even more history at home in Montreal in 2017 when she won all-around silver at the world championships. With another five-medal performance at the 2019 Pan Am Games and a fourth-place all-around finish at the 2019 Worlds, Black has her eyes set on the podium for Tokyo 2020.

Damian Warner

Warner about to throw javelin

Damian Warner prepares to throw the javelin, the second-to-last event in the decathlon at the Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Before he won bronze at Rio 2016 for Canada’s first Olympic decathlon medal since 1988, Warner broke a nearly two decade-old national record in winning gold on home soil at the Pan Am Games. In 2019, Warner won his third world championship medal in the decathlon, making us all excited for Tokyo 2020.

Rosie MacLennan

MacLennan in the air jumping

Rosie MacLennan competes in the trampoline at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.

Everyone knows that gold just looks good on the defending Olympic champion, so it was no surprise in 2015 when she won trampoline gold at home in Toronto. The following summer she would make history in Rio, becoming the first Canadian athlete to successfully defend an Olympic title at the summer Games and the first trampolinist to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals.

Derek Drouin

Drouin clearing bar

Derek Drouin competes in the high jump at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto Photo: Claus Andersen

Canada won a national record 78 gold medals at Toronto 2015. One of those belonged to Drouin, who won the men’s high jump to stand atop of the podium in front of friends, family and fans. A month later, he was crowned world champion and the next summer he would win the biggest gold of a lifetime as he became Olympic champion in Rio.

Laurence Vincent Lapointe

Laurence celebrates with a fist in the air

Laurence Vincent Lapointe wins the first ever women’s Pan Am canoe race.

Tokyo 2020 may mark the Olympic debut of women’s canoe events, but they were included at the Pan Am Games for the first time at Toronto 2015. The historic first champion in women’s canoeing was Vincent Lapointe, who won gold in the C-1 200m. Over the next few years, she continued to rack up victories, accumulating six world titles in the C-1 200m and five in the C-2 500m.

Evan Dunfee

Dunfee in a racewalk with sunglasses and hat on

Team Canada’s Evan Dunfee in the men’s 20km race walk at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. (Photo: COC/Greg Kolz)

The race walker would stand on top of the podium at Toronto 2015, winning the men’s 20km event. The next summer, he finished fourth in the 50km race at Rio 2016 while earning accolades for his sportsmanship. Dunfee then successfully battled the heat at the 2019 World Championships in Doha where he claimed the bronze in the 50km race.

Mohammed Ahmed

Mohammed Ahmed competes in the men's 10,000m race

Mohammed Ahmed competes in the men’s 10,000m race at the Pan American Games

The distance runner struck gold in the men’s 10,000m at the Pan Am Games in front of a roaring home crowd. He went on to record a Canadian best-ever at Rio 2016, finishing fourth in the 5000m race. He cemented his status as a medal contender at the 2019 World Championships in Doha where he would step up on the podium to claim bronze in the 5000m.

Women’s Rugby Sevens

On field with Canadian running with ball

Team Canada faces Team USA in women’s rugby at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. (Photo: COC/Jason Ransom)

At Toronto 2015, the team won gold in front of a home crowd. A year later, they won bronze in Rio in the first Olympic women’s rugby tournament. They are looking forward to adding another medal to their resume in Tokyo, given their recent successes on the World Rugby Sevens Series and some impressive performances by veterans such as Bianca Farella, Ghislaine Landry, Karen Paquin, Charity Williams and Britt Benn.

Women’s Softball

Player throwing softball

Team Canada competes in women’s softball at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. (Photo: COC/Greg Kolz)

It’s hard to not get excited for Tokyo 2020 with the return of the sport to the Olympic Games. But the women’s softball team knows how good they are, having won gold at Toronto 2015. They followed that up with bronze medals at the world championships in 2016 and 2018 before locking up their ticket to Tokyo 2020.

Meaghan Benfeito

Meaghan Benfeito in backwards tuck

Meaghan Benfeito during the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. (Photo: COC/Vaughn Ridley)

Winning 10m synchro gold in Toronto with long-time partner Roseline Filion and bronze in the individual 10m platform, Benfeito would go on to more success on the podium the next summer at the Olympic Games. Benfeito won two bronze medals in Rio and continues to be a top podium threat heading towards Tokyo, even with new synchro partner Caeli McKay alongside her.

Kia Nurse

Nurse yelling during game

Kia Nurse reacts during the women’s gold medal game at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.

The basketball star would not only win gold with her team in Toronto but also be Canada’s Closing Ceremony flag bearer for the Games. The next summer, Nurse and Team Canada would finish seventh in Rio. Her success didn’t stop after making the Olympic Games; in 2018 Nurse was the 10th overall pick in the WNBA Draft by the New York Liberty. In 2019 Nurse was named as a starter to the WNBA All-Star Game, making her just the third Canadian to ever participate in the annual match.

Jordan Belchos

Jordan Belchos raced to a bronze in the men’s 10,000m points race

Jordan Belchos raced to a bronze in the men’s 10,000m points race at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

After winning bronze in roller speed skating at Toronto 2015, Belchos got back on the ice, swapping his inline skates for speed skates. He went on to represent the maple leaf at PyeongChang 2018, where he finished fifth in the 10,000m. In 2020, he won silver in the mass start at the World Single Distances Championships, proving that he’s good at distance racing, no matter the surface for skating.