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Mountain biker Gunnar Holmgren wins Canada's first gold at Pan American Games

SANTIAGO, Chile — Double gold in mountain biking followed more gold medals in the pool launched Canada into the Pan American Games on Saturday. Gunnar Holmgren of Orillia, Ont.
Gunnar Holmgren of Canada competes in the Men’s Mountain Bike Cross Country event on his way to winning a gold medal during the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games on Saturday, October 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-COC-Thomas Skrlj **MANDATORY CREDIT**

SANTIAGO, Chile — Double gold in mountain biking followed more gold medals in the pool launched Canada into the Pan American Games on Saturday.

Gunnar Holmgren of Orillia, Ont., claimed both the first gold medal by any athlete and the first for the Canadian team in Santiago, Chile, when he crossed the line first in the men's cross-country mountain bike.

"We have a pretty unique opportunity to be one of the first events and I hope my performance can inspire and motivate the rest of the Canadians here," Holmgren said.

Canada capped the first day of medal events with four gold, two silver and three bronze for nine medals behind the United States (20) and Brazil (13) and Mexico (11).

Holmgren's teammate Jenn Jackson of Barrie, Ont., won the women's cross-country race.

Canadian swimmers finished one-two in women's 100-metre breaststroke with Rachel Nichol of Lethbridge, Alta., taking gold and Sophie Angus of Weston, Conn., the silver.

The women's freestyle relay team of Marie-Sophie Harvey of Laval, Que., Brooklyn Douthwright of Riverview, N.B., Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., and Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., beat runner-up United States for gold.

Toronto's Javier Acevedo, Montreal's Edouard Fullum-Huot, Calgary's Stephen Calkins and Finlay Knox of Okotoks, Alta., combined for men's freestyle relay bronze.

Gymnasts Zachary Clay of Orillia, Ont., William Emard and Felix Dolci of Laval, Que., Rene Cournoyer of Repentigny, Que., and Jayson Rampersad of Oakville, Ont., were silver medallists in the men's team event.

Winnipeg's Tae-Ku Park earned taekwondo bronze in the men's 68-kg class. Calgary diver Caeli McKay was a bronze medallist in the women's 10-metre tower.

Holmgren, 24, posted a time of one hour 17 minutes 59 to beat Chilean silver medallist Martin Vidaurre Kossman by 53 seconds.

"I spent the first three laps just checking out where he was strong, where I was maybe a bit stronger and put it to work with two laps to go," the Canadian said. "I really fed off the Chilean crowd, they were amazing out there.”

Jackson set a cracking pace off the start of the women's race. She held the lead all six laps to finish almost three minutes ahead of runner-up Catalina María Vidaurre Kossmann of Chile.

“Off Gunnar’s win, I had a lot of motivation coming into this race to race for a medal," said the 28-year-old Jackson. "But then there’s just that little bit of seeing one of your friends, someone you’ve grown up riding with, achieve the best result they could here and have a life career performance. It just makes you believe, you’re like, ‘All right it’s my turn, let’s get to it.’ 

"It was maybe the longest hour twenty of my life out there but I just got to the front, set my pace, tried to have a really calm ride, push where it was safe, just relax and make sure I wasn’t making any silly mistakes.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2023.

The Canadian Press