By Norm Frauenheim
Winnipeg, Canada – She stood on the medal stand’s top pedestal as if she never wanted to leave. The recorded national anthem was cut short. But she finished the lyrics, anyway. Kaitlin Sandeno wanted the music to play on. The moment to continue. “I thought, ‘Wow, this song is playing for me,’ ” Sandeno said.
It celebrated her gold medal in the women’s 400m freestyle at the Pan American Games. In an otherwise disappointing day for the United States, there were all kinds of reasons to sing Sedeno’s praises. The 16-year-old tapped her boundless source of energy to finish at 4:10.74, narrowly ahead of Jamaica’s Janelle Atkinson, who won silver at 4:10.83.
“I was surprised things went so well,” said Atkins, the lone individual gold medalist for the U.S. in the Games’ third day of swimming. “I wanted to go my best time, but I didn’t think I would go that far under it.”
Sandeno arrived the Pan Ams with a personal best of 4:18.97. No wonder she started singing. “I was looking at my parents and was thinking of my teammates,” she said of her first victory at a big international meet. “My first experience was awesome.”
For the rest of the U.S. team, Wednesday was another reason to sing the blues. Through 15 events, the U.S. has only three gold medals. The U.S. has been shut out an unprecedented 12 times. In Pan Am history, the U.S. had previously failed to win gold in only 10 events.
Meanwhile, the U.S. struggles were reflected by a strange day at the Pan Am pool. In the championship final for the men’s 100m freestyle, there was a delayed start. The men had to start a second time after a cell phone activated the electronic eye that holds up a rope, which is intended to fall only in the event of a false start.
The eight men hit the water at about the time the cell phone went off. The rope fell and the field hit it like a wave breaking on to a beach. Brazil’s Gustavo Borges wound up with a nasty-looking rope burn on his left rib cage and a red mark at the bridge of his nose.
The second start was delayed for about 20 minutes. Borges claimed the bronze medal at 50.10, behind silver medalist Jose Meolans (49.94) and fellow Brazilian Fernando Scherer, who won gold and broke Borges’ Pan Am record with a time of 49.19. Borges set the mark in 1991 at 49.31. Scott Tucker and Dan Phillips of the U.S. finished fourth and seventh, respectively.
“The re-start probably didn’t help at all,” said Phillips, who went 50.71. “They pulled us off 15 meters into the race, and probably threw everybody off a little bit.”