Photo: Amado Cruz at Pan American Games
by Kristen Ku
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 8, 2023
In a monumental display of determination, Belizean athlete Amado Cruz clinched 9th place in Group B of the Men’s K1 1,000-meter canoe sprint at the Pan American Games, hosted for the first time by Chile.
“It’s a huge victory for us,” said Elvin Penner, president of the Belize Canoe Association, reflecting on the significance of Cruz’s achievement. “We have not done this well in any sport, as far as I know, at the Pan American Games, which is the second-highest level of any sports. The Olympics is the only higher level than the Pan American Games. So it was very impressive, and it really put Belize on the map.”
The canoe sprint competitions, which kicked off on November 1 at the Laguna Grande in San Pedro de la Paz, drew competitors from across the Americas in a thrilling contest of speed and endurance.
Athletes from 18 countries, including Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, the United States, Venezuela, and powerhouses like Cuba, which currently holds the most gold medals (37), fought for the win.
This event, often recognized as the Olympics of the Americas, saw Belizean flags waving proudly as Cruz dominated the Group B final of his category early on Saturday morning.
Starting the week strong, he secured fifth place in the first round Heat 1, clocking in at 3 minutes, 58.58 seconds. His determination was further evident in his performance in the semifinal of the Men’s K1 1000m, where he finished third and narrowly missed a spot in the coveted Final A, falling short by just 100th of a second.
Despite this, Cruz’s victory in Final B not only showcased his skill but also placed him in the top ranks of paddlers in the Americas. Penner attributed this improvement to the hunger Cruz had for winning. “I would want to believe that he got better use and adapted to the climate as he went on. And he was really hungry. He was really hungry for great performance,” he said.
Accompanying Cruz were his fellow Belizean athletes, who also made their mark at the games. In the Women’s K2 500m, Diana Velasquez and Avis Guydis showed remarkable synergy to finish second in final B, thus securing an impressive 10th position.
Reflecting on the preparation for such achievements, Penner highlighted the challenges and the dedication of the athletes: “For the females, they just did local training pretty much on their own time … Amado, on the other hand, was getting some training in Spain, where they have professional coaches and all the equipment and gym equipment that you need.”
The Belizean contingent also featured spirited performances by Ashanti Carr (long jump) and Brandon Jones (men’s triple jump) in athletics, and Trent Hardwick in sailing.
The team was welcomed warmly by the media and director of the National Sports Council of Belize, Iris Centeno, as they touched down at the Philip Goldson International Airport on Tuesday, November 7.
We too congratulate all our athletes who participated in the Pan American Games, and who gave it their all to represent Belize!