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|| News Item: Posted 1999-08-30

Pan Handling
By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

The Pan Am Games in Winnipeg, which ended August 8, were low-key by international sports event standards. I have not covered the Pan Am Games since they were held in Indianapolis in 1987, so I can't compare these to recent Pan Ams. But from my experience with Olympics and even the Goodwill Games last summer, these games were easy going.

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The high profile sports that are usually associated with Olympic-style games, such as track and field, swimming and gymnastics, did not draw big name athletes. Other international competitions (and perhaps the lack of big money inducements) kept the stars away. As a result, media interest in the United States was low. Aside from myself, I saw only two other U.S. newspaper photographers in attendance.

Winnipeg is a smallish city (population about 700,000) plunked down on the prairie in Canada's heartland, close by nothing. It is probably most notable for its fierce winters boasting 50 inch annual snowfall. But the first week of the games featured lots of sun and near 100-degree afternoons. The people of Manitoba were very nice, although some volunteers at venues acted as officious as Americans do when given a little authority. The mosquitoes, on the other hand, were not so nice

My biggest assignment was following the U.S. baseball team, as the Pan Am tournament was the qualifier for the 2000 Olympics. Ironically, only the winner and runner up teams from the Pan Ams got Olympic berths, representing the entire Western Hemisphere. If the U.S. failed to make it through the tournament to the final game, the country of baseball's birth would not send a team to the Olympics. So baseball was the biggest story at the Games.

For the first time the U.S. baseball team used professionals, minor leaguers not yet protected by their major league clubs. They lost their opener in the qualifying round to Canada in a marathon extra-inning game, which was a shocker. But they bounced back to make it to the medal tournament, beating perennial favorite Cuba along the way.

Thanks to good seeding in the medal round they had (relatively) easy games against Panama and Mexico, but lost to Cuba in the final. Making it to the final qualified the U.S. for Sidney, so even in defeat there was victory. Ironically, if the players on this summer's team do well back in the minors, none of them will be going to the Olympics. Funny how that works.

The baseball venue was a sweet new minor league park called Can West Global Field. It was comfortable for shooting although it did get a little crowded for the big games. And the fans were great, packing the place for the big match-ups and showing a lot of appreciation for the game.

Aside from baseball I mostly shot feature stories about U.S. athletes that ran in advance of competition in their sports. So I went to a lot of practices. This was great because the access was wonderful, and the athletes I met were friendly and appreciative of the attention.

When I did shoot competition, for the most part the venues were easy to work at and not crowded. The best part was that I drove to every event and assignment and never paid more that $5.00 Canadian (about $3.50 U.S.) for parking (which often featured an electrical outlet for engine block heaters). I had long hikes from the parking lots at a couple of venues, but at least I didn't have to ride the damn buses and I could run on my own schedule.

I left the Games after baseball concluded, so I don't know how the last five or six days went. But all in all I'd say a good time was had by all. Not a rollicking great time but a good time.

(H. Darr Beiser is a staff photographer at USA TODAY and based at their headquarters Alrington, VA.)

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