TORONTO -- Rocky Carson has dueled on the racquetball court with Mexico’s Alvaro Beltran for over two decades, but perhaps not under such dramatic circumstances as their encounter Friday, when Carson rallied to a 15-11, 15-10 win to secure his second straight Pan American Games singles gold medal.
Carson and Beltran, both now 36, began competing against each other at age 14 and rose through the ranks together, eventually elevating to international superiority. Carson is a four-time and defending IRF singles world champion.
On Friday, Carson weathered an early Alvaro comeback, mastered one of his own and flew around what was described as a “very fast court” in terms of venue conditions.
“My goal was to make (Alvaro) fight from behind and obviously he found a way to do that from the beginning,” Carson said. “If he was going to win a rally, he was going to have to hit a perfect shot, and there were so many times when he did. But at the same time, that pressure is hard to live with over the period of two to three games.”
Carson mounted two distinct runs to the title, one in each game.
Down 10-9 in the second game, he churned out a 5-1 run to clinch the title. His momentum was built on a 10-4 run to end the first game after Alvaro scored seven straight points before Carson called what he described as a pivotal timeout.
“He fights,” Alvaro said of the gold medalist. “He’s a warrior on the court.”
Immediately upon exiting the court, Carson was met by his mother, who hoisted a phone FaceTiming his wife and two children, who were not in attendance.
The emotion Carson embodies towards racquetball is encapsulated through his familial bonds, and his youth coaching efforts in Southern California. He sees it as an investment in the sport that remains absent from the Olympic docket.
“Once they start having fun, they want to learn more. They want to play more. They want to be more a part of it,” Carson said. “That’s one of the things that helps them breed confidence from that. It’s an investment into the sport, but it’s also an investment into the kids and an opportunity for them to get out and find something that they might love more than anything they’ve tried before.”
Carson’s longevity was also a topic of discussion following his win. He’ knows he may be facing his twilight – yet he still keeps winning.
“People ask me when I’m going to retire,” Carson said. “I know I’m 36 and have been doing this for a long time. Competing is in my blood. I love this. I live for it. … My last two (Pan Am Games) have been some of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Carson wasn’t USA Racquetball’s lone medalist on Friday – Jose Rojas and Jansen Allen, celebrating his 26th birthday, took gold in men’s doubles, while Rhonda Rajsich and Kim Russell-Waselenchuk were presented their bronze medals in women’s doubles that they won Thursday.
“It’s definitely something we’ll remember the rest of our lives,” said Jansen, a 2012 IRF doubles world champion. “Couldn’t have a better birthday than winning a gold medal. … This is definitely the best achievement I’ve ever achieved. It’s the highest stage for racquetball, it’s my birthday, it’s with my friend. It’s just awesome.”
Jansen and Rojas overcame a 2-0 loss to Canada’s Vincent Gagnon and Tim Landeryou in preliminary pool play on Monday, which they said gave them the wake-up spark to run to the title.
They didn’t lose another game the remainder of the tournament.
The duo are the first in U.S. men’s doubles to win gold at the Pan Ams since Doug Ganim and Drew Kachtik at the Winnipeg 1999 Games.
“It’s a real honor. It’s a true honor,” Rojas said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else besides my boy right here. … I did what I had to do, but he was the X-factor. He stepped up to the occasion. I’m just proud of him, proud of us, proud of the hard work.”