TORONTO -- Team USA’s time on the track at the 2015 Pan American Games has been anything but dull. With 35 medals so far, the Americans have continued to dominate throughout the past week.
Two-time Olympian Andrew Wheating fought the home crowd and an aggressive, talented field of runners to add to Team USA’s medal haul on the track.
Wheating used a “400-500-600” strategy to earn the gold for Team USA.
For the first 400 meters, he stayed calm, not letting himself get pushed around by the other runners. The next 500 meters, he worked his way into the leader position. In the last 600, he prepared for the move for the finish to be made.
“I didn’t know it was going to be me who was making that move, but I was there,” Wheating said.
With 200 meters to go, Wheating knew the crowd getting louder could only mean one thing.
“I saw a body on my shoulder,” Wheating said, “and I heard the crowd really getting loud. ‘These are the Canadians!’ I said. ‘There’s nobody else it could be!’”
Canada’s Nathan Brannen and Charles Philibert-Thiboutot caught up to Wheating in the last leg of the race, but Wheating refused to give up.
“I looked straight at that finish line,” Wheating said, “and drove home as hard as I could go.”
Wheating would cross the finish line first with a time of 3:41.41 to take gold as Brannen and Philibert-Thiboutot finished just behind to earn silver and bronze. Kyle Merber finished seventh.
“I’ve seen other people – friends, teammates, other people – holding this flag around their shoulders,” Wheating said. “It’s one thing to wear the uniform, to be there, but to hold the flag around your shoulders in triumphant victory is a feeling you cannot describe.”
American Riley Dolezal took silver in the men’s javelin throw with a distance of 81.62, a season best.
"It feels great to be out here to help out the team and to be a part of this atmosphere,” Dolezal said. “There are a lot of great athletes out there and it's nice to be a part of an event like this."
In the women’s long jump, Team USA’s Sha’Keela Saunders, who sat at the bottom of the leaderboard for much of the competition, pulled out all the stops with her now-or-never attitude to earn another medal for the Americans.
"I didn't really pull it off until the last jump,” the bronze medalist said. “I was persistent with 6.40 meters and the last one I thought to myself, 'Hey, it's the last jump, I have to go for it,' and I didn't come here for no reason. I came here to give it my all and it turned out well."
Saunders, who finished with a 6.66, earned Team USA’s 35th medal on the track with one full day of finals remaining.
"A medal and flag on your back, this is the dream,” Saunders said. “Every part of this is amazing."