LIMA, Peru – “It’s like playing chess with your heart pounding at 190 beats-per-minute."
Not to mention your legs are on fire. And there’s zero rest between points. And you’re locked in a plexiglass cage with your opponent.
So, perhaps more accurately, squash is like playing chess with your heart pounding at 190 beats-per-minute in a modern gladiatorial arena.
And Team USA does it better than anyone else.
The U.S. women and men each stormed to a team gold medal to conclude an unprecedented run for US Squash at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. It was a tale of two teams for the U.S. – the men wily, unrelenting underdogs, while the women held court from the tournament’s first serve.
Capped off by a tooth-and-nail match between Team USA veteran Olivia Blatchford Clyne and Canada’s Samantha Jean Cornett, the U.S. won gold medals in women’s singles, doubles and team for the second-straight Pan American Games, something no other nation has accomplished before.
“We very much had a ‘pressure is a privilege’ mentality,” Blatchford Clyne said. “It was quite special to know that you’re the hunted, and, instead of fearing that, we chased after our goals. We approached this tournament with a ‘so much to gain’ rather than a ‘so much to lose’ mentality.”
The U.S. women had previously experienced a breakout year at the Pan American Games Toronto 2015, securing the elusive gold-medal sweep for the first time in Pan American Games history. The team surpassed its astronomical expectations in Lima, matching their 2015 feat with unquestioned dominance.
Amanda Sobhy began Team USA’s quest for history by capturing her second Pan American gold medal in women’s singles, dropping only a single game en route to the podium. To round out their gold-medal sweep, the U.S. women claimed victory in doubles, as Amanda teamed up with younger sister Sabrina Sobhy to run the field, winning every game they played as a pair.
“It’s pretty special for us. I mean, not many people get to say that they compete with their family members,” Amanda said. “This is Sabrina’s first Games, and we’re playing not just for us but for our family. We’re bringing these gold medals back to the Sobhy family name, so it can’t get much better than that.”
The U.S. men’s team had a different road to the top of the podium. After claiming victory in men’s doubles for the first time in U.S. history at the Pan American Games, their journey to the team finals began with an element of mysticism, of premonition.
It happened at a team lunch. Normal conversation flowed around the table. There was laughter, joking, eyerolling. Then head coach Paul Assaiante made an unprompted announcement.
“Andrew,” he said, lifting his eyes up from the table, staring blankly ahead. “It’s all going to come down to you this week.”
Andrew Douglas, the team’s 20-year-old Pan American Games rookie, stoically nodded.
“I know, coach. And I’ll be ready.”
Douglas was ready to lift the U.S. over No. 1-seeded Mexico in the final match of the team semifinal. And he was ready once again when his number was called in the gold medal match, tied 1-1 with Columbia, calmly folding his royal blue bandana on the sidelines.
Showing composure beyond his years and a subtle swagger beyond his stature, the rising University of Pennsylvania junior took command of his match against Colombia’s Andres Felipe Herrera Gonzalez, winning three games to one to secure the first team gold medal for the U.S. men in Pan American Games history.
“I am still in utter shock,” said Douglas’ teammate, Chris Hanson. “I wish I had his composure when I was 20. It’s just unbelievable what he did tonight and what we’ve done as a team. I’m speechless.”
A rush of blue sweatshirts surrounded Douglas as he left the court, arms overhead, utterly exasperated. Teammates Hanson, Todd Harrity and the U.S. women joined in the celebration, an unparalleled moment of magnitude for US Squash.
The first back-to-back Pan American Games gold-medal sweep for the women. The first two Pan American Games gold medals for the men.
Not bad for a few Wednesday night gladiatorial chess matches.