“What? Is that like, a cooking show or something?”
~The Average American Response to the Pan American Games
As roughly two of you already knew, this year saw the 17th Pan American Games take place in Toronto. 41 nations in the Americas competed, with America leading the way with 103 gold metals and 265 total metals. Many of you might not be familiar with the Pan American games, and that is because, like most red blooded Americans, you only can muster up enthusiasm for the Olympics, which is understandable. If you’re going to try to give a shit about track and field more often than once every four years, you’d better have just married a hot wife with a high school aged son from a previous marriage who you try to support in order to make him begrudgingly like and respect you (sorry, though, no matter how hard you try, he totally won’t).
For most American athletes, the Pan Am games are a way to clean up and snag a lot of metals when you only have to worry about going up against 2 of the 6 continents that field athletes competitively in international competitions. And for most Cubans, the Pan Am games are a way to defect the fuck out of Cuba. However, for a relatively inconsequential (as far as the typical American sports fan is concerned) competition, the history of the Pan Am games are both deeply interesting and kind of unintentionally hilarious. And never in the 64 years that this sporting event has been held has there been more unintentional hilarity as the first ever Pan American games to be hosted in the United States.
Because, holy shit, Chicago had no idea what it was getting itself into when it tried to plan an entire international competition in less than two years, and as a result, history will always have the wonderful train wreck that is…
The 1959 Chicago Pan American Games: The Most Hilarious International Competition Of All Time
First things first, Chicago wasn’t fully to blame for the issues surrounding the 1959 games. Cleveland was originally offered the event, but they eventually decided the price tag of hosting it ($5 million dollars) was too high. It’s hard to say whether or not Cleveland’s gradual economic decay would have been halted had they decided to host the games, so we’re going to say that, yes, Cleveland’s ills center entirely around their decision that they were “too good” for the Pan American games (we may or may not be getting money from the Pan Am games to write this article. Well, we’re not, but we’re hoping they might read this and send us money anyway). Guatemala was also in consideration to be a backup, but they dropped out of contention even before Cleveland did. As a result, Chicago had 18 months to try to get practice space, competition venues, and housing for 2,200 athletes from 25 countries participating in 18 sports which, sure, might not seem like a lot compared to the Olympics, but still requires a shitload of logistics.
Now, that being said, the logistics that did go down in Chicago were, to put it politely, skull-fuckingly and hilariously awful. Here are some highlights of the games, um, special moments.
The Pan Am Games Torch Was Stolen, And Then Driven Into The Mississippi River
Yes, somehow, while being escorted to Chicago by various boy scout troupes, the ceremonial torch was stolen outside of City Hall in McAlister, Oklahoma. How did it get stolen? Well, the scout who was watching it took a nap, and someone just went up and nabbed it. That’s not a great start to things. They found it a few hours later, albeit beaten up a little bit, but then lost the wooden base of the torch in Alton, Illinois, after the car carrying it rolled into the fucking Mississippi River. Wait, what? Listen, we were a bit surprised when we heard that the torch relay run was exclusively conducted by the Boy Scouts of America, but considering how they conducted themselves, we’re not that surprised that every other subsequent torch run on American soil has been taken out of their hands. Are we even sure a real Boy Scout troupe was in charge of this thing, or was it the cast of characters from Police Academy 7?
Since The President Was Busy, We Sent His Brother To Open The Games Instead
That is Milton Eisenhower. He is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s kid brother, and in 1959 he was the President of…Johns Hopkins University. In Baltimore. For some fuckall reason, when the standing US President was unable to attend the opening ceremonies because he decided to go on a tour of European capital cities instead, they felt that this man would be the best backup to usher in the event, which we’ll again point out was the first time that the Pan Am Games were ever held on American soil. How much of a “fuck you” is that to every other nation attending this? “Listen, the President is suuuuper busy right now going to a continent that isn’t competing here, but here’s his little brother, all the way from a school in Maryland!”
Of course, Mayor Daley wanted to lead the opening ceremonies, which at least would have made sense, but we’re guessing he got strong-armed by the President to let Milton (and God, his name is Milton to boot) take over, and we’re positive he was actively frothing with rage about that happening.
Peru’s Rifles Team Had Their Guns Confiscated, And 17 Chilean Women Basketball Players Had To Sleep In Two Hotel Rooms
Holy fuck, this one’s a doozy. But yes, Peru fielded a rifle team and since they were coming from, well, you know, Peru, they had to fly in. The only problem was, when they arrived, they promptly had their rifles confiscated. When they said, “Wait a minute, we need those rifles to compete!” they were (probably) greeted with, “Pan Am Games? Never heard of them. Nice try, asshole.” Amazingly, the rifle team still managed to get at least a silver medal, which is some Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star with the force shit right there.
Possibly more frustrating was the position the Chilean Women’s Basketball team found themselves in as the 17-member team walked to their hotel to be told that they would be getting a little cozy—as in, they had to cram into just two hotel rooms. Whoever was in charge of booking hotel space for the event either had no idea how many people actually participate in a basketball team, or really assumed that if you cram a bunch of South American women into a dense enough space, they’ll start lezzing out or something. Either way, they actually got bronze in the games, living quarters notwithstanding, which might be one of the more impressive underdog story we can imagine.
Brazil Had The Worst Fucking Time
When we say Brazil had the worst fucking time, we mean that they had the worst fucking time. For starters, there was a mix up with the buses, meaning that the soccer team was sent to a pool for their practices, while the swimming team was sent to a soccer field. There literally can be no other explanation for this other than “they had the teams listed alphabetically by sports, but accidentally had ‘soccer’ and ‘swimming’ in the wrong spots, and the bus driver had no concept of what ‘sports’ are and just blindly drove them to where he was told to.” That’s not something you can blame on a language barrier either—even if they didn’t know how to say, “Take us to the soccer practice field, please” in English, you’re still loading the bus with soccer balls. So you had a bus driver see a bunch of men in soccer uniforms with soccer balls, and his response was, “Welp, looks like these swimmers are ready to go for a good old practice session of swimming balls” and drove off to the pool without even questioning it, while an entirely different bus driver saw a bunch of shirtless dudes in swim caps and said, “Yes, that is how soccer looks.” Jesus Christ, what a disaster.
However, while that’s just kind of goofy, the worst of Brazil’s troubles came in the “oh Jesus this is a tragedy and it’s going to bring down the tone of this jokey article” because they had a member of their rowing team fucking die just before the closing ceremonies. And this was not a fluke illness or accident, no, he got shot in the damn heart. Just about every source suspects that it had something to do with an arms deal, but with no further clarification, which makes it even weirder.
We actually dug up an article about the shooting from the September 14, 1959 issue of the Chicago Tribune because when a multinational competition has one of its competitors shot to death, that’s something you want to learn more about, because that practically never happens. So apparently the rower was named Ronaldo Duncan Arantes. He was 26, and had brought $2,000 with him to Chicago for the purpose of buying guns. Why he was trying to run guns from Chicago back to Brazil is beyond us, but there you have it. The money was stolen, so police at the time assumed that Arantes arranged to meet with the gun supplier at the dorm he was staying in at North Central College in the suburb Naperville, where he was robbed and then shot, which seems like a pretty likely outcome to a situation that begins with having a stranger come to your living quarters to give you a gun for two grand in cash that you have on your persons. A gun with a single bullet fired (presumably the murder weapon) was found on the ground beside him. Jimmy Montserrat, who was so eloquently described in the papers as a “Puerto Rican gun runner” was wanted by police for questioning because he was Arantes’s gun contact, though by September 19th they were looking for Juan Ramaniz, a Chilean born Duke graduate who had gotten into a fight with Arantes in a bar over a woman. Ramaniz was said to have threatened Arantes, and had fled to Canada after his shooting.
No one ever found out what really happened, since in November a coroner’s jury came up with an “open verdict”, meaning they said that they couldn’t confirm if he had been murdered or not, which is just some real shoddy police work if you ask us. So Brazil got to come home from the Pan Am games with 22 medals and one unsolved murder, which doesn’t seem like a fair trade if you ask us. But onto more lighthearted antics.
The Equestrian Competitions Were A Goddamn Mess
The equestrian events were pretty handily dominated by the US team, but we don’t really care about that. We’re just more interested in how every other aspect of the horse events basically were soundtracked by Benny Hill. A Chilean rider, for example, was given a rotten saddle that fell apart immediately. The official timer was inaccurate (they couldn’t even get clocks right) and, among our absolute favorite things, during the riding event a Uruguayan rider took a shortcut through a goddamn parking lot. And that’s not even the best part! In trying to cheat by cutting through a parking lot, the horse managed to knock down a spectator and kick out the headlight of a fucking car. The 1959 Pan Am games were lawless and weird and wonderful.
The Track And Field Events Involved Fish (?)
There’s no way for us to preface the following statement for it to make any more sense, so here goes—the steeplechase, which involved having athletes run through an obstacle course, ended up being postponed for an hour when officials found that someone had stocked the water obstacles with fish. How the fuck does that even happen? Like, this wasn’t in a lake or a river, someone was making artificial ponds for people to run through, and somewhere down the line they specifically acquired live fish to add to said water. Supposedly, it was done as a prank, which is the only way this even comes close to making sense.
We honestly want to meet the person who managed to grab a shitload of live perch and set them loose in the water obstacle courses, because what kind mind comes up with that prank? It’s brilliant, but deeply weird, and, we’re assuming, a fuckton of work. Like, these events took place at Soldier Field. So someone had to procure live fish, smuggle them into Soldier Field, and plop them in random pools of water without being seen, and all he managed to accomplish was to delay an event by an hour and make all of our lives richer for knowing that live perch have, for a time, swum on the field where the Chicago Bears play football.
Oh, that wasn’t the only issue they had with the track and field events—they had to recalibrate the hammer throw results because they measured them wrong, which pretty much is the one job you have as someone officiating a hammer throw competition.
And, in closing off our recap of how absolutely fucked the 1959 Chicago Pan American Games were, we’ll end with…
The Mexican Shooting Team Shot Dozens Of Squirrels, Birds, and Trees Due To Lack Of Practice Space
Apparently, though not surprisingly in retrospect, Chicago had a hard time finding a lot of ample space for various national representatives to fire off multiple bullets without hitting people, or buildings, that they would rather not be hit. As a result of this lack of available shooting practice space, the Mexican team got fed up and decided to go to the woods in Lake Forest, Illinois, and start shooting squirrels. When people complained, they moved to the beach and started shooting seagulls. And then when people got mad at that, they just went back to the woods to shoot at trees.
Just imagine that for a second. It’s 1959, and a bunch of angry Mexicans with rifles have gone up to Lake Forest (which is a pretty wealthy suburb) to go into the woods and shoot squirrels, before going to the beach to shoot down seagulls. That’s the most amazing visual humanly possible.
So next time you find yourself planning something that is turning into a disaster, take heart, and look at the Chicago Pan Am games. Compared to your failures in planning, you’re at least better prepared than Chicago was for these games. Because holy shit, was Chicago not even close to prepared for these games. Holy goddamn.