Pan Am Games come with tickets to the Rio Olympics for 18 sporting events
The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Before the curtain goes up on the 2016 Rio Olympics, Canada's men's water polo team will be playing its heart out in a pool in Markham, Ont.
The Pan American Games are a direct Olympic qualifier for men's water polo. A gold medal is a ticket to Rio.
"It's one of the best chances," said Canadian coach Alex Beslin. "Not the only, but one of the best chances. We're competing against North and South American countries, you're playing at home and there's huge motivation and excitement to win the Pan Ams for the first time."
The Canadian men are aiming to make just their second Olympic appearance in the last eight Games. They last played in 2008 in Beijing, where they finished 11th. Brazil already has an Olympic spot as the host country, so if the Brazilians win gold, the silver medallist will clinch a Games berth.
Canada's men's and women's water polo team left the Pan Ams in Guadalajara four years ago heartbroken after losses to the United States. The men were defeated 7-3 and the women lost 27-26 in a thrilling penalty shootout after the score was tied 8-8 in regulation.
Women's water polo isn't one of the 16 Pan Am disciplines that are Olympic qualifiers.
Field hockey is the other team sport that comes with an automatic Olympic berth, setting up what should be thrilling gold-medal games.
The Canadian men have faced arch-rival Argentina in the last 10 Pan Am finals, and are looking to get back to the Olympics for the first time since 2008 in Beijing. They earned that spot with a 5-4 victory shootout at the 2007 Pan Ams in Rio.
Canada's men's team most likely has already done enough to secure its Olympic spot. They finished fourth at the recent World League semifinals, which could be good enough to get them to Brazil. They'll have to wait several more weeks to see how other continental qualifiers play out.
The other Pan Am sports that are direct Olympic qualifiers are the three-metre and 10-metre diving, synchronized swimming duet, several canoe and kayak events, equestrian events dressage, eventing and show jumping, men's and women's handball, modern pentathlon, laser radial and laser standard in sailing, 15 different shooting events in rifle, skeet, pistol and trap, men's and women's table tennis, and triathlon.
In most of the events, a victory earns a berth for the athlete's country, not necessarily the athlete.
The Pan Ams are considered an indirect Olympic qualifier in numerous sports, meaning either points accumulated go to qualifying, or they meet a qualifying time. Those sports are swimming, track and field, badminton, cycling, taekwondo and weightlifting.