The recently concluded Santiago 2023 Pan American Games were a spectacle of cultural vibrancy and athletic prowess, featuring the Virgin Islands’ own Nicholas D’Amour and Michelle Smith as the proud flag-bearers at the Estadio Bicentenario de La Florida’s closing ceremony.
This closing event was a culmination of 15 days of intense competition that saw participation from 41 nations across 39 sporting disciplines. Despite the Virgin Islands team leaving without medals, their performance was nothing short of inspirational.
Michelle Smith, a 17-year-old hurdle prodigy, came tantalizingly close to clinching the bronze in the Women’s 400m Hurdles, demonstrating her potential by finishing a mere fraction of a second behind the medal position.
In the pool, swimmers Max Wilson and Natalia Kuipers demonstrated exceptional skill by advancing to the finals, signaling a promising future for the Virgin Islands in swimming, a sentiment echoed by Coach John Vasbinder.
The overall medal tally was led by Team USA, who amassed an impressive total of 286 medals. However, the Virgin Islands did witness gold-medal glory vicariously through St. Thomas native Ian Barrows, who, competing under the United States flag with his teammate Hans Henken, triumphed in the men’s skiff 49er event. Barrows and Henken’s strategic prowess culminated in a triumphant net score of 26 points, surpassing the Uruguayan duo by a clear margin.
In a tradition-rich ceremony, the games’ organizers passed the torch, or in this case, the flag, to the next hosts—Barranquilla, Colombia—where the Pan American spirit will be rekindled in 2027.
As we reflect on the events, the Virgin Islands community can hold their heads high, celebrating the dedication and spirit of their athletes who have undoubtedly made their mark on the international stage.