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November 21, 2023

USA lands its first two medals of the Para Pan Am Games and they're both gold!

Photo: Joe Kusumoto/USOPC

SANTIAGO, Chile – It was a golden day for the USA at the Para Pan American Games with top podium finishes for both compound and recurve mixed teams.

Wendy Gardner and KJ Polish snatched the team’s first medal of the Games, claiming gold in the compound mixed team. The pair set a new Games record in defeating Brazil 151-144 in the semifinals, setting up a deciding contest against seventh-seeded Ecuador. Gold was secured with a 148-143 victory.

“I told Wendy when we were on the podium waiting for our medals, ‘ever since I’ve been a little boy, this is the reason I do it’,” said Polish. “Medals are cool, records are great but there’s nothing more important to me than representing my country and whenever that flag goes up, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Polish pointed to the fact that he and Gardner became the first-ever winners of the compound open mixed team event at the Para Pan Am Games, something he stressed can never be taken away from them.

Gardner added, “We had a lot of excitement, but KJ was there and he was very encouraging and I definitely couldn’t have done it without him. This is definitely the best thing that I’ve ever accomplished in my archery career.”

Eric Bennett and Candice Caesar stepped forward in the afternoon in the recurve open mixed team event. The third seeds swept past Argentina 6-0 in the quarterfinals, before meeting Mexico in the semis. Mexico had to hold off a determined fightback from Cuba, who had trailed 4-0, winning 5-4 via a shootoff.

In the quarterfinals, the USA shot combined scores of 27, 30 and 32. They would need to step it up against the second seeds from Mexico, and duly did so, hitting 35, 34 and 33 to their opponent’s 33, 33, 33 for a 5-1 win.

That pitted them against top seeds Colombia for the gold medal. They hit their stride early, taking the first two sets, only for Colombia to force a fourth set with a score of 34. Bennett and Caesar held their nerve, taking the fourth set 30-29 for a 6-2 win.

“Today has been amazing, simply amazing,” Caesar said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better teammate; I couldn’t have asked for better conditions. It’s simply been a great day all around for Team USA.”

There was a nervy wait for the USA before victory was confirmed as judges checked on one of Casear’s arrows after the fourth set.

She said with a smile, “I knew it was an eight and I knew it was going to win the match.”

Bennett replied, “I knew it was close and I was prepared to shoot a one-arrow shootoff but I knew even if we had to do that it was going to be victory.”

More medals will be won by the USA on the final day of the Para Pan Am Games. Four archers will contest gold medal matches, with a further three seeking bronze. There are also quota slots available for the Paralympic Games in Paris next year.

Bennett and Polish go seeking their second gold of the Games as they contest the final of the recurve open men and compound open men respectively. Jason Tabansky meets Eugenio Franco (BRA) in the W1 open men, with the day’s proceedings starting with Tracy Otto against Mariela Lopez (CHI) in the W1 open women.

“There’s now an expectation for both KJ and I for tomorrow’s matches to follow through and do what we need to do,” added Bennett. “But it also adds motivation. We know we can do it, we just did it, and we did it pretty convincingly.”

In the bronze medal matches, Gardner meets Yasneide Penaranda (COL) in the compound open women, Caesar tackles Karen Rocha (MEX) in the recurve open women and Lucas Herro goes up against Victor Saiz (CHI) in the W1 open men.

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