Anchored by another stellar performance on the badminton court, Canada had its best day yet at the Pan American Games.
Canada won four gold medals within a one-hour span Thursday afternoon and swimmer Ashley McGregor capped the effort with a fifth finish atop the podium in the evening.
Michelle Li of Markham, Ont., picked up her second gold in as many days with a 21-13, 21-12 victory over Toronto's Joycelyn Ko in the women's singles badminton final at Revolucion Gymnasium. Li was so excited after the win that her legs nearly buckled.
“After the game I could barely stand,” Li said. “My legs were pretty weak. I was just so happy.
“At the last Pan Am tournament, I made the finals in two events and lost, so it's nice to have won two golds this time.”
At around the same time, the synchronized swimming duo of Quebec City's Elise Marcotte and Montreal's Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon won gold in the women's duet free routine and Ottawa's Mo Zhang won gold in women's table tennis.
Calgary's Grace Gao and Vancouver's Tobias Ng followed Li on the badminton court with a gold in the mixed doubles. Li, who turns 20 next month, won the women's doubles title a day earlier with partner Alexandra Bruce of Toronto.
In the pool, McGregor surprised herself with a time of two minutes 28.04 seconds in the women's 200-metre backstroke.
“I did not expect to come to Guadalajara and win a gold medal,” she said. “I'm just happy I could swim fast and win the gold.”
Americans Haley Jo Spencer (2:29.30) and Michelle McKeehan (2:30.51) finished second and third, respectively. Edmonton's Hanna Pierse (2:31.06) was fifth.
Canada locked up Olympic berths in the synchro event and women's table tennis with the victories, while the badminton team members earned valuable ranking points in the buildup to qualification next spring.
For Ko, her silver at the Pan Ams came after taking doubles bronze with Gao.
“I didn't play my best and Michelle played really well. This is my first Pan Am Games and I'm happy that I made it this far,” said Ko. “If I have to lose, losing to my teammate is better than losing to another opponent.”
The mixed doubles match had plenty of drama as Canada fought back from a five-point deficit in the final set for a 21-13, 9-21, 21-17 win over Eva Lee and former world men's doubles champion Halim Ho of the U.S.
“It's not every day you beat a former world champion,” said Canadian coach Ram Nayyar.
Ng said they didn't stray from their aggressive gameplan, adding they got a nice boost from the pro-Canada crowd in the 850-seat badminton venue.
“We believed we had the right strategy and we stuck with it when it wasn't working and it came through in the end,” he said.
In table tennis, Zhang defeated Xue Wu of the Dominican Republic 4-2 (12-10, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 7-11, 11-3) while in the pool, Marcotte and Boudreau-Gagnon scored 188.988 for their victory.
“It's a huge relief to know that we're going to the Olympics,” Boudreau-Gagnon said. “We're very happy right now, but the celebrations will come only (Friday). There's still the team event.”
Mary Christene Killman and Mariya Koroleva of the U.S. were second with 179.463, while Brazil's Nayara Figueira and Lara Teixeira were third with 177.413.
Canada is expected to win gold and claim another Olympic berth after Friday's team free program. The Canadians have a huge lead after Wednesday's technical program with a score of 94.875.
“The team watched the technical routine on film (Wednesday) night and I promise you, it was perfect,” Canada coach Julie Sauve said. “It was so perfect that the girls were shrieking they were so delighted. We'll be ready (Friday).”
Canada has 39 medals (12 gold, 10 silver, 17 bronze) to sit third in the overall standings. The U.S. has a commanding lead with 98 medals, while Brazil is second with 42 medals.
The Canadian badminton team won an impressive six medals in all but is still a longshot to challenge the sport's powerhouses like China, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia at the London Games. Still, the performance here was a good building block for a squad that has more of an eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“We've got a good young team,” Canada coach Jeff White said. “So if they all maintain it to 2016, I think Canada could be in a position to win a medal at the Olympics, which has never happened before.”
In women's team squash, Toronto's Stephanie Edmison clinched a 2-1 victory over Mexico as Canada advanced to the gold medal match.
Mexico's Samantha Teran opened the tie with a 11-5, 11-4, 11-2 victory over Miranda Ranieri of Waterloo, Ont. Samantha Cornett of Deep River, Ont., defeated Imelda Salazar 11-6, 11-8, 13-11 to level the match before Edmison downed Nayelly Hernandez 11-8, 11-2, 11-2 to clinch the win.
The Canadian men's team also advanced with a 2-0 victory over the U.S. Toronto's Shahier Razik recorded seven straight points before Julian Illingworth was forced to retire. Shawn Delierre of Montreal clinched the semifinal win with a tough five-game victory over Christopher Gordon, taking the deciding game 11-8.
Both squash finals will be played Friday. The women will take on Colombia, while the men face host Mexico.
In women's soccer, Christina Julien of Williamstown, Ont., scored as Canada defeated Argentina 1-0. With the win, Canada qualified for the semifinals.
Julien took a pass from Canadian captain Christine Sinclair of Burnaby, B.C., and chipped the ball past Argentine goalkeeper Elisabeth Minning for the game's only goal.
Canada's final group game is Saturday against Brazil.
“We wanted to qualify for the next round,” Canada coach John Herdman said. “It is job done, mission accomplished. We can now sit back and see how the other pool plays out.”
Canadian cyclist Stephanie Roordas set a Pan Am Games record in the women's omnium individual pursuit.
The Calgary native finished with a time of three minutes 37.544 seconds. The previous record was set at the Winnipeg Games in 1999 by Erin Mirella of the U.S. Roordas sat third after four events behind Venezuela's Angie Gonzalez and Mexico's Sofia Arreola.
Canada opened men's field hockey with a 7-2 win over Trinidad and Tobago. The Canadians fell 12-5 to the U.S. in women's softball, while the men's handball team got past Venezuela 28-25.
In late baseball action Thursday, Canada dropped a 9-4 decision to Cuba.