Canada will field its top rowing team at 2015 Toronto Pan American Games

Marnie McBean show off her gold medal at the Pan American Games in Lake Minnedosa, Man. in this July 28, 1999 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Marnie McBean has a favourite photo of herself as an athlete. She's seated in her boat, holding up a gold medal. It was taken at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg.

"It's a nice photo. Good memories for me from racing at Pan Ams. In the boat, with my medal, big smile, classic curly hair," McBean said.

The Pan Ams in Winnipeg marked not only the final gold medal of McBean's illustrious career, but a rare opportunity for one of Canada's most decorated athletes to compete at home.

Rowing Canada announced Friday it will field its A team at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games for the first time since those Games in Winnipeg. The organization normally sends its B team to the Pan Ams because of scheduling conflicts.

"It's such a great move," McBean said from St. Catharines, Ont. "And it really shows Rowing Canada's support of the Pan Am Games that they said, 'You know what, we're going to make sure this is a marquee race in our calendar,' and they will work to bring in the other nations."

McBean was in the southern Ontario city with TO2015 officials, who confirmed that the Royal Canadian Henley would be the venue for rowing.

McBean's victory in Winnipeg capped a career that saw her win three Olympic gold medals. A back injury forced her to withdraw from the 2000 Sydney Games, and she retired soon after.

"I think I really had a sense of doing that one for Canada," McBean said of the '99 Pan Ams. "Because it was a home Games, I knew that it was really important that we sent our A team, and made the effort to make sure all the other countries would send their A team as well to Winnipeg."

It's no small feat, said McBean, for top rowers to add the Pan Am Games to their season schedule, the focus of which will be on the 2015 world championships.

"When you add a race or a regatta to your schedule it can change an entire year of training and programming," she said.

But the Games will be appealing to other top Pan Am countries in a pre-Olympic year, especially if Canada's best athletes are rowing.

"It makes it really appealing for countries like Argentina, Brazil and Cuba, because it's a lot cheaper for them to send big teams than it is to send them to Europe," McBean said.

The federal government and the City of St. Catharines also announced Friday they are jointly funding the renovation of the bridge linking the 110-year old rowing facility to the mainland.

Canada is expected to battle strong teams from Argentina, the U.S., Cuba, Mexico and Chile at the Games.

The Canadians will be looking to surpass the four medals they won at the 2011 Pan Ams. The Canadian Olympic Committee has set a goal to finish in the top two countries in the overall medal count.

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