Peruvian surfers win gold at home Pan Am GamesIsabella Gomez of Colombia celebrates wining the gold for paddle during women's SUP surfing events at the Pan American Games on Punta Rocas beach in Lima, Peru, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Peru dominated surfing at the Pan American Games on Sunday when Lucca Mesinas and Daniella Rosas won their shortboard finals and a potential ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
International Surfing Association longboard world champion Benoit ''Piccolo'' Clemente, also from Peru, won the men's longboard final ahead of Julian Schweizer of Uruguay and U.S. surfer Cole Robbins.
Hundreds of people braved cold and damp weather to cheer on the surfers who competed on a reef break about 38 miles (60 kilometers) south of the Peruvian capital of Lima. They included Peru President Martin Vizcarra, who shook hands and posed for selfies with people in the packed concrete stands built on the sands of Punta Roca beach before presenting medals to the surfers.
''It's amazing to represent this beautiful flag,'' Rosas told The Associated Press, smiling at fans in the stands who waved the striped white and red national flag and yelled ''Viva Peru!''
''I'm so happy, speechless,'' she said, shivering after she left the water after holding off Dominic Barona of Ecuador and Ornella Pellizzari of Argentina. ''Peru has been great and doing this event here at home has been amazing. We've demonstrated that we can do it and the people have been backing 100%.''
Mesinas beat Argentina's Leandro Usuna, the champion of the ISA world games in 2014 and 2016.
The Argentine said it's a positive that surfing is getting so much attention.
''Even Peru's president was here,'' Usuna said. ''It's historic that surfing has been included as a sport in the Pan American Games. We're not used to this: We often wear sandals and change anywhere, and now we were in uniforms, we were in an athletes' villa. It was much neater. But it was a beautiful moment that transcends any results.''
During the finals, fans stamped their feet on the floor and cheered whenever a surfer caught a big wave that was replayed on TV screens. One commentator observed the atmosphere felt more like a packed soccer stadium.
Surfing is a way of life in Peru, which its admirers have called the Hawaii of Latin America. The South American country is also home to some of the world's longest waves and a top destination for surfers worldwide, and the Peruvians took home advantage.
''We don't know much about surfing but we felt it was worth it coming here because, for the first time, so many Peruvians had reached the finals,'' said Flor Paulina, 28, who wore a white and red Peruvian soccer shirt. Her mother, Betsy Gonzales, shed tears of joy when the national anthem was played and flag raised during the medal ceremony.
''It makes us really proud,'' Paulina said. ''Surfing is the sport that has the most potential in our country because it's the one that has given us the most world-class athletes.''
It wasn't all Peru on Sunday.
Brazil's Chloe Calmon took gold in women's longboard from Maria Fernanda Reyes of Peru and Mathea Dempfle-Olin of Canada. Siblings Giorgio Gomez and Isabella Gomez from Colombia won gold for stand-up paddle surfing in the men's and women's events.
Surfing was one of the ''wait and see'' events at the Pan Am Games in Lima. That means the top male and female surfers not yet qualified for the Olympics can earn a spot for Tokyo, although they won't be announced until May after the ISA World Surfing Games. For now, Mesinas and Rosas are first in line for the Olympic qualification slot unless two Peruvians qualify ahead of them at next year's ISA World Surfing Games.
The inclusion of surfing on the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has generated a wave of excitement as the International Olympic Committee seeks younger audiences.
''This is different. This is nature,'' said Giorgio Gianpietri, 38, who sat on the stands watching the surfers compete while feeding bottled milk to his 9-month-old son.
''I hope he tries surfing one day,'' he said smiling and looking at his son.
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