Brazil wins first Pan Am Games paddleboard gold on last wave

LUIS ANDRES HENAO
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APTOPIX Peru Pan Am Games

Brazil's Lena Guimaraes rides the surf to win the gold medal in the women's SUP race final during the Pan American Games on Punta Rocas beach in Lima Peru, Friday, Aug.2, 2019. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Brazil's Lena Guimaraes risked it all on the last wave and it paid off when she won gold in paddleboard on Friday at the Pan American Games, where surfing is making its debut as a sport.

The victory was a huge feat for the Brazilian, who beat International Surfing Association world champion Candice Appleby of the United States. Puerto Rico's Mariecarmen Rivera took bronze.

Appleby dominated most of the 5-kilometer (3-mile) distance race by zig-zagging through the main surf break at Punta Rocas beach. But she lost the heavy break shore finish when she was tumbled by a steep inside wave.

"I had a great race. I led from the start and almost to the finish but I got caught by one of those sets inside the shore break and there wasn't much I could do about it. I'd say I got a gold medal beating, that's for sure," Appleby said. "But I'm grateful to take this medal for my country. Obviously, I came for the gold, but I'm going home with a smile."

Guimaraes also beamed, her face covered in sand.

"The final was really tough. It was against Candice who was the favorite one because she's not only a great rower but a great surfer," she said.

In the final distance, Guimaraes said she saw a shortcut, and out of the corner of her eye she saw that Appleby and Rivera took a "more conservative" route to avoid the fall.

"I said to myself: 'I'm going to take it. ... It's all or nothing," she said.

The crowd gasped when a huge wave broke in the end. But Guimaraes made it to the shore and crossed the sandy finish line.

"I didn't even know what position I came in," she said. "I thought Candice had arrived and I was already so happy with the silver. Then I started running. My legs hurt so much. It seemed like trekking a mountain. Then I saw that she was behind. So the boldness worked today."

In the men's race, American Connor Baxter won the gold medal, paddling through the main surf break three times to end in pounding shore break.

"Beyond stoked to take the gold medal and bring it back home to my friends and family," said the Hawaii-born Baxter, who is also an ISA world gold medalist.

ISA President Fernando Aguerre said the first stand-up paddle (SUP) gold medals at the Pan Am Games marked a historic day for surfing. When Baxter crossed the finish line, Aguerre hugged him and told him that he'd remember the moment for life.

"And (Baxter) says: 'We belong on the beach. We belong in the ISA. We're a surfing sport,'" Aguerre told The Associated Press in an office that overlooked the ocean. "And I think this is important because, as you know, we've had some challenges from the (International) Canoe Federation, and this is not really canoe. This is surfing."

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