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Canada's Dylan Armstrong wins gold in men's shot put at Pan American Games

A man makes his way around venues at the site of the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Oct. 12, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Dylan Armstrong could easily have taken a pass on the Pan American Games.

It had been more than a month since he last competed, and the countdown to London reads just nine months.

But hearing the Canadian anthem never gets old for the 30-year-old from Kamloops, B.C., who extended his season by one meet, capping a remarkable campaign Tuesday with a gold medal in the shot put and a Pan Am Games record of 21.30 metres.

“A medal’s a medal, and to get my community and country a medal, that means a lot, to help out the team and athletics,” Armstrong said. “It’s all positive.”

Armstrong is one of the few world track and field stars competing in Mexico, most calling it a season last month to focus on the London Games. But the thrower, who’s about to head into what’s sure to be a pressure-packed season as one of Canada’s Olympic favourites, opted to make a quick trip to Mexico to add to his growing collection of titles.

“I’m training anyways, it’s really no difference, I’m going to be throwing at home, I’m going to be throwing here, so it’s just another opportunity to get a medal, and get one for my country,” said Armstrong, who keeps his medals and trophies in storage. “I’m going to do it if I have an opportunity to.

“It’s an easy trip too, when you go to Europe 15 times a year, coming out of Mexico is not too bad.”

Armstrong erased the previous Games record of 20.95 set by Reese Hoffa of the United States in 2003.

Cuba’s Carlos Veliz won silver with a throw of 20.76 while Argentina’s German Lujan Lauro (20.41) took bronze.

Armstrong’s gold was the second of the day for Canada after Christine Girard won in women’s weightlifting.

The Canadian baseball team also won gold Tuesday with a 2-1 victory over the United States.

That brought Canada’s medal tally to 75 (21 gold, 25 silver, 29 bronze), good for third in the standings. The United States is well in front with 176 while Brazil is just ahead at 81 medals.

The Canadian women’s soccer team, meanwhile, will battle for gold after defeating Colombia 2-1 in the semifinal. Kaylyn Kyle and Robyn Gayle scored for the Canadian side, who will face Brazil on Thursday.

Girard, from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., topped the 63-kilogram division with a combined lift of 238 kilograms, claiming two Pan American Games records.

Armstrong, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, captured the Diamond League title earlier this year, and won silver at the world championship in September to become the first Canadian to reach the world podium in a throwing event. His throw of 22.21 at the Canadian championships in Calgary remains the best in the world this year.

The grocery list of accomplishments he methodically checked off this season thrust him front and centre in the Olympic spotlight, but it’s a place he doesn’t mind so much.

“I don’t see myself really in the spotlight, I’m sure other people do, but I just kind of keep my head down and just keep pushing,” said Armstrong. “I don’t get caught up by who’s in what spotlight, I just do my thing.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like the pressure. It’s a rush for me, I use it as a feeder to train harder. I handle it pretty well, and that’s obviously through experience. I don’t get caught up in it, but I know it’s there for sure.”

The six-foot-four, 310-pound thrower, who will spend most of the months leading into London training in Arizona, smiled as O Canada played. He clutched a stuffed Games mascot — presented to medal winners — that was dwarfed by his beefy baseball glove of a hand. Three days after landing in Mexico, he had an early-morning flight booked home.

The 8,548 Telmex Stadium — the track and field facility for the Games — was the venue most criticized due to delays in construction. The original plans called for a stadium nearly twice its size. The venue was only approved by the IAAF — the world governing body for track and field — days before the opening ceremonies.

The stadium is still missing final touches, such as seats on the toilets and drain covers. Splashes of paint dotted the floors, and there was still plastic wrapping attached to the seats in the grandstand.

Girard, meanwhile, set a Pan Am Games record of 106 kilograms on the snatch, and her overall score was also a record.

The Canadian edged Colombia’s Esther Palomeque, who lifted a combined weight of 235 kilograms. Mexico’s Luz Acosta took bronze with 230 kilograms.

“I’m so happy with what I did today,” said Girard. “I came to break some new Pan Am records and get the gold, and I really achieved my goals, so I’m really proud of what I did.

“And I’m really happy to bring back a gold for Canada.”

Earlier, Canada’s women’s water polo team clinched top spot in its pool after finishing undefeated in group play.

Team captain Krystina Alogbo of Riviere des Prairies, Que., scored six goals Tuesday to lead the Canadians in an 18-9 victory over Mexico.

Joelle Bekhazi of Pointe-Claire, Que., added four, while Rosanna Tomiuk of Montreal, and Tara Campbell of Baie d’Urfe, Que., had two apiece. Katrina Monton of Montreal, Emily Csikos of Calgary, Monika Eggens of Pitt Meadows, B.C., and Hanna Yelizarova of Lasalle, Que., each had singles.

“We were careless with our defence, but we all work as a team. That is our power and we are going to work real hard for the encounter against Cuba,” said Alogbo.

Canada next faces Cuba in the semifinal Wednesday while the United States and Brazil play in the other semi.

The Canadians are expected to battle the U.S. for gold.

The tournament winner earns an automatic berth in the London Olympics.

Canada also advanced to the men’s waterpolo semis with a 15-7 win over Colombia.

Nicolas Constantin-Bicari of Repentigny, Que., led the Canadians with three goals, Oliver Vikalo of Calgary, Justin Boyd of Beaconsfield, Kevin Graham of Regina and Aaron Feltham of Lindsay, Ont., added two apiece with singles to Constantine Kudaba of Port Coquitlam, B.C., and John Conway of Ottawa.

The Canadians scored six goals it the third quarter to put the game out of reach for the Colombians.

“We are ready for the playoffs,” said Canada’s head coach Dragan Jovanovic. “In 11 years as head coach of this team I have never seen it as unified and with such a hunger for victory.”

Canada plays Brazil in the semi Thursday.