July 21, 2015 / 4:20 AM / 4 years ago

Zeng thrives at Pan Ams as women's baseball debuts

TORONTO (Reuters) - U.S. rhythmic gymnast Laura Zeng increased her gold medal haul to five, women’s baseball made a landmark debut and hosts Canada had their least productive day at the Pan American Games on Monday.

Jul 20, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Laura Zeng of the United States competes in the rhythmic gymnastics ribbon final during the 2015 Pan Am Games at Toronto Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

The 15-year-old Zeng, her focus fixed firmly on the 2016 Rio Olympics, won the clubs and ribbon events to move top of the honors list for any athlete at the Games following wins in the all-around and other two individual apparatus finals.

“That’s such a huge dream of mine, I hope that next year I can make it there, but for right now it is one step at a time,” Zeng said about competing in next year’s Olympics.

Her golden haul is the most impressive performance of the two-week multi-sport event for countries from across North, South and Latin America as well as the Caribbean.

Zeng’s efforts helped the United States pad their lead atop the medal table to 65 golds and 169 overall. Canada are next on 55 golds and 148 overall with six competition days left.

The United States picked up six golds on Monday after wins in men’s and women’s fencing, women’s taekwondo and rhythmic gymnastics group clubs/hoops were all added to Zeng’s double triumph.

Elsewhere, the focus shifted from golds to diamonds as women’s baseball marked its debut at a major multi-sports gathering of any kind when the U.S. beat Venezuela 10-6 in a preliminary round contest before Canada thumped Cuba 13-1.

Puerto Rico are the other team in the competition, in which the Americans are considered favorites after back-to-back second place finishes at the biennial Women’s Baseball World Cup in 2012 and 2014.

“This is the biggest step for women’s baseball, the biggest multi-sport event we have ever been in and hopefully it’s going in a positive direction,” U.S. pitcher Sarah Hudek said.

Hosts Canada, who made a storming start to the Pan Am Games but surrendered medals table supremacy on Saturday, were forced to wait all day before securing their sole gold medal success.

In Monday’s final medal event, Canada erased a 10-point deficit to earn an 81-73 win over the United States in the women’s basketball title decider on the back of a 33-point performance from Kia Nurse.

For the Canadian team, who finished fifth at last year’s world championship, it marked their fifth win in as many nights and will give them plenty of momentum heading into the Aug. 9-16 FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament.

Cuba earned the bronze medal after beating Brazil earlier in the day.

In table tennis, Canada, Puerto Rico and Brazil reached the semi-finals of both the men’s and women’s competitions. Paraguay and the United States filled out the other spots in the men’s and women’s events respectively.

Editing by John O'Brien

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