Whitney McClintock-Rini was about three minutes in to a post-event interview when the emotion of the day really sunk in.
The Canadian water-skier, her hair still wet after a silver-medal performance in the chilly Bujama Lagoon, raised her hands to her face and started to cry. A mix of feelings and questions came flooding to the surface as she took a moment to compose herself.
Would this be her last Pan Am Games after a 12-year run that produced 14 medals? Why did gold prove elusive this time around?
Factor in the strange feeling of competing against her stepdaughter at the Games for the first time and McClintock-Rini had a lot to digest.
“It’s like your life is flashing right before your eyes,” she said, fighting back tears.
The six-time world champion won her third silver of the Games on Tuesday in the women’s overall competition. American Regina Jaquess took the gold and McClintock-Rini’s 19-year-old stepdaughter — Canada’s Paige Rini — won bronze.
McClintock-Rini, 29, who won overall gold in 2015 at Toronto, finished second in both the jump and slalom events a day earlier.
“It’s the fewest medals I’ve gone home with and they’re all silver,” she said. “It’s not something to be ashamed of, I guess. But it kind of feels like I’m fizzling when I want to be going out strong.”
Dorien Llewellyn of Innisfail, Alta., took the overall men’s title later in the day. That pushed the Canadian water-ski team’s medal count to 10, one more than its previous best from 2011 in Guadalajara.
Christian Primrose of Barrie, Ont., just missed the podium with a fourth-place showing in men’s wakeboard.
Water-skiing has always been a family affair for McClintock-Rini.
Her parents run a water-ski school in her native Cambridge, Ont., and her brother, Jason, enjoyed a successful career in the sport before retiring from competition.
She married Matt Rini, who serves as a team coach, a year and a half ago. McClintock-Rini trains daily with her stepdaughter at Rini’s water-ski school in Orlando.
Paige Rini, meanwhile, has progressed through the junior ranks in recent years. With three bronze medals here, she showed that she’s one of the sport’s rising stars.
“I’m so proud of all the success that she has had,” McClintock-Rini said. “I think this is our first major contest together. Maybe that’s why it’s (different).”
McClintock-Rini battled a back injury for more than a year before returning to a full competition load last fall.
She was disappointed with her performance in the opening slalom and tricks events but nailed her final jump on the day with a distance of 50.3 metres. With Jaquess comfortably ahead, McClintock-Rini had to fend off her stepdaughter for silver.
“We were battling for second and third, which also isn’t very comfortable because it’s in the family,” she said.
Watching from the dock area was Matt Rini, 46, who was wearing three hats: father, husband and coach.
“It’s a juggling act all the time,” he said with a smile. “One is coming in happy and one is coming in not happy … it’s cool. It’s really unique and really awesome.”
Athletes are primarily focused on their own performance in water-skiing but still have to be aware of how the opposition is doing.
“They train together every day and they encourage each other,” he said. “They’re friends and they feed off each other.
“But obviously when you get to a tournament, everybody wants to win.”
Paige Rini, from Kingston, Ont., said bronze was the goal for her first Pan Am appearance, and she delivered in the overall, slalom and tricks. She was beaming alongside her stepmother on the podium.
“Sometimes it’s complicated just because we share a coach and things get tough at times,” she said. “But she pushes me to be a better skier, which is always helpful.”
McClintock-Rini said she hadn’t really thought about the competitive battle against Rini until the teenager beat her in the tricks event Monday.
“It’s not that we’re even really competing against each other, but just being a stepfamily, there’s rivalry there,” she said. “You don’t like it, but she’s hungry and she’s doing awesome.”
Matt Rini said his wife and daughter have very different styles and that helps on and off the water.
“We’re a blended family for sure, and with that comes the challenges that every blended family has,” he said. “Whitney is very much a type-A personality and I’m blessed that Paige is probably the most chill young lady you’re going to meet.”
McClintock-Rini has yet to decide whether she’ll return for the 2023 Pan Ams in Santiago, Chile.
Her immediate focus turns to preparations for next month’s world championship in Malaysia. Even though her resumé is loaded with major titles and world-record performances, she remains as driven as ever.
“There’s never a feeling of, ‘I’ve made it and this is it for me,’” she said. “It’s that I want one more. I want one more gold medal.”