Oct. 27, 2011
By Marcus Dittmer
During her two years at Georgia Tech, former Yellow Jacket women’s tennis player Irina Falconi was a history, technology and society major. Last week in Guadalajara, Mexico, Falconi put her Tech background to work as she majored in engineering medals.
As in gold and silver.
Falconi went from thinking she had little chance to be invited to play in the 2011 Pan-Am Games to the top of the medal stand with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.
“I had no idea I was going to be selected,” Falconi said. “The selection process started earlier this year and I was nowhere near the ranking to even be thinking about being considered. To actually be asked to play, and selected to be on the team, was huge.
“To actually win it… wow!” Falconi added.
With the win, Falconi adds her name to a very distinguished list of Americans who have captured gold at the Pan-Am Games – Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Patrick McEnroe, Pam Shriver and Paul Goldstein.
“It’s definitely no small feat. Just saying those names… wow… just so many greats,” Falconi remarked. “It’s something really special and definitely holds a special place in my heart. It’s definitely a win I’m going to remember forever.”
The singles gold medal wasn’t the only piece of hardware the rising American star brought back to the States.
Playing with fellow rising American Christina McHale, the duo playing together for the first time, captured the silver medal after a tough three-set tiebreak loss in the gold medal match.
“Any time you get a medal, you bring home a medal in any form, that’s always great,” Falconi said. “Christina got the bronze in singles. We have a gold, silver and bronze in women’s tennis. That’s pretty darn good. There was some really good competition down there. Getting the silver with someone I literally had not played with before, and a close friend of mine, was really cool and it’s something we’ll be able to share forever.”
Falconi, who blogged for the USTA throughout the event (those can be found here), carries an American flag in her bag at all times. After winning her second round match at the U.S. Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium, she pulled it out and ran around the court, showing off the flag.
As for actually stepping out on the court representing the U.S., Falconi said that was an extremely special experience.
“Anytime I go out on the court I represent my country,” Falconi said. “Any chance you have to represent your country on a global scale in a team environment, a very prestigious event like this, it’s just sort of… it’s very special. It’s one of those experiences you can’t really talk about unless you’ve actually done it. There is nothing better than representing the American flag.”
But representing the United States didn’t always come with a lot of support at the Pan-Am Games. Falconi says in one of her blogs that the American players were consistently cheered against.
“It wasn’t fun [being cheered against]. Even in the finals, I was up 6-3, 5-2 and they were still cheering and screaming and chanting her name. I think they’re constantly cheering for the underdog. Even when I played a Canadian girl, they were still cheering for her. I think our whole team did really well handling it, and was classy and professional handling them cheering against us.”
All in all, Falconi said it was an unbelievable trip, that Guadalajara was amazing, and bringing home the gold medal didn’t hurt either.
“I think after I won, it didn’t really sink in until the national anthem played. It all kind of hit me when they put the medal around my neck and started playing the national anthem. I think I shed a few tears because it was just so emotional. I knew that the whole week, it took a lot out of me, I put in a lot of work, you’re tired… It was really special when they played the national anthem and standing next to a fellow American player, that was awesome.”