It begins with a 245-mile marathon from Canada to downtown Flint and only gets better from there.

The CANUSA Games – a three-day sporting competition between amateur athletes from Flint and Hamilton, Ontario – are again expected to draw thousands of competitors, coaches, volunteers, families, and fans to athletic venues across Genesee County.

This year marks the event’s 66th anniversary and takes place Aug. 9-11. Founded in 1958, the CANUSA Games are now the longest-running international sports competition between two cities in North America.

The games have a long and storied history locally and in Canada and have proven to be a tourism and economic boon to both communities. In 2022, for example, the event contributed to just over $447,000 in sales at Genesee County-area restaurants, hotels, and stores.

Not to mention, the event is a lot of fun.

“Flint and Genesee County are proud to once again host the CANUSA Games and we look forward to some great competition and the chance to showcase our community to the people of Hamilton,” said Mike Maienbrook, Flint’s co-chairman of the CANUSA Games.

The idea for the CANUSA Games came after the successful creation of the Greater Flint Olympian Games in 1957. Community leaders organized the Greater Flint Olympian Games to bring organized summer sports to student athletes in Flint and Genesee County. The games were such a success that Flint officials sought a city that was similar in size and population to compete against on a yearly basis. Hamilton was selected.

Two women prepare to light the torch with flames signaling the start of the CANUSA games.
Lighting the torch with flames signals the start of the CANUSA games. Photo by Robert Rettenmund.

In 1958, a caravan of cars left Flint on the second weekend in August and drove to Hamilton where 200 athletes from each city competed in seven sports, and the CANUSA (Canada/U.S.A.) Games were born.

Nearly seven decades later, the Greater Flint Olympian and CANUSA games remain one of the region’s oldest athletic traditions, producing many professional and semi-professional athletes in the process.

This year, the Greater Flint Olympian Games, which are currently underway, run through July 27 and include 24 sports ranging from disc golf and skeet to basketball and swimming. Most games are for youth, but several events are open to adults who compete in their own divisions.

“That’s the beautiful thing that’s also allowed the games to continue – they’re for 8-year-olds to 98-year-olds,” Maienbrook said.

CANUSA Games participants are selected by coordinators and coaches via participation in Greater Flint Olympian Games events, tournaments, and leagues. For the Hamilton team, competitors are chosen through tryouts.

The Crim Fitness Foundation began directing the CANUSA and Greater Flint Olympian games in 2019, said Traci Pigott, CANUSA Games director and director of Crim Sports.

“The mission of the Crim Fitness Foundation is to cultivate physical activity, overall health and the well-being of the people in our community,” Pigott said. “For me, that’s exactly what the games embody.”
And they’re about more than winning or losing.

Louise Palciauskas, CANUSA president for the Hamilton branch, said the games are a momentous occasion for participants to showcase their talents, sportsmanship, and teamwork.

The entire premise of the games, Maienbrook said, is to experience the friendship, camaraderie, and culture of another country.

Two young women swimmers standing in front of the pool hold up the flag they are representing. The United States on the left and Canada on the right.
Photo by Robert Rettenmund.

One unique way the games engender international goodwill is the long-running practice of billeting, in which families from the host city open their homes on CANUSA weekend to the athletes from the visiting city. This is where their “Experience the Friendship” motto comes in.

“The billeting is what makes our games different than any other games in the world,” Maienbrook said. “Athletes get the chance to become ingrained in that culture because the individual that you’re playing against is whose home you’re staying in.

“When our players are in Hamilton, their host families take them around, allow them to ask questions, eat their food, learn, and listen about their culture. When it’s our turn in Flint, we do the same for them.”

Pigott said she looks forward to showcasing the positive things happening in Flint and Genesee County.
She knows firsthand how important the games are to athletes. As a high-schooler in the mid-1990s, she played basketball in the CANUSA Games for three years.

“I went to Hamilton in 1995 and it was my very first international trip,” she said. “It was a great experience to not only go with my teammates, but to be able to connect with the Canadian players.”

This year’s games are expected to include 14 individual and team sports and draw approximately 450 athletes from each city. Participation is on the upswing after some challenging years, Maienbrook said.

In 2018 and 2019, Hamilton hosted CANUSA back-to-back due to the Flint water crisis. In 2020, the games were paused during the coronavirus pandemic and played virtually in 2021 before returning to Flint in 2022.

The CANUSA Games were able to navigate those challenges thanks to the dedication, ingenuity, and flexibility of organizers, players, and volunteers on both sides of the border, Maienbrook said.

“We were still social distancing in 2021, so we used computers, iPads, and laptops and livestreamed some of our competitions. So, for instance, one kid would bowl here in Flint, they would see the result on Zoom in Canada, and then it’d be their turn to bowl,” Maienbrook said.

The players used online social hours to interact and experience the friendship that the games are all about, he said.

Community leaders said the success of the games depends on the sponsors and the hundreds of volunteers who coach, referee, and staff the competitions.

“Our volunteers are really a shining example of what the greater Flint area is all about,” Maienbrook said.

“The people here and the people over there, we just have a commitment to continue the legacy.

“It’s through friendship and adaptability over the years that has allowed us to bend and not break.”

Both Maienbrook and Pigott strongly encouraged area residents to come out to watch the games and see the opening ceremonies at Dort Financial Center Aug. 9 at 12:30 p.m. That’s when a Hamilton athlete will conclude one of the longest international runs in North America and light the torch kicking off the 2024 CANUSA Games.

It’s awe-inspiring, Maienbrook said.

“These sports are just the vessel by which we get people together,” he said. “It’s the interaction between the two cultures that make the event what it is.”

Interested in learning more or volunteering for the 66th annual CANUSA Games? Visit or call (810) 201-8459 for more information.