Argentina, which had overwhelmed the United States in the preliminary round, was pushed to the limit Saturday night by the Americans. Before a screaming, stomping, sellout crowd at Multi-Sport Stadium, the Argentines saved four match points, then won, 20-18, in the fifth set on an ace.
"This is a big moment for us all," said Argentina's Fernando Borrero. "We always dreamed about a night like this. There has never been a crowd like this in Argentina for volleyball, only soccer and basketball."
The Americans had been two sets down and could have won. But they sent three serves into the net in the final game.
When the hosts took the final point, the entire Argentine team sprinted onto the court to hug, wave flags and listen to the fans sing their praises.
Argentina won, 15-6, 15-11, 11-15, 8-15, 20-18. It was the second gold-medal game defeat of the night for the United States, whose women fell to Cuba, 15-10, 13-15, 15-11, 15-4.
The first U.S.-Cuba boxing matchup went to Cuban veteran Arnaldo Mesa, who picked apart an inexperienced Diego Corrales in a 125-pound boxing exhibition that left the American in tears.
"I wasn't intimidated at all by the fact he was a Cuban," Corrales said. "He's just definitely a slick item. But it was my first international loss and I won't lose any more."
The loss put a damper on a 4-0 start for the United States, which suddenly finds itself with two more Cuban matchups today. Cuba, which won 11 of the 12 gold medals in Havana four years ago, is 5-0.
Three other American fighters won on Saturday: Albert Guardado at 106 pounds, Arturo Morel at 112 and Ronald Simms at 165.
Through Saturday, the United States maintained its lead in medals with 278, 114 of them gold. Cuba was next with 120, 51 gold.
Americans excelled on the first full day of track and field with three golds, two silvers and three Pan Am records.
Christe Gaines outdueled Cuba's Liliana Allen Doll to win the women's 100 meters.
Pat Manson of Baldwin, Kan., set a record in winning the pole vault in 18 feet 10 1/4 inches, and William Deering of Miami Beach got silver at 18-4 1/2.
C.J. Hunter of Arvada, Colo., ranked No. 1 in the world last year, had a best heave of 67-4, a record.
In the decathlon, Kip Janvrin of Warrensburg., Minn., overcame a 40-point deficit in the last event, winning the 1,500 meters to earn the gold with a Pan Am record 8,049 points.
Derek Parra, the most successful roller speedskater at the games, survived a collision with an officials' car to win the men's marathon. Parra of Dover, Del., won five gold medals, two silvers and a bronze during the games.
Parra was in second place when he was hit by the car midway through the race. He bounced off the pavement, rolled several times and got back up to win.
He scraped his back, bruised his shoulders and hip and slightly sprained a wrist.
"I'm pretty sore," he said. "As fast as I was going, I was pretty lucky. I guess it is a good thing that I rolled instead of sliding. It was pretty bad, but it could have been much worse."