In a sport that has seen much success by the United States since the beginning of the Pan American Games in 1951, Team USA hopes to continue its winning tradition in swimming at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
The U.S. has won the medal count in swimming at all 15 Pan Am Games to-date. Team USA accumulated 18 gold, 18 silver and eight bronze medals at the last Pan Am Games in 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico, winning a total of 44.
The Pan Am Games are based on the Olympic format, with 41 teams from the Americas competing in 39 sports and over 10,000 athletes, coaches, and officials living in an 80-acre village. The Pan Am Games mirror the Olympics so much that two-time Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones has been preparing for Toronto like he did for Beijing and London.
“In my training and in my mind, I’m prepping this like it’s going to be the Olympic Games,” said Jones, who won his first Olympic gold medal in 2008 in the 400-meter freestyle relay. “There’s the village, and all the aspects of it and it’s great for me to think of it like a mock Olympics so I’m not shocked [in Rio for the 2016 Olympics].”
Jones also won gold at the London 2012 Games in the 400 medley relay, as well as silver medals in the 400 freestyle relay and the 50 freestyle.
Eighteen men and 18 women from the U.S. will compete in various events including individual freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and medley races from 50 to 1,500 meters, as well as three relays each for the men and women.
Each National Olympic Committee can enter two swimmers per individual event. For the relay events, a country will submit one team per race, and can have up to six swimmers per team, with only four competing in each race (preliminaries and finals).
The 36-person U.S. roster includes notable names, including Natalie Coughlin, Allison Schmitt, Nick Thoman and Darian Townsend, who all have Olympic gold medals like Jones. Townsend – after representing South Africa in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics – became a U.S. citizen in 2014, qualifying him to represent Team USA internationally.
Coughlin will be looking to add to her impressive medal haul, 12 of which have come at the Olympics, making her the most decorated female U.S. Olympian of all time (tied with Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres).
Along with the veterans on the team, some younger faces will be joining the team in Toronto.
Olivia Smoliga of the Athens Bulldogs Swim Club and the University of Georgia is very excited for her first Pan Am Games and to represent the U.S.
“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere of the meet the most,” the 20-year old said. “It’s the biggest honor to represent Team USA. From prior international experience, when Team USA walks on deck, everyone turns their heads.”
The times from the Pan Am Games will not have any direct implications for the 2016 Olympic Games, but a swimmer can use his or her time from Toronto to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Along with the pool events, a 10-kilometer open water race will be held at the Ontario Place West Channel.
The U.S. open water swimmers for the 2015 Pan Am Games include Eva Fabian and Emily Brunemann for the women and David Heron and Chip Peterson for the men.
“I am extremely excited to represent USA in Toronto,” said Fabian, who finished fourth at the 2011 Pan Ams. “The open water course looks like it will make for a very exciting race.”
The women will compete in open water swimming on July 11, and the men will follow the next day. The pool events will take place from July 10-26 at the CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatics Centre and Field House.
Jamie Han is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.