The 2015 Pan American Games featured one of the first opportunities for U.S. athletes and teams to qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in 10 sports, while seven other sports offered athletes either a chance to earn ranking points toward qualification or meet the minimum standards for Olympic Trials. The U.S. took advantage of available qualification opportunities in canoe/kayak, equestrian, women’s field hockey, men’s modern pentathlon, shooting, table tennis and men’s water polo. Rio qualifiers at the Pan Ams are the first step in a year-long qualification process in which more than 500 athletes are expected to be named to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team that will compete in 28 sports in Rio from Aug. 5-21.
U.S. canoe/kayak slalom athletes earned gold medals in the C1, C2 and K1 men’s events. Top finishes in each of these events position the U.S. to secure quota spots for the Rio Games pending results from the upcoming canoe/kayak slalom world championships, which will be held in September 2015.
“After I finished that final run I knew I (pretty much) had the Olympic spot qualified then and there, so that was quite a relief to get that feeling and finally have my spot ready for Rio.”
While the U.S. show jumping team had already qualified for Rio, Team USA was able to add direct Olympic qualification spots in both eventing and dressage. The U.S. dressage team of Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, Laura Graves and Verdades, Kim Herslow and Rosmarin, and Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo, and the U.S. eventing team of Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Cubalawn, Lauren Kieffer and Scarlett, Marilyn Little and Scandalous, and Boyd Martin and Pancho Villa, captured team gold medals and qualification spots in each discipline.
“I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that we might not be going to the Olympics. It kept me fired up enough to put in the performance that we did.”
Field Hockey (Women’s)
The U.S. women’s team maintained a spotless record throughout the Pan Am Games en route to a gold medal and ticket to Rio. The U.S. punched its ticket early with a semifinal win over Canada since gold-medal match opponent, Argentina, had already qualified for the Games through its finish at the FIH Hockey World League Semifinal. By virtue of both teams advancing to the final, the U.S. had earned its spot.
“Because of all the hard work we do at home, to come out here and qualify and do the job, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Modern pentathlete Nathan Schrimsher became the first athlete to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. By virtue of his top-three finish at the Pan Am Games, Schrimsher qualified by name for the Rio 2016 Games. The next opportunity for modern pentathletes to qualify for Rio won’t come until the UIPM season reconvenes in the late winter and early spring months.
“I don’t have words yet, it’s not going to sink in for a while… It’s amazing to be a soldier and compete for the United States. It’s a big name we wear as athletes and I just want to represent it as best I can.”
U.S. shooters earned five total quota spots for the Rio 2016 Games in men’s three-position rifle, skeet, air rifle, and rapid fire pistol, and women’s sport pistol after exceptional performances from gold medalists TJ Bayer, Connor Davis and Brad Balsley, and silver medalists George Norton and Sandra Uptagrafft. Athletes will look to grab the last 10 quota spots available to U.S. shooters at the upcoming ISSF World Cup in Azerbaijan and ISSF Shotgun World Championships in Italy.
“The fact that I'm able to represent USA on the medal stand and win a quota for the Olympic Games makes it even better."
In women’s singles competition, Yue “Jennifer” Wu found herself atop the podium after a hard-earned 4-3 victory over Brazil’s Lin Gui in the gold-medal match. By virtue of her Pan Ams win, Wu qualified by name for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Behind modern pentathlete Nathan Schrimsher who also punched his ticket at these Games, she is the second U.S. athlete of any sport to qualify for the team. U.S. table tennis athletes still have a chance to qualify for the Rio Games at the table tennis continental qualification event, which will be held in April, or by ITTF world rankings in May.
"I still don't believe it's true... Now, I just feel amazing. I'm going to the Olympic Games!"
Water Polo (Men's)
In the semifinals of the Pan Am Games water polo tournament, the U.S. men’s team defeated Canada, 9-8, while Brazil defeated Argentina, 15-9. By virtue of both teams reaching the final, the U.S. was able to earn a spot in the Rio Games by circumstance of Brazil’s host-nation status affording it an automatic bid in the tournament.
“We’re going to be a team that nobody wants to play in the Olympics.”