Nathan Adrian celebrates after win in mixed 4x100-meter freestyle relay at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 7, 2019 in Lima, Peru.
What are the Pan American Games? Well, it depends who you ask.
For sports that are not a part of the Olympic program, it’s the pinnacle level of competition. Sports like squash, Basque pelota, bowling and others view the Pan American Games as their highest achievement.
For sports in the Olympic program, it provides a different opportunity. For swimming, track and field, and many others, a medal is a grand achievement without a doubt, and Olympic qualification is at the forefront for many sports, but the experience goes far beyond the podium.
The Pan American Games encompasses the entire Games experience. For the Olympians in Lima, they have been struck with a familiar feeling.
“I didn’t know much about the Pan American Games going into it, but, coming here, it literally looks just like a mini Rio,” 2016 Olympian Keturah Orji said. “The dining hall, the athlete village, looks literally just like Rio, so it brought back a lot of memories.”
The process for the Pan American Games are the closest thing athletes can get to the Olympic experience. Athletes live in the athlete village alongside the other countries. They eat their meals in the dining halls, spend their time cheering on the U.S. alongside their Team USA teammates and trade pins with their new friends from other countries.
This is key to what gives the Pan America Games that magical feeling for many experienced athletes.
Nathan Adrian is a three-time Olympian and five-time Olympic champion, but Lima marks the swimmer’s first Pan American Games.
“I love it. This is the best practice that you can get for an Olympic Games outside of the Olympic Games,” Adrian said.
The feeling across the city as a whole is one that is only comparable to an Olympic Games. It seems like there is Pan American Games signage on every street, and fans cheering loudly inside every venue.
“I think the Pan American Games are a super stepping stone for the Olympic Games,” four-time equestrian Olympian Beezie Madden said. “You get the same team atmosphere, same pressure, as everyone wants to win a medal here at the Games. People get excited about it.”
For Olympic hopefuls, the Pan American Games gives them more than just a taste of what the Olympic Games would be like. It also serves as an opportunity to learn from some of the best of the best in their sport.
“[The best part is] just meeting the veterans and hearing what they had to say, getting their wisdom,” swimming’s Alex Walsh said. “I mean, I sat with Tom Shields on the bus here and during lunch. It’s just been great to hear all their stories, and I definitely won’t forget it.”
All of the athletes have praised Lima’s venues and preparation, a key aspect of the logistics for any Games.
“It’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful. The pool is amazing. This has exceeded all of my expectations,” Adrian said.
“I have to compliment this venue, it’s fantastic,” Madden said. “It’s been a super experience so far.”
The Pan American Games do have their own unique twists, however.
“Normally we get little stuffed animals, but I thought this was cool, the little ceramic guy, Milco!” Adrian exclaimed, pointing to his new addition.
The experience of all athletes has been one that will stick with them for the rest of their lives, and that is the most palpable parallel of all.