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10 Facts To Know About The Pan American Games

By Todd Kortemeier | July 25, 2019, 10:15 a.m. (ET)

Morgan Hurd competes on the balance beam at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships 2018 on August 19, 2018 in Boston.


All you have to do is look at the name to know what the Pan American Games are: an athletic competition for athletes all across the Americas.

But you might not know the finer details and unique features that make the Pan Ams worth watching. Here are 10 facts about the Games that next kick off on July 26 from Lima, Peru.

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1. Pan Ams go back nearly 70 years

The first Pan American Games were held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1951. But the idea is much older than that. The first Games were due to be held in 1942, but World War II forced a postponement. The Pan American Sports Organization (now Panam Sports), an affiliate of the International Olympic Committee, organizes the Games for its 41 member nations. Approximately 6,700 athletes will participate in the 2019 Games, the 18th in history.

2. Team USA has a history of success

The United States holds the top spot on the all-time medal table and has been the top performer at every Games so far with the exception of the inaugural 1952 edition. In 2015, Team USA medaled in 26 different sports.

3. Pan Ams come to Peru for the first time

The Peruvian capital of Lima and its outlying areas will play host to the Games, the largest sporting event ever hosted in Peru. Most of the events will take place in Lima itself, including the Opening and Closing ceremonies at the Estadio Nacional. A few sports such as open water swimming and surfing will be held outside the city. 

4. Pan Ams feature Olympic sports … and more

Olympic fans can see all their favorites on the Pan Am program, such as track and field, gymnastics and volleyball. But the program also includes unique sports not found on the Olympic program, such as basque pelota, bowling and even water skiing.

5. Athletes can qualify by name for Tokyo

In certain sports, Pan Ams represent an opportunity to not only establish regional superiority but also book a place at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. One such sport is modern pentathlon, in which berths are broken down by region with at least two for each gender coming from North America, Central America or Caribbean nations. In karate, athletes cannot qualify directly from Lima but winning a medal could be an automatic qualifier once the qualification period closes in April. The male and female surfing champions will also qualify at the end of that qualifying period provided their nation doesn’t already have the maximum qualified via the WSL Championship Tour rankings. And finally, the male and female tennis champion and the runners-up will qualify at the end of that qualifying period if their country has not already qualified the maximum number of athletes.

6. Several sports have other Olympic qualification ties, too

For sports where athletes can’t qualify by name, there are still Olympic implications in the form of quota spots. A quota spot reserves a place for an athlete’s nation at the Olympic Games, but not necessarily for that specific athlete as each nation selects athletes differently. Team USA can earn quota spots in nine additional sports: archery, diving, equestrian, field hockey, sailing, shooting, synchronized swimming, team handball and water polo. Additionally, four sports use the Pan Am Games results as part of their Olympic ranking system: badminton, swimming, track and field and weightlifting.

7. The Pan Am Games can be a trial event for Olympic sports

The Pan Am Games are the first chance to get a look at some of 2020’s new Olympic events like surfing and 3x3 basketball, which are also making their Pan Am debuts in 2019. While not the first international competition for these sports, it could be a preview of teams to watch in 2020. Karate has been part of the Pan Am Games since 1995 and will make its Olympic debut next year.

8. Olympic gold medalists are competing for Team USA

The Pan Am Games may not be as well-known as the Olympic Games, but there’s nothing lesser about the athletes competing. Out of 91 Team USA Olympians competing in Lima, 34 are Olympic medalists and 19 of those are gold medalists. Among the notable names are swimmer Nathan Adrian, a five-time Olympic champion, and six-time Olympic medalist shotgun shooter Kim Rhode.

9. Several up-and-comers aim to use Pan Ams as an Olympic springboard

The Pan Am Games can serve as a vital taste of competition, particularly for athletes looking to make their mark on the Olympic stage. Gymnast Morgan Hurd, already a two-time world champion at 18, will compete as she pursues her first Olympic berth. Other potential first-time Olympians competing in Lima are trap shooting world champion Ashley Carroll, BMX freestylers Justin Dowell and Hannah Roberts and wrestler Nick Gwiazdowski.

10. Just like the Paralympics, Parapan Am Games come next

The action from Lima doesn’t stop on Aug. 11. The Parapan American Games begin 12 days later with 33 nations competing in 18 sports. This will be the sixth edition of the Parapan Ams, and Team USA is third all-time on the medal table.

Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Nathan Adrian