LIMA, Peru - At the conclusion of fencing on Friday, modern pentathlete Samantha Achterberg of Littleton, Colorado, was ranked No.17 at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. By the end of the day Saturday, Achterberg had won a silver medal and qualified for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“It’s surreal,” Achterberg said. “Crossing the finish line, I was tearing up, and I can’t stop smiling now. I know the work’s not over, but it’s definitely a huge relief to know that I’ve qualified.”
The two-day process leading up to the culmination of the event in Peru was a mixture of emotions.
Starting Saturday fresh, Achterberg finished fourth in the swimming portion, which moved her up a couple of places going into equestrian. However, during her warmup, Achterberg’s horse bucked her off, causing a fleeting moment of doubt for the day. Instead of allowing that sliver to manifest into something greater, she sat back, embraced her confidence and kept her horse busy throughout the course – enough so to propel her in the rankings prior to the final portion.
From there, Achterberg showcased precisely why she’s known for her uncanny ability to come from behind in the field.
Seeded eighth at the beginning of the laser run with a handicap time of 1:04, Achterberg’s first five shots were fired with ease, not missing a single one. After three shooting series, she surged ahead of the pack to move into third place. The final shoot was not met with the same deftness as her previous, as she felt slightly nervous, due to it being the first time she’d been in that high of a position.
Remembering how she was passed by two people at the finish line of a test event in Tokyo, Achterberg kicked her sprint into high gear.
Throughout the pursuit, Achterberg repeated to herself one thing: “This is for the Olympics. This is for Tokyo.”
Achterberg finished in second to earn her silver medal and become the first U.S. modern pentathlete to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.
Tokyo will be the first Olympic Games for the 27-year-old.
“It’s super emotional,” head coach Dennis Bowsher said. “Ever since Rio, she’s been working hard – especially this year. To see the results of that hard work pay off is just amazing to watch.”
For Bowsher, all he desired for Achterberg was a qualification spot, but it was a special perk for both him and Achterberg that she got to stand on the podium as well.
“It’s awesome,” Achterberg said of winning her first Pan American Games medal. “I love to be up on the podium hearing the national anthem and representing not only Team USA, but also the U.S. Army and its World Class Program – it’s an amazing feeling. To bring back a medal for Team USA on the first day is really cool.”
The U.S. men, Egypt Olympian Amro Elgeziry and U.S. Youth Olympian Brendan Anderson, will have their chance at qualifying for Tokyo 2020 on Sunday.
This is the only sport where U.S. athletes can qualify by name in Lima.