BACK

75 YEARS OF STARS AT THE PAN AMERICAN GAMES: 1988 – 1997

The countdown for the Top 75 athletes who have competed at the Pan American Games continues with the stars from 1988 to 1997.

1988 – ANTHONY NESTY (SURINAME) – SWIMMING

Anthony Nesty is a legend in Suriname, becoming its only athlete in history to win an Olympic medal at the Seoul 1988 Games where he claimed the gold in the men’s 100m butterfly swimming event. His legendary performance in South Korea was the result of years of hard work and training in the pool beginning when he was just a teenager, competing at both the Caracas 1983 Pan American Games and Los Angeles 1984 Olympics at 15 and 16 years old, respectively. Nesty’s first success on the international stage came at the Indianapolis 1987 Pan American Games, winning the gold medal in the 100m butterfly as well as a bronze in the 200m butterfly event. 

His achievements in the pool marked his country’s first medals at the continental Games and its first time topping the podium. He then defeated Matt Biondi of the U.S. in the Olympic 100m butterfly final to make even greater history for country at Seoul 1988. He competed at his second Pan Am Games at Havana 1991 where he defended his continental title in the 100m butterfly while adding a silver medal in the 200m butterfly. He then won his first and only World Championship title in 1991 in the 100m butterfly before returning to the Olympics at Barcelona 1992 where he earned a bronze medal to conclude his incredible career. 

1989 – PAM SHRIVER (USA) – TENNIS

Pam Shriver of the United States first made a name for herself in tennis in 1978, when at just 16 years old she reached the final of the US Open in the women’s singles tournament. However, that would mark the farthest she would make it in a singles tournament on the professional tennis circuit throughout her career. Where Pam really excelled was in the doubles event, winning her first of 21 Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 1981. She and partner Martina Navratilova dominated the doubles tournaments for nearly 10 years, achieving the unprecedented feat of winning all four Grand Slam titles in the same year in 1984. 

After more than 60 years of exclusion, the sport of tennis made its triumphant return to the Olympic program at Seoul 1988, and Shriver was ready to take advantage of the opportunity. She partnered with Zina Garrison in the women’s doubles event and stormed to the gold medal to showcase her strength in the sport. Shriver competed at her first Pan American Games at Havana 1991, winning an outstanding three gold medals by beating the competition in the women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles events. In addition to her 21 Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles, Pam also won the mixed doubles tournament at the 1987 French Open with partner Emilio Sanchez. 

1990 – MARIA CARIDAD COLON (CUBA) – ATHLETICS

Maria Caridad Colon of Cuba is the first woman from Latin America to win the Olympic gold, achieving the unprecedented feat at the Moscow 1980 Olympics in the javelin throw event. But before she made history at the Olympics, Maria began her international career at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1978. She won her first of three gold medals at the Games in Medellin, Colombia, setting a new Games record along the way. She then took her talents to her first Pan American Games at San Juan 1979, once again winning the gold medal in javelin with a new Games record of 62.30 meters. 

Her greatest achievement was undoubtedly her historic moment at Moscow 1980. On her first attempt, Maria launched the javelin 68.40 meters that would prove to be enough to defeat the reigning two-time Olympic champion Ruth Fuchs of East Germany. She not only made history for Cuba, but also for all of Latin America as the first woman to reach the top of the Olympic podium. Today, Maria Caridad Colon is a Member of the International Olympic Committee and continues to be a trailblazer for her country.

1991 – JAVIER SOTOMAYOR (CUBA) – ATHLETICS

The 1990s were a special decade for Cuban athletics, with Javier Sotomayor serving as one of the top stars of the country. The high jump expert first made waves in 1984, setting the top three jumps in junior athletics history of 2.33 meters, 2.31m and 2.30m, with his junior world record still held to this day. Javier then competed at his first Pan American Games at Indianapolis 1987, winning the high jump competition to win his first major international gold. One year later, Sotomayor set his first world record of 2.43m during an international meet in Spain. 

This world record was just a taste of the success that Sotomayor would experience on the world stage throughout his career. Since Cuba boycotted the Seoul 1988 Olympics, Javier returned to competition at the San Juan 1989 Central American and Caribbean Games where he improved upon his own world record by 1 centimeter to win the gold medal. Two years later, the Pan American Games were held in his home country of Cuba for the first time, where he dominated the competition once more to win his second continental gold. 

Javier finally competed at his first Olympic Games at Barcelona 1992, jumping to a winning mark of 2.34m on his first attempt at the height while his competition cleared it on their second attempt. One year later, Sotomayor returned to Salamanca, Spain where he set his first world record ready to repeat history. He soared to a new world record of 2.45m, a mark that stands as the best in history to this very day. After his world record achievement, Javier went on to win a third consecutive gold at the Mar del Plata 1995 Pan Am Games, an Olympic silver at Sydney 2000 and added six World Championship titles in the indoor and outdoor events throughout his illustrious career as the world’s best high jumper. 

1992 – SYLVIA POLL (COSTA RICA) – SWIMMING

Another legend in their country joins the Top 75, as Costa Rica’s Sylvia Poll is recognized for winning her country’s first Olympic medal in history Seoul 1988 Games. But before her triumph on the world’s largest sports stage, Sylvia dominated her competition at the regional and continental Games of the Americas.  Her first major international competition was the 1986 Central American and Caribbean Games where she set Games records in four events including the 200m and 400m freestyle and the 100m and 200m backstroke events, with all four records lasting 20 years until her sister Claudia broke them. 

She then competed at the Indianapolis 1987 Pan American Games, winning an incredible eight medals including three golds in the 100m and 200m freestyle and the 100m backstroke events. She added three silvers in the 50m freestyle, 200m backstroke and 4x200m freestyle relay, followed by two bronzes 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays. Her outstanding performance in the pool still stands as one of the greatest in the history of the Pan Am Games. Then came her history-making moment at Seoul 1988, winning the silver medal in the 200m freestyle event to be Costa Rica’s first ever Olympic medalist. She then returned to the Pan Am Games at Havana 1991 where she won her fourth and final gold in the 100m backstroke event to conclude her great career. 

1993 – ANA FIDELIA QUIROT (CUBA) – ATHLETICS

Ana Fidelia Quirot added to Cuba’s success in athletics in the 1990s, earning medals in nearly every competition she competed in the middle distance events of the 400m and 800m. She competed in her first Pan American Games at Caracas 1983, winning a silver in the 400m and a bronze in the 4x400m relay at just 20 years old. She then began her dominance at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1986, winning gold medals in both events. Ana carried that momentum into the Indianapolis 1987 Pan American Games, once again conquering the middle distance double with two golds, a feat she would repeat at Havana 1991 to become a four-time Pan Am Games champion. She added a silver medal in the 4x400m relay at the Games in her home country.

Much like the star U.S. athletes of the 1980s, many Cubans were denied the opportunity to compete for Olympic medals at the Seoul 1988 Games due to their country’s boycott. As a result, Ana competed in her first Olympics at Barcelona 1992 fresh off her dominating performance at the Pan Am Games in 1991. Despite being the favorite to win the Olympic gold, Quirot settled for the bronze in the 800m event. She claimed her first World Championship title in 1995 in the 800m before returning to the Atlanta 1996 Olympics where she won the silver in the same event. She competed at the 1997 World Championships as one of the final events in her career, going out on top with yet another world title in the 800m to solidify herself as one of the greatest middle distance runners in history.

1994 –  HUGO HOYAMA (BRAZIL) – TABLE TENNIS

Widely regarded as one of the best table tennis players in the history of Brazil, Hugo Hoyama dominated the sport at the Pan American Games for 20 years. He competed at his first Pan Am Games at Indianapolis 1987 at just 18 years old, combining with his countrymen to win the gold medal in the team event while also adding a silver in men’s doubles. Hugo would grow accustomed to reaching the top of the podium at the continent’s most important multisport event, doing so 10 times throughout his illustrious career.

Hoyama began his dominance at the Pan Am Games at Havana 1991, winning three gold medals in the men’s singles, doubles and team events. He took that momentum to his first Olympic Games at Barcelona 1992, his first of six consecutive Olympic appearances, with his best finish of ninth place coming at the Atlanta 1996 Games. He repeated his triple gold medal performance at the Mar del Plata 1995 Pan Am Games while also adding a silver in the mixed doubles event. Winnipeg 1999 marked the only Pan Am Games where Hoyama would not win a gold medal, settling for the bronze in the team event. He returned to the continental throne in men’s doubles at Santo Domingo 2003 and added a bronze in the singles competition before adding two consecutive team golds at Rio 2007 and Guadalajara 2011. He also claimed a bronze in the singles tournament at Rio 2007 to give him 14 total medals at the Pan American Games.

1995 – SHANNON MILLER (USA) – GYMNASTICS

Shannon Miller of the United States is the second-most decorated gymnast in her country’s history, trailing only the great Simone Biles for total medals at international events. She became a household name at the Barcelona 1992 Olympics, winning five medals including two silvers in the all-around and balance beam events as well as three bronzes in the team, uneven bars and floor exercise competitions, making her the most decorated athlete at the Games. She then won her first three World Championship titles in 1993, winning the all-around, uneven bars and floor exercise events. 

Miller added two more World Championship golds in 1994, defending her crown in the all-around event while adding a gold on the balance beam. She then competed at her first and only Pan American Games at Mar del Plata 1995, dominating the continental competition by winning four golds in the all-around, uneven bars, floor exercise and team events, while adding a fifth medal with a silver in the vault competition. She rejoined Team USA for the Atlanta 1996 Olympics as the star of the team known as the Magnificent Seven. The outstanding gymnasts combined to win the first team gold in the history of the United States at the Olympics, while Shannon also added an individual gold medal in the balance beam event. 

1996 – DONAVAN BAILEY (CANADA) – ATHLETICS

Donovan Bailey is one of Canada’s most prolific athletics stars in history. He dedicated himself to professional athletics in 1990, quickly joining the Canadian national team to compete at the Havana 1991 Pan American Games. He anchored Canada’s 4x100m relay team to a second place finish and silver medal in Cuba. His major breakthrough in the sport would come four years later at the 1995 World Championships, where he ran a 9.97 second 100m to win the world title while also leading Canada to the gold in the 4x100m relay. 

Bailey’s greatest triumph on the track came one year later at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. He did not disappoint as the heavy favorite to win the gold, sprinting to a new world record time of 9.84 seconds to win the gold medal before also anchoring Canada’s 4x100m relay team to the gold medal as well. One year later, Donavan was unable to defend his world title in the 100m dash, but did help Canada claim the 4x100m relay gold once more. Bailey competed at his second and final Pan American Games at Winnipeg 1999 in his home country of Canada, helping Team Canada win another silver in the 4x100m relay in one of his final international competitions. 

1997 – FELIX SAVON (CUBA) – BOXING

Like Teofilo Stevenson before him, Felix Savon is a Cuban boxing legend who never turned professional but dominated the international stage throughout a 20-year career. He competed in his first Pan American Games at Indianapolis 1987 at just 19 years old, winning his first gold medal at the continental competition. He won the first of six consecutive World Championships titles in 1986. He returned to the Pan Am Games at Havana 1991 in his home country, successfully defending his continental throne. But his greatest achievement was his incredible success at the Olympic Games. 

Due to Cuba’s boycott of the Seoul 1988 Olympics, Felix entered the Olympic ring for the first time at Barcelona 1992 and did not disappoint, dominating the competition on the way to his first Olympic gold. He would go on to win two more consecutive golds at the Olympics in the heavyweight division, becoming just the third athlete in history to do so alongside his compatriot Stevenson. He also won his third and final gold at the Pan American Games at Mar del Plata 1995, solidifying himself as the undisputed heavyweight champion at the continent’s largest multisport event. Savon retired after winning his third Olympic gold at Sydney 2000, refusing to go pro due to the reverence he received from his Cuban fans as an amateur athlete. 

Follow @panamsports on social media to see who lands in the Top 75 for the next decade in the history of sport in the Americas!