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75 YEARS OF STARS AT THE PAN AMERICAN GAMES: 1998 – 2007

The countdown for the Top 75 athletes who have competed at the Pan American Games continues with the stars from 1998 to 2007.

1998 – IVAN PEDROSO (CUBA) – ATHLETICS

Cuba’s Ivan Pedroso dominated the long jump event in athletics throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. He cleared eight meters for the first time when he was just 17 years old before competing in his first Pan American Games at Havana 1991 in his home country where he claimed the bronze medal. He competed at his first Olympics at Barcelona 1992, narrowly missing the podium by finishing in fourth place. One year later, Pedroso earned his first Indoor World Championship title with an outstanding jump of 8.23m, the first of many in his great career.

Ivan would go on to win five consecutive World Championship titles at the indoor competition as well as four consecutive titles at the outdoor World Championships from 1993 to 2001. He returned to the Pan American Games at Mar del Plata 1995, winning his first of three consecutive continental crowns with excellent jumps at Winnipeg 1999 and Santo Domingo 2003. At the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Pedroso finally stood on top of the Olympic podium for the first time to give him a gold medal at each of the World Championships, Pan American Games and Olympic Games. He continued to compete in the long jump through 2007, once again narrowly missing the podium at the Rio 2007 Pan Am Games by finishing in fourth place to conclude his outstanding career. 

1999 – SIMON WHITFIELD (CANADA) – TRIATHLON

Simon Whitfield of Canada began his competitive triathlon career at just 15 years old and would go on to dominate the sport in his country for the majority of the next decade. He competed at his first and only Pan American Games in his home country at Winnipeg 1999, coming away with the bronze medal in the men’s triathlon. One year later, Simon reached the pinnacle of success, winning the Olympic gold at Sydney 2000 despite crashing in the cycling portion of the event and gradually working his way to the top of the field. He finished in a time of 1:48:24.02 which stood as the Olympic record until 2012.

He went on to win another gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games during the prime of his career. During his second Olympics at Athens 2004, Whitfield finished in 11th place but would come back even stronger at his next appearance in the world’s top Games. At Beijing 2008, Simon returned to the Olympic podium with a silver medal, sprinting past the top competitors in the final kilometer to take the lead before running out of gas and being passed by the German victor in the final stretch. He then competed at his fourth and final Olympics at London 2012 where another crash forced him to retire from the race before retiring from the sport in 2013. 

2000 – ANA GUEVARA (MEXICO) – ATHLETICS

Mexico’s Ana Guevara began her outstanding athletics career in 1998, winning two silver medals in the 400m and 800m at the Central American and Caribbean Games. One year later, she competed in her first Pan American Games at Winnipeg 1999, winning her first of three consecutive gold medals at the continental Games in the 400m making her one of the top Mexican athletes in the history of the Games. Ana won her first medal at the World Championships with a bronze in 2001 before climbing to the top of the podium at the 2003 World Championships in Paris. 

Guevara competed at her second Olympic Games at Athens 2004 where she won her first and Olympic medal with a silver in the 400m event. She went on to win her third medal at the World Championships in 2005 with another bronze in the 400m. She then returned to compete in the Pan American Games at Rio 2007, winning her third consecutive gold medal in the 400m while also adding a silver in the 4x400m relay event in a new national record for Mexico. She retired from sport one year later in 2008 and began a political career, eventually serving as a Mexican Senator. Guevara is also currently the Executive Director of Mexico’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport (CONADE).

2001 – CLARA HUGHES (CANADA) – CYCLING / SPEED SKATING

Clara Hughes of Canada is one of the most versatile athletes in the history of the Olympic Games and is the only in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. She began her sports career as a speed skater but quickly transitioned to cycling in the 1990s. Clara competed at her first Pan American Games at Havana 1991, winning a silver medal in track cycling in the individual pursuit event. She then competed at the Mar del Plata 1995 Pan Am Games, this time in road cycling where she won a silver in the road race and a bronze in the time trial events. That same year, Hughes won a silver medal at the track cycling World Championships in the time trial competition. At the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Clara became the first woman in Canada’s history to win an Olympic medal in cycling. She won two bronze medals in both the time trial and road race events for a successful start to her Olympic career. 

She transitioned back to the sport of speed skating in 2000, winning her first Olympic medal with a bronze at Salt Lake City 2002 in the 5000m event before winning her first World Championship medal with a silver in the same race in 2003. However, she continued to compete in cycling, winning her first Pan American Games gold at Santo Domingo 2003 on the track in the points race competition while also adding a silver in road cycling in the time trial event. She returned to the Winter Olympics at Turin 2006, becoming the first athlete in history to win multiple Olympic medals at both the Summer and Winter Games. She claimed the Olympic throne in the 5000m event while adding a silver in the team pursuit competition. She competed at her third Winter Olympics at Vancouver 2010, winning another bronze in the 5000m to give her an incredible career total of six Olympic medals in six Olympic Games. She retired from high-performance sport after her last Olympic appearance at London 2012 in road cycling where she finished in 5th in the road race event. 

2002 –  ERICK LOPEZ (CUBA) – GYMNASTICS

Erick Lopez is a Cuban gymnast and arguably the best athlete in history at the Pan American Games. He won an unprecedented 18 gold medals at the continental Games throughout his career to become the athlete with the most trips to the top of the podium in the history of the event. His 22 total medals at the Pan Am Games is only surpassed by Thiago Pereira of Brazil who won 23 total medals in swimming at the Games, of which 15 were golds. Erick began his legendary artistic gymnastics career at the Havana 1991 Pan American Games held in his home country, winning four gold medals including the all-around, vault, parallel bars and team events while also adding a silver in the rings competition.

At Mar del Plata 1995, Lopez made three trips to the top of the podium in the all-around, pommel horse and parallel bars competitions and added a silver in the team event as well as his first and only continental bronze on the rings. He continued his dominance of continental men’s gymnastics at Winnipeg 1999, winning an outstanding five gold medals in the all-around, pommel horse, rings, parallel bars and team competitions with an additional silver in the horizontal bar. Two years later, Lopez won his first and only medal at the World Championships with a silver in the parallel bars. His final appearance at the Pan Am Games was his finest, winning gold medals in six of the eight competitions. He remained undefeated in the all-around and parallel bars events in four straight Games while also topping the podium in the pommel horse, rings, vault and team competitions to conclude his legendary career.

2003 – FELIX SANCHEZ (DOMINICAN REPUBLIC) – ATHLETICS

“Super” Felix Sanchez made his debut for the Dominican Republic at the Winnipeg 1999 Pan American Games in the 400m hurdles event, a race he would dominate on the world stage over the next several years. He won a ridiculous 43 races in a row between 2001 and 2004, including the World Championship titles in 2001 and 2003, as well as the continental gold at the Santo Domingo 2003 Pan American Games in his home country while setting a new Games record in the event. He also added a bronze in the 4x400m relay. Sanchez then made history for his country at the Athens 2004 Olympics, once again winning the 400m hurdles to become the first athlete from the Dominican Republic to win a gold medal at the world’s premier sporting event. 

Felix continued his success in 2007, winning both a silver medal at the World Championships as well as a bronze at the Rio 2007 Pan American Games in the 4x400m relay. He returned to the individual podium at the Pan Am Games at Guadalajara 2011, winning a bronze in the 400m hurdles. He made a triumphant return to the Olympics at London 2012, where at 34 years old he once again won the gold medal in the 400m hurdles to become the oldest athlete in history to win the race at the Games, running the exact time he ran at Athens 2004 with a 47.63 second victory. His performance at London earned him the comeback athlete of the year award by Laureus. He retired from competition shortly before the Rio 2016 Olympics as the greatest athlete in the history of the Dominican Republic.

2004 – LUCIANA AYMAR (ARGENTINA) – FIELD HOCKEY

Luciana Aymar is not only considered the best women’s field hockey player in Argentina’s history, but also the world’s greatest women’s field hockey player of all time. She is the only athlete to be named the FIH Player of the Year eight times, earning the nicknames “La Maga” (The Magician) and the “Maradona of Field Hockey” for her incredible dribbling and offensive skills. She was the youngest player in history to make their senior team debut in 1998 at 16 years old. She then competed at her first Pan American Games at Winnipeg 1999, leading Argentina to the gold medal over their rivals from the United States. Luciana competed at her first Olympics at Sydney 2000, leading Argentina to its first Olympic medal in the sport with a silver behind the powerhouse from Australia. 

One year later, Aymar and Las Leonas made history by winning the 2002 World Cup for the first time. Argentina defended its continental title at the Santo Domingo 2003 Pan Am Games before earning the Olympic bronze at Athens 2004 one year later. Another bronze, this time at the 2006 World Cup, followed for Aymar before earning her third consecutive gold at the Pan Am Games at Rio 2007. Luciana and her teammates returned to the Beijing 2008 where the team won its second consecutive bronze medal. Two years later, the team won its second World Cup title at the tournament held in Aymar’s birthplace of Rosario, Argentina. Argentina’s reign as Pan Am Games champions ended at Guadalajara 2011 as the team fell to the U.S. in the final to finish with the silver and end its streak of six consecutive golds at the Games. 

Luciana competed at her final Olympic Games at London 2012, once again claiming the silver medal to give the team four consecutive medals at the Games. Aymar also became Argentina’s second athlete ever to win four Olympic medals. The last year of her legendary career came in 2014, featuring her second bronze medal at the World Cup and her sixth gold medal at the Champions Trophy tournament. She finished her career with 376 games played for the senior national team and an incredible 162 goals scored. 

2005 – NASTIA LIUKIN (USA) – GYMNASTICS

Nastia Liukin is one of the greatest American gymnasts of all time, with an Olympic championship, four World Championship titles and three gold medals at the Pan American Games. She competed at her first Pan American Games at just 14 years old, winning two gold medals in the team event and balance beam competition while finishing with the silver in the all-around and two bronzes in the uneven bars and floor exercise events. She joined the senior U.S. team in 2005, competing in the World Championships and winning two gold medals in the uneven bars and balance beam events as well as another silver in the all-around and silver in the floor exercise competition. 

Liukin had another career year in 2007, winning two more golds at the World Championships in the team and balance beam events as well as her third gold at the Pan American Games in the team event. Nastia also claimed two silvers at Rio 2007 in the uneven bars and balance beam competitions to give her eight career medals at the Pan Am Games. The defining moment of her career came at the Beijing 2008 Olympics where she won the gold medal in the all-around event as well as three silvers in the uneven bars, balance beam and team events and rounding out her performance with a bronze in the floor exercise. Liukin’s five Olympic medals at a single Games tied Shannon Miller’s historic performance and would later be equaled by Simone Biles. 

2006 – IRVING SALADINO (PANAMA) – ATHLETICS

Irving Saladino is a legend in Panama and the sport of athletics. He began competing in high performance athletics events in 2002 at the age of 19, winning his first junior international titles in 2002. He then competed at his first Olympic Games in 2004 but was unable to reach the podium in his premier event of the long jump. His first victory at an international multi-sport Games came in 2006 when he won the gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games in the long jump. That same year, Irving won his first World Championship medal with a silver in the long jump at the event in Moscow, but greater results would soon follow.

Saladino competed at his first Pan American Games at Rio 2007, soaring to victory with a leap of 8.28m to claim the gold medal. Later that year, he set a new South American record at the World Championships, jumping 8.57m to win the World Championship title. The most triumphant moment of his career came one year later at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. At the Games in China, Irving made history with his gold-medal-winning jump of 8.34m that made him Panama’s first-ever Olympic champion and first medalist since the country won two bronze medals at the London 1948 Olympics. After his historic performance, Saladino went on to compete at three more World Championships as well as the London 2012 Olympics but was unable to reach the podium in either of the competitions. However, his name will forever be etched with golden letters in the history of Panama as well as the Americas for winning gold medals at the Pan Am Games, World Championship and Olympic Games in the same Olympic cycle.

2007 – MARTA (BRAZIL) – FOOTBALL

Marta Vieira da Silva is such a world-renowned football player from Brazil that she is simply known by her first name, Marta. She is considered by most to be the greatest women’s football player of all time with the accolades to back up the claim. She was named the FIFA World Player of the Year five consecutive times and six times overall; she is Brazil’s top goalscorer in history with 115 goals; she has the most goals in history at the Women’s World Cup (17); she was the first footballer to score in five different World Cups; and she is the first women’s footballer to score at five consecutive Olympic Games. 

She joined the Brazilian junior team in 2002 at 16 years old and competed at her first Pan American Games at Santo Domingo 2003 just one year later. There she helped lead Brazil to her first international gold medal. One year later, Marta represented Brazil at her first Olympic Games at Athens 2004, once again leading her team to the podium, this time with a silver medal. The greatest year of her career came in 2007, first competing at the Rio 2007 Pan Am Games in her home country. In the legendary Maracana Stadium, leading her country to its second consecutive gold medal at the Games in front of 68,000 fans. Her performance in the tournament led to her footprint being recorded in cement at the stadium, the first woman in Brazil’s history to receive that honor. Later that year, Marta once again led Brazil at the Women’s World Cup, earning the silver medal behind the U.S. team in a thrilling final. She finished the tournament with seven goals to earn both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards as the top player and top goalscorer of the championship. She then returned to the Olympic Games at Beijing 2008, leading Brazil to the podium yet again with the team’s second consecutive silver medal at the Games. 

Her legendary career continued throughout the next decade, becoming the first footballer in history to score at five World Cups and five Olympic Games, competing at her final World Cup in 2019 and her final Olympics at Tokyo 2020. Her records are at both events are unlikely to be topped in the coming years and will forever be immortalized as not only the best woman’s football player in Brazil, but also the world. 

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!