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75 YEARS OF STARS AT THE PAN AMERICAN GAMES: 2008 – 2017

The countdown for the Top 75 athletes who have competed at the Pan American Games continues with the stars from 2008 to 2017.

2008 – ALLYSON FELIX (USA) – ATHLETICS

Allyson Felix of the United States is the most decorated female athlete in the history of athletics at the Olympics with 11 total medals across five consecutive Olympic Games. She won her first international title at 16 years old at the World Youth Championships in the 100m in 2001. She competed at her first and only Pan American Games at Santo Domingo 2003, finishing third to earn the bronze in the 200m race while adding a gold medal in the 4x100m relay event. She competed at her first Olympics at Athens 2004, racing to the silver medal in the 200m at just 18 years old, a podium she would grow accustomed to standing on throughout her incredible career. 

In 2005, Felix became the youngest World Champion in history in the 200m event and successfully defended her title in 2007 where she also added two more golds in the 4x100m and 4x400m relay events. She returned to the Olympic stage at Beijing 2008 where she claimed her first Olympic gold in the 4x400m relay and another silver medal in the women’s 200m. At the 2009 World Championships, Allyson won her unprecedented third consecutive gold medal in the 200m at just 23 years old while adding another gold in the 4x400m relay. She then won four medals at the 2011 World Championships after turning her focus to the 400m event, finishing second in the 400m, third in the 200m and first in both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. Felix had her best Olympic performance at London 2012, winning three golds in the 200m and the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.

Allyson would go on to add three more Olympic golds at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, winning the 4x400m relay at both events as well as the 4x100m relay at Rio 2016. She claimed her first 400m Olympic medal with the silver at Rio 2016 followed by the bronze in the same event at Tokyo 2020. She also continued her success at the World Championships, winning her final gold medal at the event in the 4x400m relay at Eugene 2022 to conclude her outstanding career with a total of 15 World Championship titles and solidifying herself as one of the greatest athletes of all time. 

2009 – JEFFERSON PEREZ (ECUADOR) – RACEWALK

Jefferson Perez of Ecuador is considered one of the greatest racewalkers in history and a legend in his country. He is the youngest Olympic racewalking champion in history and dominated the 20km competition throughout his great career. He began his career at just 14 years old, winning several South American Championship golds from 1988 to 1991 when he competed at his first senior World Championships, placing 10th. One year later, Perez competed in his first Olympic Games at Barcelona 1992 but was unable to finish the race. Jefferson competed at his first Pan American Games at Mar del Plata 1995, winning the gold medal in the 20km event in what would be a preview to even greater success one year later. 

At the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Perez claimed the gold medal as the youngest competitor to ever do so at age 22. Perez returned to the Pan Am Games three years later at Winnipeg 1999, this time winning the bronze medal before claiming his first medal at the World Championships with a silver that same year. He narrowly missed another Olympic medal at Sydney 2000, finishing fourth in the competition. He reclaimed the continental throne at the Santo Domingo 2003 Pan Am Games while adding his first World Championship gold later that year which came in world-record fashion with his time of 1:17.21. He successfully defended his world title in 2005 after another fourth place finish at the 2004 Olympics. In 2007, Jefferson defended both his Pan American Games and World Championship titles, winning gold in both events. The final race of his career came at the Beijing 2008 Olympics where he once again rose to the occasion to reach the Olympic podium, finishing in second place to earn his second career medal at the Olympics and establish himself as one of the best racewalkers in history. 

2010 – NICOLAS MASSU (CHILE) – TENNIS

Nicolas Massu is both a legend and an icon in his home country of Chile. The tennis star reached as high as #9 in the singles world rankings and to this day is Chile’s only Olympic champion. Massu became a professional tennis player at the age of 17 in 1997, becoming the junior world champion in the men’s doubles tournament that year. He competed in his first Olympic Games at Sydney 2000 where he served as his country’s flag bearer. 

His greatest achievement undoubtedly came at the Athens 2004 Olympics. At his second Olympics, Massu not only became the first gold medalist in his country’s history by winning the men’s doubles tournament alongside partner Fernando Gonzalez, but he also became the first and only player in history to win both the doubles and singles gold at the same Olympic Games by defeating Mardy Fish of the U.S. in the singles finals. His historical performance at the Olympics earned him the #9 ranking in the world. One year later, Nicolas enjoyed his best result at a Grand Slam event, reaching the semifinals in the men’s doubles tournament at the 2005 French Open. Massu would later compete at the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games but would be unable to reach the podium. 

2011 – CESAR CIELO (BRAZIL) – SWIMMING

Cesar Cielo is the most successful swimmer in the history of Brazil with three Olympic medals, nine individual World Championship titles, two world records and seven gold medals at the Pan American Games. He competed at his first World Championships in 2004 at the age of 17, winning a silver medal in the short course 4x100m freestyle relay. He began to see greater success on the international stage in 2007, competing at his first Pan American Games in his home country at Rio 2007 where he won three gold medals in the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 4x100m freestyle relay, breaking the Games record in each event and confirming his status as the continent’s fastest swimmer. Cielo’s greatest accomplishment came at the Beijing 2008 Olympics where he won the country’s first-ever Olympic gold in the sport, breaking the Games record in the 50m freestyle in 21.30 seconds. He also earned a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle in Beijing. 

At the 2009 World Championships, Cesar claimed his first world titles in both the 50m and 100m freestyle events. His performance in the 100m freestyle was legendary, setting the new world record of 46.91 seconds to become one of the few swimmers in history with an Olympic gold, World Championship title and world record. Cielo went on to make further history that year, setting another world record in the 50m freestyle of 20.91 that still stands to this day. His 100m world record set at the 2009 World Championships also stood intact until it was broken by David Popovici in 2022. He returned to the Pan American Games at Guadalajara 2011 where he successfully defended both of his titles in the 50m and 100m freestyle events while adding two more golds in the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays. He would go on to claim six more World Championship titles in the short course and long course events as well as seven more medals at the championships, ending his professional career with two bronze medals in 2018.

2012 – RUBEN LIMARDO (VENEZUELA) – FENCING

Ruben Limardo is undoubtedly the best fencer in the history of Venezuela and one of its greatest athletes of all time. He began fencing at the young age of seven, a decision that would pay great dividends later in his life. He competed at his first Pan American Games at Rio 2007 following his World Cup victory in 2006. He quickly established himself as the best epee fencer in the Americas, winning the individual gold medal at the Games in Brazil while adding a silver in the team event. He competed at the Pan Am Games again at Guadalajara 2011 but was unable to defend his title, falling in the final to earn the silver while adding another silver in the team event. His greatest career achievement then came at the London 2012 Olympics, surging to the top of the podium to become Venezuela’s second Olympic champion in history and first since 1968. He received numerous honors for the victory in Venezuela including ceremonies and recognition from the country’s President Hugo Chavez. 

He won his first World Championship medal with a silver one year later. He made a triumphant return to the Pan Am Games at Toronto 2015, winning gold medals in both the individual and team epee competitions. He added his second World Championship silver medal in 2018 before successfully defending his title at the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games in addition to adding his eighth career medal at the Games with a bronze in the team event. In 2023, Limardo claimed yet another medal at the World Championships, this time a bronze in the team event. Ruben has competed at every Olympic Games since 2012 and shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to compete at the highest level at the world’s top sporting events.

2013 – MARIANA PAJON (COLOMBIA) – BMX RACE

Mariana Pajon is one of Colombia’s most celebrated and recognized athletes and is world-renowned for her prowess in BMX racing. She has rightfully earned the nickname of the “Queen of BMX”, winning her first national title at just five years old and going on to victories at the world’s most important sports events. Pajon claimed her first World Championship victory at just 19 years old in 2010, the first of six in her impressive career. One year later, Mariana competed at her first Pan American Games at Guadalajara 2011, once again showcasing her speed on her way to the gold medal. 

Pajon became a legend in Colombia at the London 2012 Olympics, becoming the country’s second champion at the Games in history and first since 2000. She competed at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games and entered the finals with the top time in qualifying and semifinals but was unable to finish the race due to a crash. However, she came back strong at the Rio 2016 Olympics, successfully defending her Olympic title and becoming Colombia’s first-ever two-time Olympic champion. She then returned to the Pan Am Games at Lima 2019 determined to reclaim the throne as the Queen on BMX and she did not disappoint en route to her second career victory at the Games. She once again entered the Olympics as the favorite to win gold at Tokyo 2020, but had to settle for the silver medal and her third career Olympic medal. The BMX star is likely to continue to win medals on the world’s biggest stages and add to her legendary resume in the sport. 

2014 –  THIAGO PEREIRA (BRAZIL) – SWIMMING

Thiago Pereira of Brazil is also known as “Mr. Pan” for his incredible success in the pool throughout his career at the Pan American Games. He competed at his first South American Games in 2002 at 16 yeas old where he won his first gold medal on the international stage. He then competed at this first Pan American Games at Santo Domingo 2003, winning a silver medal in the 200m medley and a bronze in the 400m medley, setting the stage for his success at the continental Games. One year later, Pereira won his first and only gold medal at the 2004 World Championships in the 200m medley short course event while adding an additional silver and two bronze medals. 

He returned to the Pan Am Games at Rio 2007 in his home country of Brazil, ready to show the world his speed in the pool. He dominated the competition, winning an incredible six gold medals in the 200m backstroke, breaststroke and medley, the 400m medley and the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays while also adding a silver in the 4x100m medley relay and a bronze in the 100m backstroke. He repeated this outstanding feat at the Guadalajara 2011 Pan Am Games, once again winning six gold and eight total medals, with victories in the 200m and 400m medley, 100m and 200m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays as well as a silver in the 4x200m freestyle relay and a bronze in the 200m breaststroke. Thiago then won his first and only Olympic medal at London 2012 with a silver in the 400m medley. 

He added his first long course World Championship medals in 2013 with two third place finishes in the 200m and 400m medley events. He returned to the pool at the continental Games for the final time at Toronto 2015, winning his final three gold medals in the 4x100m medley and freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relays. He also added another silver in the 200m medley and a his final bronze in the 200m breaststroke event to give him an unprecedented 23 total medals at the Pan Am Games, breaking the record of 22 total medals held by gymnast Erick Lopez of Cuba. That same year he added his final international medal with a silver at the 2015 long course World Championships in his best event, the 200m medley. He competed once more at the Rio 2016 Olympics in his home country where he reached the final in the 200m medley but finished in seventh place. His record medal haul at the Pan American Games is unlikely to ever be broken. 

2015 – ANDRE DE GRASSE (CANADA) – ATHLETICS

Andre de Grasse is a Canadian superstar in the sport of athletics with six Olympic medals to his name in the sprint events. He began to showcase his world-class speed at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games held in his home country, blazing to victory in both the men’s 100m and 200m events. He then competed at his first World Championships later that year, winning two bronze medals in the 100m and as part of the 4x100m relay team. One year later, de Grasse would face his greatest challenge yet in the world’s greatest sprinter of all time, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. 

Bolt and de Grasse squared off in both the 100m and 200m finals at the Rio 2016 Olympics, with Andre claiming the silver medal in the 200m and a bronze in the 100m. The two star athletes offered an iconic moment of the Games in the semifinals of each event, smiling at one another as they crossed the finish line. In the 4x100m relay, de Grasse anchored the Canadian team and closed the gap from 6th place to 4th at the finish line, but a review of the baton exchange of Team USA resulted in a disqualification and a bronze medal for Canada. Andre returned to the World Championships in 2019 where he won a silver in the 200m and a bronze in the 100m just as he had done at Rio 2016. 

With Bolt’s retirement ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, all eyes were on de Grasse to become the next great sprinting star at the Games. Andre did not disappoint, winning the gold medal in the 200m, a silver in the 4x100m relay and a bronze in the 100m to become one of the stars of the Games. He competed at his third World Championships in 2022, winning his first world title in the 4x100m relay. The world now waits to see if Andre de Grasse can continue his success at the next Olympic Games of Paris 2024. 

2016 – CATERINE IBARGUEN (COLOMBIA) – ATHLETICS

Caterine Ibarguen is another Colombian sports idol of the last decade, showcasing her incredible leaping ability at the Olympics, Pan American Games and World Championships. She began competing at international athletics events at just 15 years old in 1999 and won several junior area championships through 2004 when she competed at her first Olympics in Athens in the high jump event. She began to compete in the long and triple jump events as well but entered her first Pan American Games at Rio 2007 in the high jump, narrowly missing out on a medal with a fourth place finish. Her first major success came in 2011 after focusing her efforts on the long and triple jump events, placing third at the World Championships to win her first world medal in the triple jump. She then competed at the Guadalajara 2011 Pan Am Games where she claimed the gold medal in the triple jump as well as the bronze in the long jump.

In 2012, the triple jump became her greatest event, shocking the world with a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics. She then earned her first World Championship title in 2013 and was prepared to dominate the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games two years later. She soared to a leap of 15.08m at the Games in Canada to defend her continental title. She also defended her World Championship gold that same year. She continued her impressive streak of victories by winning her first Olympic title at Rio 2016 in the triple jump with a leap of 15.17m, defeating future world record holder Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela in the process. She then added another World Championship medal in 2017 with a silver in the triple jump. Caterine won two golds at the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in the long and triple jump events before competing in her final Pan American Games at Lima 2019 where she finished fifth in the long jump. Ibarguen went on to win the bronze medal at the World Championships in the triple jump that same year before competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics where she finished 10th in the final. 

2017 – KIMBERLY RHODE (USA) – SHOOTING SPORT

Kimberly Rhode of the United States is the most successful shooting sport athlete in the history of the Olympics. She is a six-time Olympic medalist and three-time champion at the world’s top sporting event. Rhode began her incredible career by winning her first World Championship title at the age of 13 in 1995. One year later, she won her first Olympic gold at the Atlanta 1996 Games in the double trap event. She competed at her first Pan American Games at Winnipeg 1999, winning the gold in the double trap competition. She returned to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, earning a bronze medal in the double trap. She then successfully defended her continental title at Santo Domingo 2003 before returning to the Olympic throne at Athens 2004 Olympics with her second Olympic gold. 

When the double trap event was removed from the Olympic program for Beijing 2008, Kimberly began to focus solely on skeet shooting. The Rio 2007 Pan Am Games marked her first international event in the new discipline yet she still managed to win the silver medal at the Games. She followed that up with another silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. With ample experience in the event, Kimberly went on to win the next three gold medals at the Pan American Games of Guadalajara 2011, Toronto 2015 and Lima 2019 to give her six medals in six Games and just one of those being a silver instead of the gold. Rhode would pull off a similar feat at the Olympics, winning her third Olympic gold at London 2012 before adding a bronze at Rio 2016. The impressive achievement makes Kimberly Rhode the only athlete in history to win an individual medal at six consecutive Olympics. 

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!