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75 YEARS OF STARS AT THE PAN AMERICAN GAMES: 2018 – 2022

The countdown for the Top 75 athletes who have competed at the Pan American Games concludes with the stars from 2018 to 2022.

2008 – NATHAN ADRIAN (USA) – SWIMMING

Nathan Adrian is one of the best U.S. swimmers in the past decade, racking up an impressive five Olympic golds, 12 World Championship titles and two golds at the Pan American Games. He began swimming at the young age of five and competed at his first World Championships and Olympic Games just 15 years later. He won his first and only individual gold at the short course World Championships in 2008 in the 100m freestyle which would become his speciality throughout the years. Later that year, Adrian also conquered his first Olympic gold as part of the U.S. 4x100m freestyle relay team, setting a new world record in the preliminary heats to qualify the U.S. team to the final. One year later, Nathan added two more World Championship titles at the long course event, helping Team USA win the golds in both the 4x100m medley and freestyle relays. He went on to win an outstanding eight more gold medals at the World Championships from 2011 to 2019, all in the relay events.

Nathan’s greatest triumph came in 2012 during his second Olympics in London. He showed the world his incredible speed, touching the wall first in the 100m freestyle to win his first and only individual gold at the Games. He also added his third Olympic gold in the 4x100m medley relay as well as a silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay. He returned to the Olympic stage at Rio 2016 but was unable to defend his 100m freestyle title, placing third to win the bronze medal, an accomplishment he matched in the 50m freestyle event. His final two Olympic golds also came at Rio 2016 with victories in the 4x100m medley and freestyle relays, setting a new Olympic record in the medley event.

Two years after his Olympic success in Brazil, Adrian was diagnosed with testicular cancer and was unable to train for a year. However, he was able to defeat cancer like many of his rivals in the pool, making an incredible recovery to compete at both the 2019 World Championships and the Lima 2019 Pan American Games. He returned to the top of the podium at the World Championships in both the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m mixed freestyle relays. He then became one of the inaugural Ambassadors of Team Panam Sports for the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games, representing both the United States and the best athletes of the Americas. He became an instant star at the Games in Peru, winning two gold medals in the 4x100m medley and 4x100m mixed freestyle medley as well as three silvers in the 50m and 100m freestyle events and the 4x100m freestyle relay. 

2009 – YULIMAR ROJAS (VENEZUELA) – ATHLETICS

Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela is the undisputed Queen of the Triple Jump in athletics. She is the reigning Olympic champion, a six-time World Champion, the defending Pan American Games champion as well as the world-record holder in the event. She won her first junior championship in South America at the age of 16, beginning her career as a high jumper. She conquered the gold medal in the event at the 2014 South American Games held in Chile before transitioning completely to the long and triple jump events later that year. She competed at her first Pan American Games at Toronto 2015, narrowly missing the podium by finishing in fourth place in the triple jump event while also placing 11th in the long jump competition. 

One year later, Yulimar claimed her first World Championship at the indoor event with a leap of 14.41m. She competed at her first Olympic Games later that year at Rio 2016, drastically improving her personal best to 14.98m to earn the Olympic silver behind her rival Caterine Ibarguen from Colombia. However, those Olympics would mark her last defeat at the world’s top athletics events. She won her first outdoor World Championship title in 2017, followed by another indoor World Championship in 2018. Her success at the World Championships gave her the confidence to dominate at her second appearance at the Pan American Games of Lima 2019, setting a new Games record while clearing 15 meters for the first time to win the gold medal with a leap of 15.11m. She continued her ascent from there, winning another outdoor World Championship title with a flight of 15.37m that ranks in the top-10 all time. 

But Yulimar wasn’t done yet. She made history at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, setting both a new Olympic and world record in the event with her flight of 15.67m, demolishing the previous record of 15.50m that was set in 1995. She instantly became world-renowned for the performance but still had greater performances in store for spots fans around the world. She improved upon her world record performance at the 2022 World Indoor Championships, launching to an unprecedented 15.74m to set a new global standard. She claimed her third outdoor World Championship title in Eugene, Oregon later that year. Yulimar Rojas now owns 8 of the top 10 triple jump distances in history, making her the undeniable greatest of all time in the event. 

2010 – MIJAIN LOPEZ (CUBA) – WRESTLING

Mijain Lopez is not only the best wrestler in the history of Cuba, but also the entire world. His list of career accomplishments is truly remarkable. He is the only male wrestler in history to win four Olympic gold medals, he is a five-time World Champion and a five-time champion at the Pan American Games. He won his first gold international gold medal at the 2002 Pan American Championship in the 120kg division at the age of 20 before competing at his first Pan American Games at Santo Domingo 2003 where he won his first of five consecutive golds at the continental Games. He then competed in his first Olympics at Athens 2004 where he was unable to claim a medal in the greco-roman event by finishing in 5th place. It would mark his only appearance at a major international event without earning a medal. 

Lopez earned his first World Championship title in 2005 and would go on to win the next four consecutive titles at the event in the 120kg weight class. He successfully defended his crown at the Rio 2007 Pan Am Games before making his triumphant return to the Olympics, finally claiming the gold medal in the event to cement himself as the best wrestler in the world. He then won his final gold medal in the 120kg division at the Pan Am Games at Guadalajara 2011 before doing the same at the London 2012 Olympics. He transitioned to the 130kg division in 2014, winning the Pan American Championship, the World Championship and the Central American and Caribbean Games all in that same year. One year later, Mijain won his first Pan Am Games gold in the new weight class at Toronto 2015 and would defend his continental Games title at Lima 2019 to give him his historic fifth gold medal at the Games.

The new weight class wouldn’t hinder his success at the Olympic Games either, winning back-to-back golds at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 to become the first male wrestler in history to win four Olympic golds and just the fifth athlete in history to do so in the same individual event. After initially announcing his retirement following the Olympics in Tokyo, Mijain has decided to return to the sport with a promise to compete at both the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games (where he will represent Team Panam Sports as an Athlete Ambassador) and the Paris 2024 Olympics where he will seek to increase his legendary status. Mijain Lopez would become the only Olympian in history to win five gold medals in the same individual event if he is successful at the Games in Paris, surpassing the likes of fellow legends such as Carl Lewis, Michael Phelps and Al Oerter. 

2011 – SHELLY-ANN FRASER-PRYCE (JAMAICA) – ATHLETICS

Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is world-renowned as one of the best sprinters in history in the sport of athletics. Her incredible career spans nearly two decades as she has become a symbol of longevity and excellence at the highest levels of athletics. Shelly-Ann is a three-time Olympic champion, a nine-time World Champion, a five-time Diamond League champion and a gold medalist at the Pan American Games. She competed at her first World Championships at just 20 years old, helping the Jamaican team qualify to the finals in the 4x100m relay race where the team finished with a silver medal. Her big breakthrough in the sport would come one year later at the Jamaican Olympic Trials where she finished in second place in the 100m with a new personal best of 10.85s, shocking many in attendance when she made the Olympic team for Beijing 2008. 

She did not disappoint in her first appearance at the Olympics, blazing to the 100m crown in 10.78s ahead of her two Jamaican teammates, giving her country the historic and unprecedented sweep of the event and becoming the first Caribbean woman to win the 100m gold at the Games, just as Usain Bolt had done for the Jamaican men the night prior to her race. One year later, Fraser-Pryce won her first World Championship title with a new personal best time of 10.73s which was good for the third fastest in history. She added another gold medal at the event in the 4x100m relay. She was suspended for one year in 2010 when she tested positive for oxycodone which is not considered a performance-enhancing drug and she failed to properly report her medicinal use of the substance. She returned at the 2011 World Championships where she suffered her only defeat of her career in the 100m at the World Championships, placing fourth but she was able to helped lead Jamaica to a silver in the 4x100m relay. 

She returned to the London 2012 Olympics ready to defend her title from Beijing, narrowly accomplishing her goal with the second-fastest time in Olympic history of 10.75s. She also added two silvers in the 200m behind Allyson Felix of the U.S. and in the 4x100m relay also behind the U.S. team. One year later, Shelly-Ann made history yet again by becoming the first woman to ever win all three of the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay golds at a single World Championship event. In 2015, Fraser-Pryce also became the first woman in history to win three gold medals at the World Championship in the 100m event, in addition to winning another gold in the 4x100m relay. She was unable to defend her consecutive Olympic titles in the 100m at Rio 2016 as her Jamaican teammate Elaine Thompson won the gold while Shelly-Ann finished with the bronze and added a silver in the 4x100m relay. 

She became a first-time mother in 2017, with many doubting her ability to return to world-class competition. However, with a new nickname as the “Mommy Rocket”, Fraser-Pryce competed at her first Pan American Games at Lima 2019 and sprinted to a new Games record of 22.43s in the 200m event, earning her the Panam Sports Award for Best Female Athlete at the Games. She returned to the World Championship in 2019 where she went on to win her unprecedented fourth gold medal in the 100m in addition to winning another gold in the 4x100m relay. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Elaine Thompson defended her Olympic title and relegated Shelly-Ann to the silver while Shericka Jackson finished with the bronze to give Jamaica another sweep of the podium in the 100m and the teammates combined to win another gold in the 4x100m relay. She then ran a personal best of 10.60s at the Diamond League in 2021. She returned to defend her World Championship title at Eugene 2022, winning her astonishing fifth world title in the 100m in a new championship record of 10.67s. Shelly-Ann added a silver in the 200m and another silver in the 4x100m relay. 

2022 – JULIO CESAR DE LA CRUZ (CUBA) – BOXING

Julio Cesar de la Cruz is one of Cuba’s top boxers in history behind greats such as Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon. He won his first World Championship in 2011, his first of four consecutive victories at the championships in the light heavyweight division. He claimed his first gold medal at the Pan American Games that same year at Guadalajara 2011 to stake his claim as the best boxer of the continent. He competed at his first Olympics at London 2012 but was upset in the quarterfinals by a boxer he had beaten at the Pan Am Games the year before. He then defended his World Championship titles in 2013 and 2015 before earning his second gold medal at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. 

One year later, Julio earned his first Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 to solidify himself as one of the world’s greatest boxers. He won his fourth consecutive World Championships in 2017 before finally experiencing defeat in the event in 2019, earning the bronze medal at the championships. That defeat did not deter him from returning to the Pan Am Games at Lima 2019 where he won his third consecutive boxing gold, matching the legendary feat of Felix Savon before him. De la Cruz made the transition to the heavyweight category at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, once again earning the gold medal to add to his impressive resume. He competed in the same weight class at the 2021 World Championships where he won his fifth title at the global event. 

The Pan American Games return this October in the Chilean capital of Santiago! Who will be the next athlete to impress the world and make this legendary list of athletes who have competed at the Games? Watch the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games from October 20 to November 5 on the Panam Sports Channel to find out! Download the free app now! 

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