With Olympic berths available in some sports and athlete fields ranging from secondary to top shelf, the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, wrapped up last weekend, featuring athletes from the Americas competing in Olympic sports less than a year out from the London Games. Here are some of the highlights:
The U.S. team won the overall medal count with 92 golds and 236 total medals. The squad included 93 multiple medalists and 31 multiple champions. Brazil finished second with 141 medals, while Cuba was second with 58 golds. Toronto will host the next Pan Am Games in 2015. The U.S. last staged the Pan Ams in 1987, when they were held in Indianapolis.
The U.S. women pulled off the surprise of the Games, striking gold for the first time at the Pan Ams and qualifying for the London Olympics by beating Argentina, the world's top-ranked squad, 4-2. The Argentine ladies were seeking their eighth Pan Am gold in field hockey in 12 tries, while the U.S. had never finished higher than third. Paige Selenski, Shannon Taylor, Katie O'Donnell and Michelle Vittese scored for the U.S. team. The U.S. men placed fifth, as Argentina won gold, defeating Canada 3-1 in the final.
Both U.S. teams had a successful Pan Am Games, winning their tournaments and earning automatic qualification for the London Games. The women needed a tying goal in the final minute of regulation and four penalty rounds to outlast Canada 27-26. The U.S. women finished only sixth at the recent world championships in Shanghai but are still considered strong Olympic medal contenders. The men defeated Canada 7-3 in their finals, as veteran Tony Azevedo scored three times and Merrill Moses made eight saves.
Jordan Burroughs might not have expected such a tough test after winning the recent world championships in Istanbul, Turkey, but Burroughs trailed in each period during his final match against Cuba's Yunierki Blanco before prevailing 3-2, 3-2. The season is all the more remarkable because Burroughs spent the first few months competing under collegiate rules for the University of Nebraska. He won the NCAA title at 165 pounds before jumping into freestyle matches at 74kgs.
U.S. fencers nearly ran the table, winning 11 gold medals in 12 events. Kelley Hurley defeated sister Courtney 15-13 to win the women's epee final. Mariel Zagunis, the two-time Olympic champ in women's sabre, took home gold in individual and team events.
Sportsmanship made its point at the fencing venue Friday. With Venezuela's Antonio Leal and Chile's Felipe Alvear locked in a hard-fought foil contest, Alvear scored what appeared to be the decisive touch against Leal for a 15-13 victory, though the electronic equipment did not record the touch, instead giving a point to Leal to tie the match 14-14. As Alvear readied himself to resume, Leal told officials he'd been touched first, thereby ending the match. Alvear went on to win the silver medal, behind Alexander Massialas of the U.S., with Leal taking bronze.
After the country's top gymnasts had a wildly successful trip to the world championships in Tokyo, the U.S. sent its B team to the Pan Am Games. Of note, Olympic champion Shawn Johnson won a gold medal in the team competition and a silver medal on the uneven bars, not typically her best event. It was Johnson's third competition and first international test since a two-year hiatus, during which she did numerous shows and won Dancing with the Stars. Johnson tore an ACL in her left knee during a ski accident that required surgery last year. "It's like a jigsaw puzzle and you have to fit a certain part," she said. "I'm trying to make my gymnastics fit." Bridgette Caquatto won the women's all-around, becoming the seventh straight U.S. gymnast to take the title.
Kayaker Carrie Johnson won the women's K1 500 meter event to qualify her boat for the London Games. Unlike athletes in other sports, in which second- and third-chance berths still remain at future qualification tournaments, flatwater canoeists and kayakers faced their final chance to qualify for the Olympics while in Guadalajara. Johnson also won the women's K1 200-meter event. Canoe/Kayak success at the Olympics has been sporadic for U.S. athletes. Rebecca Giddens won the K1 slalom (whitewater) event in Athens in 2004, but U.S. men have not won Olympic gold since taking the C2 slalom event in Barcelona in 1992.
The U.S. men won its first game at the Pan Ams since 2003, beating Venezuela 39-35, but still finished seventh overall. The men from Argentina and women from Brazil won gold medals and qualified for the Olympics, though other countries from the region could still be added at future qualifying tournaments.
Cuba continues to rule the ring. They won medals in nine of 10 weight classes, all except super heavyweight. The U.S. sent its A team to the world championships, and its Pan Am team came home without a medal.
This marked the first time since 1975 that all three U.S. teams (dressage, three-day event and show jumping) won team gold. The show jumpers secured the team berth that was available for the London Games.
Mexico pulled off a Chinese imitation, sweeping all eight gold medals on the boards. Paola Espinosa won gold in both synchronized events and the individual 10-meter platform.
With baseball out of the Olympic Games in 2012, Canada stunned the U.S. in the final of what would have been the Olympic qualifier, defeating the Yanks 2-1. The U.S. men had beaten Cuba 12-10 in the semifinals.
Hours after Pan American Sports Organization chief Mario Vasquez Rana held a press conference to tout what had been a drug-free Games, an announcement followed that Canadian wakeborder Aaron Rathy had failed a doping test and would have to surrender his silver medal. Rathy, 23, tested positive for a stimulant commonly found in nutritional supplements called OxyElitePro, which he said he purchased at a GNC health food store. Before the Games, there were fears of widespread doping violations after meat in the area was found to contain the banned substance clenbuterol, a steroid that had been given to livestock.
And finally, a note that is especially apropos in Halloween week ... the Pan Am Games include certain sports that do not appear on the Olympic program. One of them is water skiing. The gold medalist in the jump competition this year was three-time world champion Freddy Krueger of the U.S.