Pan American Games set to open in Chile with many athletes eyeing spots at the Paris Olympics

The Pan American Games open Friday in Chile’s capital with more than 100 spots available for next year’s Paris Olympics and the usual contest to see who will finish second behind the United States in the medals chart.

More than 6,800 athletes from 41 countries and territories will compete in Santiago over 17 days. Competitors in 20 sports, including gymnastics, boxing and swimming, will be looking to directly qualify for the Olympics. Other sports will offer spots based on quotas, ranking points or minimum qualification standards.

The Pan American Games, the largest multi-sport event in the Americas, are held every four years and precede the Olympics by a year. Santiago, where the streets have been rocked by protests in recent years, will debut as host. About 17,000 volunteers and 3,000 security officers will work at the event.

If injuries don’t get in the way, the U.S. team in Chile will include 93 Olympians and 32 Olympic medalists in a roster of 631 athletes. Of those, 318 are women and 313 are men. They will compete in 43 of the 46 sports.

Brazil, Mexico and Canada are expected to fight for second place in the medals table. The three are bringing some of their biggest stars to the competition, including Brazilian gymnast Rebeca Andrade, Mexican diver Osmar Olvera and Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil.

American athletes will seek Olympic qualification in nine sports: breaking, boxing, gymnastics (rhythmic, trampoline), sport climbing, field hockey (men’s and women’s), modern pentathlon, artistic swimming, handball and water polo (men’s and women’s).

Paris Olympics

Athletes in archery, diving, equestrian jumping, table tennis, sailing and shooting can secure quotas that will send them to Paris next year. Those competing in badminton, 3x3 basketball, cycling, taekwondo and triathlon can get ranking points that allow them to qualify. Track and field athletes and swimmers can also get minimum qualification standards for U.S. Olympic team trials.

The U.S. team at the Pan American Games has 13 Olympic champions, including nine who won gold in Tokyo — six members of the women’s water polo team, fencer Lee Kiefer, shooter Vincent Hancock and swimmer Brooks Curry.

The other four won their Olympic titles prior to 2021, including Helen Maroulis and Kyle Snyder in wrestling, and Laura Kraut and McClain Ward in equestrian.

Four years ago, the United States won 293 medals in Lima, Peru — 122 gold, 87 silver and 84 bronze. Brazil came in a distant second with 54 gold, 45 silver and 70 bronze. Mexico finished in third with 37 gold, 39 silver and 62 bronze, edging Canada with 35 gold, 65 silver and 52 bronze.

As the Olympics did in Japan, the Pan American Games are seeking to reach a younger audience with new sports. Breaking, sport climbing and skateboarding will make their debuts at the event. The latter two have already had a first Olympic competition in Tokyo, while breaking will debut next year in Paris.

The opening ceremony of the Pan American Games will take place on Friday at the 47,000-seat Estadio Nacional, around which six new venues for 30 sports were built with an investment of $507 million.

Inaugurated in 1938, the Estadio Nacional held its first major sporting event in 1962 when Brazil beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 to win the World Cup title in soccer.

Eleven years later, the stadium became a place of horror with extrajudicial killings and torture after the coup d’etat that ousted President Salvador Allende and led him to kill himself in 1973.

“People will be surprised by how beautiful this National Stadium Park turned out,” Neven Ilic, the president of organizer Panam Sports, said last week. “All Chileans should feel proud of the level of the facilities and because they will be hosting a celebration never seen before in this country.”

The Chilean government says the park that includes the stadium will be a place for the public to practice sports, play and walk as part of the legacy of the Pan Am Games. Authorities also promise to hand over the apartments in the athletes village to families after the event as permanent housing.

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