The Most Successful Athletes in the History of the Pan American Games
The Pan American Games will be held next summer in Lima. This popular competition is approaching its first 70 years of history. During this time period, 15 cities in North, Central, South America and the Caribbean have hosted the continent’s main multi-sport event.
The majority of the best athletes of the region have participated in this gathering, which will celebrate its eighteenth edition this year in Lima.
Which athletes have been the most successful? Two names stand out: Brazilian swimmer Thiago Pereira and Cuban gymnast Erick López; but they are not the only ones in the category of Pan American legends.
THE RECORDS THAT HAVE MADE HISTORY IN THE PAN AMERICAN GAMES
At the Toronto Games in 2015, Pereira made history by becoming the top medalist in the Games. Dubbed “Mr. Pan” in his country, he made his debut in the Santo Domingo games of 2003, where he only captured two medals (one silver, one bronze).
Four years later, in Rio de Janeiro, in his home turf, the Brazilian obtained eight medals, six of which were gold. This feat was strongly highlighted in Brazil because Pereira left behind the record held by American Mark Spitz, who won five gold medals in the Winnipeg Games of 1967.
Then, at the 2011 Guadalajara games, Pereira returned to the podium on eight occasions and everyone hoped that in Toronto, his fourth Pan Americans, the swimmer would beat Lopez. Pereira won three titles as part of the 4 × 100 and 4 × 200 freestyle relays and the 4 × 100 medley relay; in addition, he won silver in the 200-meter medley and a bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke. The swimmer finished his journey in the Pan Americans, winning 23 medals: 15 gold medals, four silver and four bronze.
Another formidable Brazilian swimmer, promoted to the category of Pan-American legend, is Gustavo Borges, who captured in four Games, between 1991 and 2003, 19 medals, among them 8 gold, 8 silver and 3 bronze.
ERICK LOPEZ, UNBEATABLE IN GYMNASTICS
Gymnast Erick López participated for the first time in the Pan American games of Havana 1991, when he was only 17 years old. At that gathering, where Cuba took first place, Erick obtained three medals, becoming the top medalist in the parallel bars and the vault.
Later, in Mar del Plata 1995, the Cuban also conquered three titles: he repeated as top medalist and excelled in the parallel bars and the pommel horse. He dominated the region until Winnipeg 1999, once again becoming the top medalist and winning gold in the rings, parallel bars and pommel horse.
In the 2003 Santo Domingo edition, López was almost 31, an age in which most gymnasts can no longer perform as effectively. But that was of no consequence since Erick offered one of the best performances in the Games held in the Dominican capital, winning six of the seven competitions. This raised his medal count to 22, an amount that, as examined earlier, was bested by Pereira. Nevertheless, the Cuban still holds one record: he is the top gold medalist, with 18.
Which athlete was more complete, Pereira or Lopez? Comparisons are never simple, but there is one decisive element: the Brazilian won nine medals as part of his country´s relay team, seven of which were gold; however, he only swam in four of those nine finals.
That sporting discipline establishes that the athletes who have participated in the semifinals are entitled to receive a medal, therefore, Pereira obtained five medals from the bleachers. On the other hand, gymnastics only has one competition per team. Lopez won three gold medals and one silver in the collective tournament, but his other 18 medals were all won individually.
JOANNE MALAR, THE PANAMERICAN QUEEN
Canadian swimmer Joanne Malar can be considered the Pan American queen as she is the athlete who has been awarded the most medals in the Games, with 19 between the Havana and the Santo Domingo games.Canadian swimmer Joanne Malar can be considered the queen of the Pan American Games.
At only 16, Malar swam for the first time in the Pan American Games held in the Cuban capital. There she captured her first medals, but no gold. Things played out differently at Mar del Plata, where she made it to the top of the podium twice.
Her strongest specialty was the 200 meter medley, reigning supreme during three consecutive Games, between 1995 and 2003. And she excelled in the 40m medley, which she won on two occasions, in 1995 and 1999.
In sum, she captured 19 medals in four games: six gold, nine silver and four bronze. Malar retired at the age of 30 with an impressive record of 30 national titles and outranked her closest competitor, American Denise Parker, by four medals in the all-time ranking.
This archer was considered one of the best of all times, not only in the United States. She made her debut at the Indianapolis Pan American Games at only 13 and made history by winning the individual final.
Parker was considered in Havana the favorite by far because she had already won an Olympic medal in Seoul 1988. Denise showed her spectacular aim in front of the Cuban audience. In addition to dominating once again the individual and team competitions, she captured the gold at 30, 60 and 70 meters. Her fame grew even more at the Mar del Plata and Winnipeg games, where she won a total of 15 medals, with 12 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze.
LONES WIGGER, ANOTHER PAN AMERICAN LEGEND
After Pereira and López on the medal table of the Pan Americans, three more gymnasts stand out: American Abraham Grossfeld (21 medals), Argentine Juan Caviglia (also with 21 medals) and Cuban Casimiro Suárez (with 19 medals). The domination of gymnasts and swimmers is broken by Lones Wigger, considered a legend in competitive shooting, not only in his native country, the United States.
This retired US Army colonel competed in four Olympic games between 1964 and 1980, where he won two gold medals and one silver. He started to excel in the 1963 Pan American Games in São Paulo, where he won his first title as part of his country’s small-bore rifle team.
Over the next two decades, Wigger continued to shine at the Pan American Games. His farewell performance came in Caracas 1983, at age 46, where he triumphed in the high power rifle, 3 × 40 meters, in the individual and team competitions and also in the high power rifle team competition. In his six performances at the Pan-American Games, between 1963 and 1983, Wigger captured 18 medals, 13 of which were gold.