Top 10 things we learned from the 2019 Pan American Games ahead of Tokyo 2020

Delfina Pignatiello is an Olympic threat to Katie Ledecky, Nathan Adrian's still got it, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is back to her best.

By Ken Browne ·

The 18th Pan American Games of Lima 2019 had many memorable moments. But here's the Olympic Channel pick of 10 stories from Peru that could have a huge impact on events at Tokyo 2020 in just under a year from now.

1) Delfina Pignatiello could challenge Ledecky hegemony

Argentina's Delfina Pignatiello was the No.1 breakout star of the Pan American Games Lima 2019.

In the pool at least.

400m gold, 800m gold, and 1500m gold saw Pignatiello rewrite Pan Am history.

While her times are still some way off Katie Ledecky's world records in those three events, the confidence boost that Argentina's swim sensation carries home from Lima could see her take her swimming to the next level for Tokyo 2020.

And if Ledecky has an off-week or illness as she did at the world champs in Gwangju, then there could be space for a new face at the top of the podium in Japan.

Delfina Pignatiello never stops thinking about the Olympics

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2) Nathan Adrian and the future of USA swimming

Staying in the water, Team USA continued to use the Pan Am Games as a launch pad for next generation stars in various sports including basketball, track athletics, and swimming.

Shiny new faces of U.S. swimming include 16-year-old high-school sensation Phoebe Bacon who won backstroke individual gold and team gold in the women's 4x100m medley.

Her 59.02 starting swim in that relay set a new Pan Am record, erasing the 59.04 mark previously set by a certain Natalie Coughlan.

But she wasn't the only one smashing records and seizing the day, lightning Will Licon wrote a 2:07.62 into the book in the men’s 200 breaststroke, Annie Lazor's 2:21.40 in the women’s 200 breaststroke was also a new record.

The future of U.S. swimming looks fast.

But it wasn't all about the next gen phenoms, Nathan Adrian's incredible story continues.

He won his first individual medal at the Pan Ams after his comeback from cancer, and also anchored the U.S. to two relay golds, which would have been three had the U.S. not been disqualified from the 4x100m mixed relay.

He also told us that fellow cancer survivor Lance Armstrong's story is a big inspiration for him.

As Caeleb Dressel said after USA's men's 4×100m freestyle relay victory at the 2019 Worlds in Gwangju:

"Nathan just does his job every single time... you can't beat experience."

Don't be surprised to see Adrian anchor the U.S. to yet more gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Nathan Adrian's new motivation

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3) Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the fastest mother alive

After two years out of the spotlight to give birth to her first child Zyon, 'Mommy-Rocket' and six-time Olympic medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has been back to her best this season with seven sub-11 second 100m times.

She is officially the fastest mother on earth.

And she proved it in the 200m final in Lima, streaking to a Games record of 22.43 seconds, beating a 40-year-old record.

It was her first gold medal since returning to action following the birth in 2017.

“It’s a long time since I’ve broken a record so I feel great about that,” she said, adding that Mommy had to miss son Zyon's second birthday to compete at the Pan American Games.

“These are the sacrifices we make for our job. But you know, it was worth it to win the gold here."

Lima 2019 showed us that the 32-year-old is still very much in contention for a Tokyo 2020 podium.

The other Jamaican sprint queen Elaine Thompson decided to troll live bloggers in Lima, as she and Fraser-Pryce swapped events right before the start of the 100m.

Originally Thompson was down to run the 200m and Fraser-Pryce the 100, but they decided to trade places before the event.


Thompson wanted to work on her acceleration and Fraser-Pryce on her distance running.

Both won gold.

Thompson ran 11.18 to secure top spot in the 100m.

“This is my first time in Peru, my first Pan American Games, and my first medal of the season. There is more to come." she said.

As she's the reigning 100m and 200m Olympic champion, we are sure there is much more to come.

But it wasn't all about Jamaica's big two track stars. Natoya Goule won the 800m and could be a gold medal contender at Tokyo 2020 depending on the outcome of the legal battle surrounding the participation of athletes including Caster Semenya.

Goule had nothing but kind words for her direct rival in this Olympic Channel exclusive:

Exclusive! Goule praises Semenya: "I admire her for her determination"

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And Goule showed us what a champion runner keeps in her kit bag!

4) Get set for the triple-jump rivalry of the century

Venezuela's Yulimar Rojas managed to beat Colombia's Caterine Ibarguen in Lima despite the fact that the Colombian wasn't even there.

Rojas jumped a Pan American record of 15.11m, beating Ibarguen's record that was set at Guadalajara.

Get set for one of the best rivalries in sport at Tokyo 2020, where world champion Rojas will take on reigning Olympic champion Ibarguen.

5) Mariana Pajon is on for Tokyo three-peat

Winning three Olympic medals in-a-row is no easy feat. It puts you in the exalted company of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Allyson Felix.

Colombian BMX racer Mariana Pajon could join that elite club in Japan, and she showed why in Lima.

Pajon has the physical and mental strength to come back from a bad injury and get right to the top of her game again.

Her Pan American Games gold medal was the perfect preparation to make history happen at the Games in Japan.

6) Daniel Dhers has heart set on gold for Venezuela

BMX freestyle also made its debut at the Pan American Games and Venezuela's Daniel Dhers presented his Olympic credentials by winning Pan Am gold, as did the USA's Hannah Roberts who's just turned 18.

Dhers stormed to victory with 88.50 in his final run, pulling top tricks out of the bag:

"I started the final run with a 360 with plenty of air, and if I didn’t pull it correctly, I would have crashed to the ground.

"Then I did a 720 with no hands and a Superman, which I almost never do, but I knew I had to pull it out today."

Dhers is excited about BMX freestyle's debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games:

"I didn’t know this [freestyle BMX in the Pan Am Games] would even happen in my time, let alone be included in the Olympics as it is next year.

"It's amazing to think young people can aspire to medals like this and that I can be a part of encouraging them."

The Venezuelan will be 35 at Tokyo and knows it may be his only chance of winning an Olympic gold medal.

5-Time X-Games champion Dhers has his heart set on gold for Venezuela:


Daniel Dhers' emotional message for fellow Venezuelans

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7) Mijain Lopez - The king eyeing history

King of the greco-roman wrestling ring Mijain Lopez proved that he's still the man to beat in the super-heavyweight category.

Lopez won his fifth Pan Am title in Lima without dropping a point.

Five continental medals match his five world champion medals and he could make it an unprecedented four gold medals in a row at Tokyo 2020 having graced the top of the podium at Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016.

Can anyone stop him?

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8) Idalys Ortiz will not let go of Olympic title easily

Another Cuban fighter could also make history in Tokyo, judoka Idalys Ortiz won her third straight gold medal in the judo +78kg category at the Pan American Games and she could also win a fourth consecutive Olympic medal in Tokyo.

Bronze in Beijing, Silver in London, and gold at Rio 2016 put her at history's doorstep too, and the performance of Ortiz in Lima suggests she has the form and motivation to retain her title in Tokyo.

Idalys Ortiz: My Rio Highlights

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9) Juan Miguel Echevarria: Fulfilling his potential

Cuba's Juan Miguel Echevarria made headlines on the Diamond League athletics circuit last year when he nearly cleared the pit in the long jump, and he intends on staying on the front page with performances like the one he put down in Peru.

8.27m on his fourth jump in Lima was enough to give Cuba's star Pan Am gold.

Echevarria is on course to challenge for his first Olympic title next summer.

Find out more about the Caribbean's 'Black Panther' here:

The many faces of Juan Miguel Echevarria

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10) The USA water polo team will not stop winning

Driven by team unity and a constant hunger for more, the USA women's water polo team wants to become the first to win three straight Olympic golds at Tokyo.

And they made a strong statement of their intentions at the Lima 2019 Pan American Games.

They won the gold medal without losing a single game, scoring 142 and conceding just 24, beating Canada 24-4 in the final.

This team is addicted to winning and history awaits at Tokyo 2020.

US women's water polo team: Addicted to winning

They hail from the United States and are dominating their sport. But even t...

11) Memes are fun!

Ok, there's no eleven in a top ten, but we enjoyed the memeing of the 2019 Pan American Games so much that we said we'd put this gallery here just in case you wanted to see some of the best ones.

Enjoy, and see you in Santiago, Chile in 2023!

Memes! All the best memes, Tweets, jokes, pics and funny stuff from the Pan American Games 2019