What's at stake at the Pan Am Games

The best word to describe the quadrennial Pan American Games: eclectic.

A gymnastics world champion working her way back into form may share television time with a world-record holder in slalom water skiing. A diver trying to clinch an Olympic spot for her country may cross paths with a young swimmer just looking for some international experience. A D-League basketball player may get his first glimpse of a game called basque pelota, or encounter an elite water skier by the name of … Freddy Krueger.

The Pan Am Games include 42 countries from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Every Olympic sport is represented, along with an assortment of non-Olympic sports -- karate, squash, water skiing, roller skating, softball, baseball, racquetball, bowling and the aforementioned basque pelota.

In some sports, the Pan Ams are essentially Olympic qualifiers. Flatwater canoe/kayak athletes have their berths at the London Games at stake, as do the handball teams. In other sports with complex qualifying systems, like triathlon and badminton, the Pan Ams have some Olympic ramifications, but there are several other routes through which athletes can qualify for London 2012. And in sports such as basketball and volleyball, there is no connection between the Pan Ams and Olympic qualifications. As for non-Olympic sports such as karate and roller skating, there is no bigger international competitive stage for a U.S. athlete than the Pan Ams.

The Games will run Oct. 14-30 in Guadalajara, Mexico, and several nearby cities -- the mountain venue of Tapalpa will host mountain biking, Ciudad Guzman will have canoeing and rowing, Lagos de Moreno welcomes baseball and the resort town of Puerto Vallarta has the sea sports of open-water swimming, triathlon, sailing and beach volleyball. ESPN Deportes and ESPN3 will have the bulk of the coverage, with some events also on ESPN2.

Click to page 2 for our sport-by-sport breakdown of who to watch and what's at stake at the 2012 Pan American Games.

Here's a look at who's who and what's what (a "quota spot" means a spot is reserved for a country but may not necessarily be filled by the athlete who earned it):

ARCHERY

U.S. athletes to watch: The competition to make the Pan Am Games team was so tough that two-time Olympian and 2007 Pan Am champion Jennifer Nichols didn't qualify. The women's team consists of Miranda Leek, Khatuna Lorig and Heather Koehl. The men's team includes top-ranked Brady Ellison, who just won the World Cup final.

Olympic ramifications: None. The U.S. women earned one quota spot at the world championships this summer in Torino, Italy, and will have a chance to qualify a full team of three archers at a competition in June in Ogden, Utah. The men qualified the full complement of three athletes in Torino. As for which athletes will qualify for the Games, a series of U.S. Olympic trials events began in late September and will continue into next year.

BADMINTON

U.S. athletes to watch: Eva Lee swept the Pan Am gold medals in 2007, winning singles, doubles and mixed doubles. The latter should be a strong event for the U.S., with several good men's players available: Tony Gunawan and Halim Haryanto Ho, who won the 2001 World Badminton Championship in men's doubles, have become U.S. citizens. Gunawan also won the 2005 men's doubles world championship for the U.S. with Howard Bach, Lee's partner in the 2007 Pan Am victory.

Olympic ramifications: Indirect. Quota spots and the vast majority of qualifiers are determined by the world rankings of May 3, 2012, and Pan Am results count toward that ranking.

BASEBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S. men's roster includes players who are in Major League Baseball organizations but not on any team's 40-man roster. That means a mix of prospects, including Travis d'Arnaud of Toronto, and journeymen with major league experience.

Olympic ramifications: Baseball appeared in the 2008 Beijing Games, but it is no longer on the Olympic program.

BASKETBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: The top U.S. women's players are in Europe for an exhibition tour through Oct. 9 and will not continue on to Guadalajara. The U.S. women's Pan Am team consists of 11 college players and one high school player, Breanna Stewart. The U.S. men's Pan Am team will include players from the NBA D-League.

U.S. athletes to watch: Stewart, a rising high school senior who has committed to Connecticut, is No. 1 in the ESPN HoopGurlz prospect rankings for the Class of 2012.

Olympic ramifications: None. Both U.S. teams qualified for London by winning the 2010 World Championships.

BASQUE PELOTA

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S. sent six men and no women to Guadalajara.

Olympic ramifications: Basque pelota is not an Olympic sport. Though it sounds like a piece of furniture one would find in the West Elm catalog, it is in fact a cousin of jai alai, a ball-and-racquet court sport.

BEACH VOLLEYBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: Former Loyola Marymount teammates Emily Day and Heather Hughes are a duo that was selected with an eye to the future, though Hughes already has Pan Am Games experience, having been on the indoor volleyball team in 2007.

Olympic ramifications: None. Countries earn quota spots through ranking points from world championships, World Tour and continental competitions, with a few places held over for other means of qualifying.

BOWLING

U.S. athletes to watch: Kelly Kulick, the first woman to win a PBA Tour event (and a recent ESPN The Magazine Body Issue athlete model), will compete with Liz Johnson. The man Kulick beat to win that PBA title, Chris Barnes, will be in the men's event with Bill O'Neill.

Olympic ramifications: Bowling is not an Olympic sport.

BOXING

U.S. athletes to watch: Olympic hopefuls Christina Cruz, Franchon Crews and Queen Underwood have qualified for Pan Ams in the weight classes that will be contested in 2012, when women's boxing will make its Olympic debut. The men's team is weakened somewhat because the world championships took place earlier this month in Havana, Cuba, and most athletes don't go to both events.

Olympic ramifications: None. Quota spots for women will be determined at the 2012 World Championships. The 2011 men's World Championships, which will determine many but not all quota spots, are under way.

CANOE/KAYAK -- SPRINT

The Pan Am Games program includes sprint (flatwater) canoe and kayak events, but not slalom (whitewater) events.

U.S. athletes to watch: Two-time Olympian Carrie Johnson will compete in both individual events. Maggie Hogan and Kaitlyn McElroy combine in the K-2 500. The men's team has two sets of brothers -- twins Luke and Jake Michael, and Patrick and Ryan Dolan -- all based in Kailua, Hawaii.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. The U.S. earned no quota spots at the most recent world championships and must win an event at Pan Ams to qualify a boat in that event for the Olympics.

CYCLING -- BMX

U.S. athletes to watch: Amanda Carr is ranked sixth in the world. Arielle Martin-Verhaaren is 20th. Not competing: fifth-ranked Brooke Crain.

Olympic ramifications: Minimal. The Pan Am Games can be used to count toward ranking points, which will determine the bulk of the quota spots, but this is not one of the heavily weighted competitions.

CYCLING -- MOUNTAIN BIKING

U.S. athletes to watch: Sole women's entrant Heather Irmiger is ranked 24th in the world, below a couple of other Americans.

Olympic ramifications: Minimal. The top eight countries in the world rankings get two Olympic quota spots each, and the U.S. is currently ranked sixth.

CYCLING -- ROAD

U.S. athletes to watch: Robin Farina is the only U.S. woman entered in the road race, a difficult event for those who don't have teammates to work with. Alison Starnes and Farina are the two U.S. entrants in the time trial.

Olympic ramifications: Minimal. The winner of the road race earns a spot for her country in the Games, but the U.S. already has three quota spots, and would need quite a bit of work in major international events to move into the top five nations and gain a fourth spot.

CYCLING -- TRACK

U.S. athletes to watch: Only three U.S. women are going to Guadalajara: Dana Feiss (sprint and keirin events) and the team sprint duo of Elizabeth Carlson and Madalyn Godby. The team doesn't figure highly in the world rankings.

Olympic ramifications: None. Rankings are mostly based on World Cup and world championship results, and to qualify for London, the U.S. women need to accrue a lot of points in every event except omnium and team pursuit.

DIVING

U.S. athletes to watch: This is a strong group, with Troy Dumais teaming with Kristian Ipsen in men's synchronized springboard. The women's team features some divers with synchronized names, if not extensive international experience -- the synchro springboard duo is Kassidy Cook and Cassidy Krug; the synchro platform divers are Amy Cozad and Amy Korthauer.

Olympic ramifications: Direct in individual events, but not synchronized. The U.S. team already has two quota spots (the maximum) in women's springboard and men's platform. That leaves the U.S. still seeking spots in men's springboard and women's platform. Cozad and Korthauer will try to get the spot in the latter. This is not the last chance for qualifying -- remaining spots are up for grabs at London's World Cup event in February.

EQUESTRIAN

U.S. athletes to watch: In this mixed-gender sport, the U.S. will take a powerful jumping team (Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Christine McCrea and Kent Farrington) in an effort to grab Olympic quota spots. Laura Kraut, Madden and Ward's teammate on the 2008 gold medal show jumping squad, was scheduled to compete but ran into horse quarantine and logistical difficulties. In dressage, the U.S. will lead with Steffen Peters, a 1996 Olympic medalist in the team dressage event.

Olympic ramifications: Direct, though the U.S. already has qualified teams in dressage and eventing. Three countries can earn quota spots in show jumping in Guadalajara.

FENCING

U.S. athletes to watch: Two-time Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis leads an experienced group in women's sabre, long a U.S. strength. Epee fencer Kelley Hurley competed in the 2008 Olympics. Six of the nine fencers on the men's squad have Olympic experience.

Olympic ramifications: None. Most quota spots are based on rankings, and a separate Pan American championship held earlier this year figures heavily as well.

GYMNASTICS

U.S. athletes to watch: The world championships are taking place in Tokyo just before the Pan Ams, so the U.S. sent its A team to worlds and an entirely different squad to Pan Ams. The Pan Am team is a mix of up-and-coming gymnasts who may challenge for a spot on the Olympic team and former Olympians recovering from injury who weren't ready for worlds.

The original Pan Am Games roster was stacked with three former world all-around champions -- Shawn Johnson, Chellsie Memmel and Bridget Sloan -- but Memmel will miss the competition with a torn biceps tendon. The men's team is less experienced. No athletes on the eight-woman rhythmic gymnastics roster or four-athlete (two men, two women) trampoline squad have Olympic experience.

Olympic ramifications: None. World championships and qualifying tournaments determine the quota spots in all three disciplines.

HANDBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S. women's team roster includes several players based with European clubs, including 20-year-old Karoline Borg, who plays for Norway's SK Njard, and her sister, 16-year-old Anja Borg, who also plays in Norway with Vollen. The men's squad also has a few players based in Europe or the Middle East.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. The winning men's and women's teams qualify for London. Runners-up and possibly bronze medalists (depending on who else has already qualified) move on to a qualification tournament.

FIELD HOCKEY

U.S. athletes to watch: Six Olympic veterans -- Lauren Crandall, Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, Caroline Nichols, Jesse Gay and Amy Tran-Swensen -- are on the women's squad. Katie O'Donnell won the Women's Sports Foundation National Sportswoman of the Year in 2010.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. Men's and women's winners qualify for the Olympics. The next six women's teams advance to a qualifying tournament.

JUDO

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S. team is short on Olympic experience but features a world champion in Kayla Harrison, who won the world title in 2010 and took bronze this year.

Olympic ramifications: None. The world rankings next May determine Olympic qualifiers -- not just quota spots for countries, but the qualifying athletes themselves. They'll take one per country in each weight class, reading down each list until they have 22 men and 14 women in each class. Then it gets complicated. Each country can get one more athlete in the Olympics through a system of rankings and quotas per weight class.

KARATE

U.S. athletes to watch: Six Americans -- three men, three women -- will compete. In the women's world rankings, Tyler Wolfe is 12th at 50 kg/110 pounds; Shannon Nishi is tied for 13th at 55 kg/122 pounds; and Cheryl Murphy is ninth at 68 kg/150pounds.

Olympic ramifications: Karate is not an Olympic sport.

MODERN PENTATHLON

U.S. athletes to watch: Olympian Margaux Isaksen, 20, is becoming more competitive on the international pentathlon stage. She and Suzanne Stettinius will compete in the women's event. The men's event features Dennis Bowsher and Sam Sacksen. Isaksen and Sacksen finished fourth in the mixed event (not an Olympic event) at the recent world championships.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. The men's and women's rules are the same: Four athletes will qualify from the Pan Am Games to the Olympics -- the top finisher from North America, the top finisher from South America and the next two best finishers. The only hitch: Only one athlete per country can qualify from the Pan Am Games. And if more than two athletes from one nation qualify through the various qualification tournaments, the national federation has to trim the team down to two.

RACQUETBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: Rhonda Rajsich and Rocky Carson have won the last two individual world titles. Aimee Ruiz is a two-time doubles world champion. Cheryl Gudinas is ranked fifth in the world in singles.

Olympic ramifications: Racquetball is not an Olympic sport.

ROLLER SKATING

U.S. athletes to watch: Brittany Pricer will be in the free-skating competition, which will look familiar to figure skating fans. Samantha Goetz and six-time world champion Sara Sayasane will race in the speed events.

Olympic ramifications: Roller skating is not an Olympic sport.

ROWING

U.S. athletes to watch: Most of the rowers who competed at the recent world championships are not competing at the Pan Am Games, but the team includes Olympic veterans Margaret Shumway (women's single sculls) and Jennifer Goldsack (lightweight women's singles sculls). Both rowers competed in different events in Beijing.

Olympic ramifications: None. Quota spots are available at the world championships and other designated races.

RUGBY SEVENS

U.S. athletes to watch: Though the 2016 Olympics will include men's and women's rugby, the Pan Am Games will not have a women's event. A couple of players from the U.S. men's World Cup (15-player) squad will be available.

Olympic ramifications: Rugby is not yet an Olympic sport, but it has been added to the program for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

SAILING

U.S. athletes to watch: Paige Railey, the 2006 World Sailor of the Year, competes in the Laser Radial class (single-handed dinghy). Farrah Hall is in the RS:X class (windsurfer).

Olympic ramifications: None. The world championships in December will determine roughly 75 percent of the quota spots. The rest are determined at separate championships for each class of boats in 2012. Only four of the Pan Am Games' nine events are Olympic events.

SHOOTING

U.S. athletes to watch: The team is very strong. Kim Rhode (rifle) has four Olympic medals. Meghann Morrill (rifle) and Sandra Uptagrafft (pistol) have had recent top-10 finishes in world championships. The men's squad includes skeet gold medalist Vincent Hancock, double trap gold medalist Glenn Eller, three-time Pan Am Games gold medalist Jason Parker and pistol shooter Daryl Szarenski, still going strong past age 40.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. Most events have one quota spot available for countries that have not claimed them at the world championships or other events. Shooters must also have posted a score above the Olympic minimum.

SOFTBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: All 17 players will make their Pan Am debuts, and none played in the 2008 Olympics. Many are still in college.

Olympic ramifications: None. The sport is fighting to reclaim its Olympic status.

SOCCER

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S., which in the past has sent youth teams or no teams to the Pan Ams, is not entering teams in the men's or women's soccer tournament this year.

Olympic ramifications: None. The U.S. women play an Olympic qualification tournament in January in Canada.

SQUASH

U.S. athletes to watch: Olivia Blatchford has climbed to No. 32 in the world at age 18.

Olympic ramifications: Squash is not an Olympic sport.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Pan Am participant Kim Rhode has won four Olympic medals in shooting.

SWIMMING

U.S. athletes to watch: The team is young, though a few Olympic veterans such as Elaine Breeden and Kim Vandenberg will make the trip to Guadalajara. Michelle McKeehan won gold in the 2007 Pan Am 100-meter breaststroke. Elizabeth Pelton finished sixth in the 2009 world championships 200-meter backstroke at age 15. Open-water swimmers Eva Fabian and Christine Jennings have some top-10 results from past world championships.

Olympic ramifications: None. Unless the American talent pool dries up and swimmers quit meeting minimum standards, the U.S can enter two swimmers per individual event and one team per relay at the Olympics. Open-water swimmers earned some spots in the world championships this summer and have a qualification event next summer. As in track and field, swimmers must meet a minimum time standard, but any swimmer would likely need to do that at the Olympic trials just to make the team.

SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING

U.S. athletes to watch: None of the nine U.S. women competing in Guadalajara have Olympic experience.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. The winners in the team and duet events qualify their country for the Olympics. Everyone else's hopes will rest on a qualification tournament in April in London.

TABLE TENNIS

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S. women's players -- Ariel Hsing, Erica Wu and Lily Zhang -- aren't old enough to drive. Olympic veteran Mark Hasinski leads the men.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. One athlete per gender can qualify. No U.S. players met the first qualifying standard (world rankings after the 2011 world championships). After the Pan Am Games, the last chances to qualify for London are a North American tournament next year in Cary, N.C., and a final international qualifying tournament. Team event qualification is not at stake in Guadalajara.

TAEKWONDO

U.S. athletes to watch: Lauren Cahoon Hamon and Paige McPherson reached the quarterfinals of their respective weight classes at the world championships earlier this year.

Olympic ramifications: None. Quota spots are available at various qualification tournaments, and they may be shuffled around because each country may enter only four of the eight weight classes (four men, four women) in the Olympics. Athletes picked for these spots must meet at least one of several qualifying criteria, among them a top-20 ranking at some point within a two-year span.

TENNIS

U.S. athletes to watch: Christina McHale (No. 42) and Irina Falconi (No. 73) are two of the four highest-ranked American women on the WTA rankings list. McHale, 19, beat No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati in August. The men's roster is less accomplished -- No. 304 Nicholas Monroe is the highest-ranked American making the trip.

Olympic ramifications: None. Qualification is based on ATP and WTA rankings, with a maximum of four singles players per gender per country competing in London. A few spaces are held over for invitations in a bid for geographic diversity.

TRACK AND FIELD

U.S. athletes to watch: USA Track and Field named a mix of rising prospects and experienced Olympic and world championship performers to its roster. Pole vaulter Jenn Suhr, who won the 2008 Olympic silver medal while known as Jennifer Stuczynski, continues her trek back to top form. Discus thrower Aretha Thurmond won Pan Am gold in 1999 and 2003. Others who competed at the world championships this summer: Michelle Carter (shot put), Amber Campbell (hammer throw), Maria Michta (20-kilometer walk), Gia Lewis-Smallwood (discus) and Inika McPherson (high jump). The men's team includes two U.S. champions -- Kibwe Johnson (hammer throw) and Jarred Rome (discus). And no, Usain Bolt won't be competing for Jamaica.

Olympic ramifications: None. The composition of the U.S. Olympic team will be determined at the Olympic Trials next summer, and the number of athletes per event is determined by a set of time and distance standards.

TRIATHLON

U.S. athletes to watch: Sarah Haskins took Pan Am Games silver in 2007 and a world championship silver in 2008 along with an 11th-place finish in the 2008 Olympics. Gwen Jorgensen, who just started competing in the sport in March 2010, finished second in a world qualifier on the 2012 Olympic course to earn a place in the Olympics next year. The men's team includes 2003 Pan Am gold medalist and three-time Olympian Hunter Kemper and former world No. 1 Mark Fretta.

Olympic ramifications: Direct, with one quota spot available per gender. But the Pan Ams represent just one of many ways to qualify for the Olympics, and the U.S. should qualify the maximum contingent size (three spots) for women. By USA Triathlon's qualification standard, Jorgensen and Sarah Groff have already earned two of those spots.

VOLLEYBALL

U.S. athletes to watch: Neither the men's nor the women's team includes a former Olympian.

Olympic ramifications: None. Qualifying tournaments are held separately.

WATER POLO

U.S. athletes to watch: Goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong, named world player of the year in 2010, is the backstop on an experienced women's team that includes three-time Olympic medalists Brenda Villa and Heather Petri. The men's roster includes 11 players from the recent world championships, including longtime star Tony Azevedo.

Olympic ramifications: Direct. The best-placed team at the Pan Am Games not to have already earned a spot in the Olympics will earn one in Guadalajara. (The U.S. has yet to earn a spot in either the women's or men's Olympic water polo tournaments.) Teams that fail to qualify must go to last-chance qualifying tournaments in April.

WATER SKIING

U.S. athletes to watch: Regina Jaquess, who recently set a pending world slalom record of two buoys at 41 feet off, is the only U.S. woman making the trip. The four-man men's team includes an athlete by the name of Freddy Krueger, the country's top-ranked jumper.

Olympic ramifications: Water skiing is not an Olympic sport.

WEIGHTLIFTING

U.S. athletes to watch: The women's team will have two competitors at the over-75kg/165 pounds class -- Sarah Robles was ranked 20th in the world in 2010, while Chioma Amaechi is making the transition from track and field's throwing events. At the other end of the weight scale, Kelly Rexroad-Williams was in the top 35 in 2010. Olympic veterans Kendrick Farris and Chad Vaughn are on the men's roster.

Olympic ramifications: None. The bulk of the quota spots are earned at the 2010 and 2011 world championships, with a few to be filled in continental qualifiers next year. A handful of events count toward individual qualification, but the Pan Am Games are among them.

WRESTLING

U.S. athletes to watch: The U.S. will send three women -- 2008 world champion Clarissa Chun, 2010 world runner-up Elena Pirozhkova and three-time junior world medalist Helen Maroulis. The men's team has four wrestlers with world championship medals, including surprising 2011 world champion Jordan Burroughs and 2011 bronze medalist Jake Varner.

Olympic ramifications: None. Colorado Springs will host a separate regional Olympic qualification event in February.

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