Inaugural Junior Pan American Games Brings Opportunity For U.S. U23 Athletes

by Chrös McDougall

Casey Kaufhold competes at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.


Qualifying for your first Olympic Games as a teenager comes with some cool perks. Not least among them is the still limitless future.

And so there’s Casey Kaufhold, the 17-year-old archer who already has an Olympic Games appearance and world championships silver medal on her resume. Now she’s adding another first.
The native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is one of 149 American athletes set to take part in the inaugural Junior Pan American Games, which run Thursday through Dec. 5 in Cali and Valle del Cauca, Colombia.

Like the senior Pan American Games, which have a legacy dating back to the 1950s, the Junior Pan Ams feature competition across a variety of sports, with athletes representing countries in the Americas. All athletes must be under 23 years old.
Originally scheduled for June and then postponed until September, the Games were pushed back again, this time for two months to allow for Colombia and competing athletes more time to get COVID-19 vaccinations. With the torch relay now well underway and several U.S. athletes posting airport selfies this week, it’s safe to say the competition is officially a go this time.

Events kick off formally tomorrow at the Pascual Guerrero Olympic Stadium, where weightlifters Olivia Reeves and Hampton Morris will lead the U.S. delegation into the opening ceremony as flag bearers. 

From there, competition ensues across 39 sport disciplines.
Like at the quadrennial senior Pan Am Games, the event features most of the same sports you see at the Olympic Games but with a few notable additions, including bowling, roller sports and squash. 

In one unique twist, each gold medalist in Cali-Valle will earn an automatic berth into the 2023 Pan American Games set to take place in Santiago, Chile.

The American athletes will be competing across 21 sports, with experience levels running the gamut.
Kaufhold, who placed 17th in her Olympic debut in Tokyo, is one of two Olympians on the U.S. roster, joining 20-year-old Mary Tucker. The rifle shooter from Sarasota, Florida, who is studying kinesiology at the University of Kentucky, won a silver medal in a new mixed team event at her Olympic debut in Tokyo.

They’re hardly alone as veterans of international competition.

Morris, a 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, is a junior American record holder and heads back to the city where he competed internationally for the first time.

“This one is gonna be just as awesome!” he shared to Instagram this week.
Fellow flag bearer Reeves, 18, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a reigning junior world champion.

Trinity Allen, a 20-year-old karateka from Las Vegas, is coming off a silver medal at the world championships last week in Dubai, an effort that saw her defeat the defending Olympic champ. Wrestler Kylie Welker, a 17-year-old from Waterford, Wisconsin, reached the final round at last summer’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials, losing out only to eventual silver medalist Adeline Gray.

Triathlete Drew Shellenberger, meanwhile, has competed at the pinnacle of age-group competitions, having finished seventh at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. More recently, the Indianapolis native, 19, is coming off his first elite podium finish at a race earlier this month in Chile.
No U.S. sport is sending more athletes to Cali than gymnastics, where 17 Americans will compete between the artistic, rhythmic and trampoline disciplines. Fifteen wrestlers and 13 boxers will join them.

Softball, meanwhile, is the lone U.S. team headed to Colombia — at least among traditional team sports. The 14 athletes selected are members of the U18 national team pool.

In addition, U.S. athletes are set to compete in Cali in badminton, diving, fencing, judo, pentathlon, roller sports, sailing, skateboarding, squash, synchronized swimming, table tennis and taekwondo.
In total, organizers anticipate around 3,500 athletes from 41 countries to take part.
For fans who want to follow along, the subscription Panam Sports Channel will offer live coverage throughout. Full schedules and results can be found at on the competition's website.

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.