NewsJay LitherlandPaige Madden

USA Swimming Takes 10 Medals on Day One of Finals Events in Santiago

by Brendan Rourke

(l-r) Kelly Pash and Dakota Luther smile with their bronze and gold medals after the women's 200m butterfly finals during the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 21, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Both newcomers and veterans on Team USA’s swimming squad showed out in full force on swimming’s first day of competition on Oct. 21 at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023. In all, the red, white and blue secured 10 medals (four gold, three silver and three bronze) over eight events – four women’s and four men’s.
Paige Madden started lightning-quick for the U.S. in the first event of the night, the women’s 400-meter freestyle. The runner-up from the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials secured a gold medal and a new Pan American Games record with a time of 4:06.45. It is Madden’s first-ever Pan American Games for Team USA, and stated that she’s soaking up every minute of it.
“I’ve been loving (Santiago),” she said. “I’m roommates with Rachel (Stege) and we’ve been having a lot of fun in the village, just kind of exploring and trading pins. I’m just trying to enjoy the experience.”
Madden will be celebrating both her birthday and a day off before she steps back into the pool Oct. 23 for the 800m free and 4x100m relay. 

Meanwhile, Stege, narrowly missed the podium in fourth. However, the 20-year-old who swims for the University of Georgia is using it as motivation for her upcoming races in Santiago.
“I was really excited,” she said of the 400m race. “I finally dropped time (in the 400m) after four years of not. It’s a big relief. I’m happy and having a lot of fun.”
Shortly after, another Team USA newcomer claimed his first Pan Games medal. James Plage, who swims for North Carolina State, secured bronze in the men’s 400m freestyle.
“It’s my first time representing Team USA, and nothing feels better,” he said of his medal.
Plage’s teammate and new mentor, Jay Litherland, finished just behind Plage in fourth place. Litherland took home the silver medal in the 400m IM at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Plage stated that it was an honor to compete with his idol, Litherland, after meeting for the first time this week.
“Doing it with a veteran like Jay – it’s the best to (earn lanes) three and four and look over and have a teammate celebrate with me.
“We really just met for the first time this week. But, getting to know (Litherland) and training with him up to this, and then just competing…it’s a feeling like no other.”
Litherland is slowly embracing his new “veteran” role and offered some insight on how he tried to keep Plage mentally focused.
“I’m still getting used to being called a veteran,” he laughed. “I always remind him to have fun, you know?”

(right) Jay Litherland looks at the leaderboard after finishing the men's 400m freestyle finals during the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 21, 2023 in Santiago, Chile (Photo by Getty Images)

Litherland’s top medal chance will come later this week in the 400m IM. Though he’s still proud of tonight’s finish.
“The 400m free is a hard event,” he began. “It’s definitely an event I want to get better at. “I’m still learning how to swim it. But, hats off to James here.”
Later, in the men’s 100m breaststroke final, Team USA earned its first gold-silver finish in Santiago, as Jacob Foster and Noah Nichols topped the rest of the field. Foster finished as the lone swimmer to post a sub-one-minute time, touching the wall at 59.99 seconds.
When asked to describe their medal finishes in one word, Foster called his “exciting,” while Nichols said “foreign,” with a laugh.
Then, it was time for the University of Texas teammates and friends, Dakota Luther and Kelly Pash to take to the pool. Swimming next to each other in lanes three and four, Luther struck gold, hitting the wall with a time of 2:09.97. It was the only time under 2:10.

Meanwhile, Pash narrowly took bronze, as Mexico’s Maria Mata Cocco outstretched Pash at the finish line by just .05 seconds. Nonetheless, Luther and Pash were excited to compete next to each other, and every day.
“It’s like every day in practice and every other meet we’ve done together,” Luther said. “It’s nice knowing what each other’s race plan is. I feel like we each swim it similarly. So we can just feed off each other’s energy.”
“It definitely helps with the nerves, as well,” Pash added.
Not to be outdone, the duo of Mason Laur and Jack Dahlgren also finished first and third in the men’s 200m butterfly. Laur finished with the only time under 1:57.00, touching the wall at the 1:56.44 mark.
Wrapping up the night for the swimmers were the young men’s and women’s 4x100m freestyle relay teams. Both teams secured silver medals, with Canada’s women’s relay squad narrowly out-touching the U.S. quad of Gabi Albiero, Catie de Loof, Kayla Wilson and Amy Fulmer to secure gold. Meanwhile, Brazil took home gold on the men’s side, out-pacing the U.S contingency of Jonathan Kulow, Adam Chaney, Jack Aikins and Olympic gold medalist Brooks Curry. The Olympian acted as the anchor for the latter three, who have fewer international competitions under their belts.
"Honestly, it’s such a blur," Albiero said of the women's relay. "Everything happens so fast. The excitement just takes over. It’s always a little nerve-wracking, but it carries you along. I’m happy to get a silver with these girls."

"It's an honor," Kulow said of his first international compeition and swimming in the finals. "I think the USA relays are the epitome of swimming – like that’s the best that we can get. I mean it was really exciting, a little nerve wracking, but I’m glad to represent the country and put up a good showing here.” 

Day One Swimming Moments

10 photos