The first athlete to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team will likely qualify from the Toronto Pan American Games, a quadrennial multi-sport competition whose Opening Ceremony is Friday.
Two sports at the Pan Am Games have direct qualification to the Rio Olympics for individual athletes — modern pentathlon and table tennis.
The first Pan Am event with individual Rio Olympic spots on the line is the women’s modern pentathlon July 18. The U.S. athletes entered are two-time Olympian Margaux Isaksen and Sammy Achterberg.
The three highest finishers will qualify for the Rio Olympics with a maximum of one Olympic qualifier per nation.
Isaksen is the defending Pan Am champion who finished fourth at the 2012 Olympics. She’s ranked No. 9 in the world and finished 22nd at the World Championships in June, behind three other athletes in the Pan Am provisional field. However, one of those three, and the only one ranked higher than Isaksen, has already qualified for the Rio Olympics.
The men’s modern pentathlon is July 19. U.S. athletes entered are 2012 Olympian Dennis Bowsher and Nathan Schrimsher.
In 2011, Bowsher finished fourth overall at Pan Ams.
Bowsher went on to finish 32nd in the 2012 Olympic modern pentathlon. The last U.S. man to earn an Olympic modern pentathlon medal was in 1960.
Schrimsher is ranked No. 59 in the world. Bowsher is No. 65. Guatemala, Mexico, Chile and Cuba have higher-ranked athletes in the Pan Am Games provisional field, and Argentina has an athlete ranked No. 62. So Olympic qualification for an American man is no sure thing.
In table tennis, the Pan American Games men’s and women’s individual champions, crowned July 25, qualify for the Rio Olympics.
The top ranked U.S. table tennis player at the Pan Am Games is 2012 Olympian Lily Zhang, who is the top ranked woman in the Pan Am field at No. 94 in the world. There are no U.S. men ranked in the top 300 in the world.
Zhang shared bronze at the 2011 Pan Am Games as a 15-year-old. The defending champion is unrelated Canadian Mo Zhang.
In all, the U.S. Olympic team included more than 500 athletes in 2012, so this is just the start of the roster building.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the men’s modern pentathlon was July 18 and the women’s was July 19.