Central America enters the Santiago-2023 Pan American Games with modest expectations, as the Central American nations have historically struggled to make an impact on the medal standings at the competition.
Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Nicaragua and Honduras will be present with at least 440 athletes in this nineteenth edition of the continental games.
Their goal will be to improve on the record that the Central American countries have in the Pan American Games, where they have only won 35 of the nearly 5,000 gold medals awarded since the games debut in Buenos Aires in 1951. Their performance in the overall medal count is also lackluster with only 230 total medals out of more than 15,600 awarded.
Guatemala is the country with the most golds (22), followed by Costa Rica (6), El Salvador (4) and Panama (3), while Honduras and Nicaragua do not know the glory in 72 years of Pan American Games.
Costa Rica and El Salvador
Costa Rica comes to Santiago-2023 with 90 representatives, who will seek, at least, to repeat the gold obtained in the past Pan American Games.
Their main figures are cyclist Kenneth Tencio, fourth in Tokyo 2020 in the park freestyle discipline; 100-meter hurdler Andrea Vargas, current Pan American champion, and Andrés Acuña, silver in the last world racquetball championship.
“We are proud of our delegation. The athletes have trained hard to face the challenges presented by the Pan American Games,” said Alexander Zamora, president of the Costa Rican Olympic Committee.
El Salvador, with 80 athletes, will seek to repeat the feat of Lima-2019, where it achieved three of its four golds in its history at the Pan American Games. Its main contender is Roberto Hernández, current continental champion of compound archery.
Guatemala, with 94 medals, is the Central American country that has climbed to the podium the most times. In addition, it has more golds (the last two in Lima-2019) than the rest of the countries combined.
For these Pan American Games, Guatemalan athletes will compete as independent athletes and under the neutral flag of Panam Sports, the organization in charge of the Games, due to a sanction imposed in 2022 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the local committee.
Despite the sanction, Guatemala will present the largest delegation from Central America, with at least 132 athletes. Among them is badminton player Kevin Cordón, winner of four medals in Pan American Games, including two golds, and fourth in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
It is “a little sad that the flag of Guatemala is not there and that the anthem cannot be heard (in case of a medal),” Cordón acknowledged in an interview.
Panama, the second Central American country with the most medals in the Pan American Games (61), will send a delegation of 90 athletes. Its last gold medal was won in Rio de Janeiro-2007, with its only Olympic champion, jumper Irving Saladino.
Now their hopes are placed on 400-meter hurdler Gianna Woodruff, already qualified for Paris-2024. Woodruff was a finalist in Tokyo 2020, where she finished seventh. The canal country, with a record list of 90 athletes, also has its eyes on artistic gymnastics, with Hilary Heron and Karla Navas.
In addition, Olympic boxer and police officer Atheyna Bylon will seek to crown a career that includes an amateur world championship and several golds.
Honduras and Nicaragua
Meanwhile, Honduras and Nicaragua have never won a gold medal at the Pan American Games. The Catrachos hope that soccer can give them a chance, although they will have to face Brazil, United States and Colombia.
In men’s soccer “we have always had good performances, we have qualified four times in a row for the Olympic Games,” argues the technical director of the Honduran Olympic Committee, Alberto Barrera.
Honduras, with half a hundred participants, also aspires to a medal with Kevin Mejía, bronze in Lima-2019 in Greco-Roman wrestling. In Nicaragua, the options go through taekwondo with David Robleto, who won a bronze in the last Pan American Championship Games.