October 13, 2011
WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
Alia Atkinson of Jamaica and Arlene Semeco of Venezuela will take center stage at the XVI Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, which get under way on Friday with the Opening Ceremonies.
The eight-day swimming competition begins on Saturday and ends on Friday, Oct. 21 in Mexico’s second largest city.
Organizers plan to welcome 3,003 athletes from 42 countries in North, Central and South America along with the Caribbean, who will compete in 41 different sports and disciplines.
Countries such as Mexico and Cuba are sending their senior national teams while the U.S. and Canada are sending less-experienced athletes and is treating the Games as a competition for developing future Olympians.
Atkinson, a two-time Olympian who trains at the Academic Village Pool in Pembroke Pines with her longtime SOFLO coach Chris Anderson, is one of three swimmers representing Jamaica. The others are British-based Zara Bailey, 15, and U.S.-based Kendese Nangle, 17.
Atkinson, 22, will be making her second Pan American Games appearance and is her country’s medal hope in swimming.
Atkinson decided to skip the World Championships to focus on the Pan American Games. She also left early for Mexico with Anderson, who is serving as Jamaica’s coach, to participate in a high-altitude training camp.
Atkinson, holder of seven national records in Jamaica, will compete in four events—the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, 100-meter butterfly and 200-meter individual medley. She is the national record holder in all four events.
Semeco, a two-time Olympian for Venezuela, who trains with SOFLO coach Bruno Darzi at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex, will compete in the 50- and 100-meter freestyles as well as relays.
Semeco, 27, also a national record holder, skipped worlds to focus on her training for the Pan American Games. She won two gold medals at the 2007 Pan American Games in the 50- and 100-meter freestyles and hopes to defend her titles.
Davie Nadadores has the largest contingent of swimmers from South Florida competing with 33 including St. Thomas Aquinas alum and former High School Swimmer of the year Daniela Victoria, which is more than 10 percent of the total swimmers at the Pan American Games.
Other swimmers of interest competing are Florida State’s McKayla Lightbourn of the Bahamas and Mateo De Angulo of Colombia and Florida Gulf Coast’s Dani Beaubrun of St. Lucia, Karen Vilorio of Honduras and FGCU coach Neal Studd, national team coach for St. Lucia.
For the U.S. national team, the Pan American Games will serve as a learning experience for some of the less-experienced swimmers on the international scene.
Jacksonville Bolles Ryan Murphy, 16, is the youngest swimmer on the U.S. roster. Some other names to follow are Claire Donahue, a Western Kentucky alum who has trained butterfly at the SOFLO pool in Pembroke Pines; Elaine Breeden, Annie Chandler, Conor Dwyer of the University of Florida and Matt Patton.
Open water swimmer Alex Meyer has bowed out of the Pan American Games to honor his fallen friend Fran Crippen, who died on Oct. 23, 2010 in a FINA-sanctioned 10K open water event in United Arab Emirates. Meyer, also injured, said he wanted to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Crippen’s death with the Crippen family the same weekend.
Meyer, already qualified for the 2012 London Olympics, would have been the gold medal favorite for the Oct. 22 event. Meyer was the first person who noticed that Crippen had not finished and helped rescue crews find his body.
The U.S. is again favored to dominate the swimming events although Brazil is sending a strong team, led by Cesar Cielo.
At the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, the U.S. won 41 medals in swimming. Brazil won 26 and Canada won 18.
The synchronized swimming is Oct. 18-21. Water polo is Oct. 23-29. The diving is Oct. 26-29.
The swimming venue is the pride and joy of Mexico which will also host the 2017 World Swimming Championships. Many of the newly-built venues have received rave reviews including the aquatic center located in the Guadalajara suburb of Zapopan.
Many say it’s one of the most modern pools in the world and has been rated above “The Cube,” site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics aquatic sports events, by FINA, the sport’s international governing body.
Several other South Floridians will compete including triathlete Manny Huerta of Miami, beach volleyball player Mark Van Zwieten of Pompano Beach and equestrians Heather Blitz, Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Christine McCrea and Kent Farrington of Wellington, runner Jackie Areson of West Palm Beach, sailor Augie Diaz of Miami and judoka Anthony Turner of Miami. Jhonny Prado of Coral Springs will serve as head coach of the U.S. judo team.
Organizers breathed a sigh of relief when Hurricane Jova made landfall on Wednesday and failed to damage any of the Pan American Games facilities.
Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@com