The Pan American Games are often looked at as the “mini” Olympics: held the year before the Summer Games, they offer athletes a chance to gain international experience and member nations the opportunity to claim Olympic quota spots.
However, there’s nothing small about these Games, which involve more than 6,000 athletes from 41 countries who will be competing in 48 different sports (including non-Olympic sports, such as waterski and roller-figure skating).
Here’s a quick cheat sheet of some athletes who should stand out from the crowd:
U.S. women’s boxing team
In the inaugural women’s Olympic boxing competition at the 2012 London Games, the United States won two of the nine medals offered. Middleweight gold medalist Claressa Shields will lead the charge in Toronto, supported by flyweight bronze medalist Marlen Esparza. Both women also won world championships in their respective weight classes in 2014.
Esparza, the team’s most visible member in 2012 who had endorsement deals with Cover Girl and Nike and a magazine profile in Vogue, was supposed to win gold in London. But she lost to China’s Ren Cancan to finish third. After briefly considering retirement, Esparza rededicated herself to the sport and is targeting gold in Rio. An April defeat against Ren shows that Esparza is right on track, and Pan Ams are just another chance to prove herself.