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Pan Am Games to showcase rising stars

07/07/2015 01:13 EDT | Updated 07/07/2016 05:59 EDT
Canada is sending its largest and strongest Pan Am team ever to the 2015 Games in Toronto.

The host nation is looking to impress the home crowd with the best teams in swimming, synchronized swimming, diving, athletics, gymnastics, boxing, volleyball, women's basketball, equestrian, bowling, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline and canoeing. 

However, not every Pan Am nation is sending its finest squad, and even Canada has some gaps.

Here's a look at how Canada's teams compare in a few key events at the Games, which begin Friday: 

Track and field 

Is Canada sending its best team? Yes. 

Why? The team wants to win at home and build momentum ahead of the world championships at the end of August and the Rio Olympics. 

What's the rest of the competition looking like? The United States is sending a mix of up-and-comers and veterans, but should have a strong enough team to medal. The Americans have made a decision not to have their athletes compete at both worlds and Pan Am, so the best team goes to the former. Jamaican star Usain Bolt won't make the trip to Toronto, but Jamaica is still competitive, with 50 athletes on the team (out of 65 total athletes, across all sports, representing the country).

Swimming

Is Canada sending its best team? Yes. 

Why? Like track and field, the team wants to win at home and the competition will serve as a test prior to the FINA World Championships from Aug. 2 to 9.

What's the rest of the competition looking like? The U.S. is sending their strongest Pan Am team ever and one of the biggest name swimmers in Natalie Coughlin, who has 12 Olympic gold medals to her credit. However, Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte will be absent as their athletes can only compete in either Pan Ams or worlds. The Pan Am team is composed of swimmers who finished lower in the U.S. trials. 

Men's Basketball 

Is Canada sending its best team? No. 

Why? It's a decent team that includes three NBA players, but doesn't have stars like Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Kelly Olynyk and Cory Joseph. Thompson and Joseph are restricted free agents and cannot play without a contract. Wiggins and Olynyk have been told by their NBA teams that they can't participate in both Pan Am and the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship (Aug. 31-Sept. 12). The FIBA tournament takes priority as the finalists get a spot in Rio. 

What's the rest of the competition looking like? The Americans have already qualified for the Olympics and are sending NBA D-Leaguers. 

Women's soccer

Is Canada sending its best team? No. 

Why? Given the proximity to the FIFA Women's World Cup, Canada is using primarily a development team of younger players. The only ones returning following a World Cup appearance are Kadeisha Buchanan, Jessie Fleming and Ashley Lawrence. 

What's the rest of the competition looking like? The U.S., which just won the World Cup, isn't sending a team. Brazil has traditionally been a powerhouse. In 2011, it finished second to Canada, which had star players like Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson. Neither of the two will suit up in Hamilton.

Tennis

Is Canada sending its best team? No. 

Why? Pan Am is flanked by Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, two Grand Slam competitions that carry much more prestige. Canada's team includes Fed Cup players. 

What's the rest of the competition looking like? Tennis teams from most nations will feature younger players, with the Americans being the most likely to reach the podium. 

Beach Volleyball

Is Canada sending its best teams? Yes and no. The men's team features Josh Binstock and Sam Schacter, the top-ranked Canadian team on the FIVB world tour (No. 7 as of July 6). On the women's side, Canada is represented by Melissa Humana-Paredes and Taylor Pischke, currently ranked 14th. But there are two Canadian pairs ranked ahead of them, taking a pass on Toronto 2015.

Why? The Canadian men's team is looking to gain momentum in the final Olympic qualifying period before Rio. But top two women's pairings are choosing to chase valuable points on the world tour since that plays a role in the Olympic qualification procedure, opening the door for Humana-Paredes and Pischke to star in front of a home crowd.

What's the rest of the competition looking like? Brazil is a powerhouse in beach volleyball for both men and women, boasting many of the top teams in the world. But it is sending a 20th-ranked pair for the men, and a squad ranked outside the top 50 in the women. The U.S. is sending young pairs in both men's and women's, with neither team ranked in the top 50 in the FIBV rankings.

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