By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - The United States have not set a medal target for the 2015 Pan American Games and are focused instead on the handful of sports that offer direct qualification to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, USOC officials said on Friday.
U.S. athletes have traditionally occupied top spot in the medals rankings at the quadrennial multi-sport event but these Pan Am Games in Toronto, which run through July 26, will be about earning the 10 available automatic berths to the Rio Games.
"This is really about taking advantage of the qualification opportunities for some of the sports," U.S. chef de mission Alan Ashley said at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) opening Pan Am Games news conference.
"It's also about making sure that the experience for athletes that are brand new to the multi-sports game environment have a really good experience and a good opportunity to see what it's like."
U.S. athletes will be seeking Olympic qualification in field hockey, equestrian, canoe/kayak, diving, pentathlon, shooting, synchronized swimming, table tennis, triathlon and water polo by winning gold.
A team of 623 American athletes featuring 111 Olympians will compete and, according to Ashley, their toughest challenge will come from Brazil and hosts Canada.
The United States were runaway leaders atop the 2011 Pan Am medals table in Guadalajara, Mexico, where they captured 92 gold medals, comfortably ahead of second-placed Cuba (58).
But maintaining their perch was never part of the discussion, according to Ashley.
"We didn’t really jump into the middle saying we're going to be the number one nation and that sort of thing. That’s not really where we’re coming from on this," said Ashley.
"What we’re really trying to look at is going sport by sport, experience by experience and making sure we do everything we can for the athletes to really succeed on the individual basis."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)