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US Sends 650 Athletes to the Pan in Brazil

Maracanã's Pan opening show Mike Leavitt, the United States Department of Health and Human Services secretary, is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he heads the delegation representing the United States at the 15th Pan American Games, which just started today.

"The Pan American Games draw world-class athletes from countries around the world and unite them in good, healthy competition as one. It is a great honor to represent President Bush and the American people here in Brazil, and to feel further united to the Brazilian people through the warm hospitality our hosts have extended to our delegation," Leavitt said.

Prior to the kickoff of the games in Rio de Janeiro, Secretary Leavitt joined Brazil's Minister of Health, José Gomes Temporão for a visit to Fiocruz, Brazil's largest governmental research institution. There he heard about its primary activities including vaccine production, and discussed potential expansion of joint collaboration on health issues.

Other members of the U.S. delegation to the Pan American Games include Clifford Sobel, U.S. ambassador to Brazil, Donna Richardson Joyner, member, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, George Prescott Bush, nephew of President Bush and Luis Tiant, former major league baseball player.

The XV Pan American Games run until July 29 in Rio de Janeiro, and will include 5,500 athletes from 42 countries competing in 28 different sports. The United States will have 650 athletes competing in the Games.

The Pan American Games are conducted every four years, always one year before the Olympic Games. Events are similar to the Olympic Games, but also include events such as bowling, squash, roller sports and water skiing that are not part of the Olympic Games.

The first Pan American Games were held in 1951, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. However, its origin dates back to 1932, in the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Inspired by the holding of the first Central American Games six years earlier, the Latin American representatives of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proposed the creation of a competition that would include all the countries in the Americas, for the purpose of strengthening sport activities in the region.

The Torch

The Pan American torch arrived in Rio, southeastern Brazil, Thursday, July 12, after passing through several neighborhoods along the city's southern coast  -  where the most famous beaches like Ipanema, Leblon and Copacabana are located  -  before reaching the Praça das Medalhas (Medals Plaza) in Copacabana.

There, a crowd watched the torch's arrival and enjoyed performances by the Cantos do Brasil group and the percussion section of the Unidos do Grande Rio samba school.

The flame was blessed at the Christ the Redeemer statue on Friday and then headed for Maracanã Stadium, the venue for the opening ceremony of the Pan American Games.

Over 39 days, the flame visited 50 cities in all of the 27 Brazilian states. The Torch's first stop was Porto Seguro on June 5. This city in Bahia state is the birthplace of Brazilian history and many of its historical buildings are recognized and protected by law.

It was founded in 1534 and shares the honor of being the site of the Portuguese colonizers' first landing in Brazil with the city of Santa Cruz Cabrália. Porto Seguro has approximately 53 miles of idyllic beaches with fine white sand, as well as historical monuments and landscapes of rare natural beauty along its coastline.

The torched also stopped in Ouro Preto. This city in Minas Gerais state is famous for its magnificent colonial architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ouro Preto is home to the largest concentration of Baroque architecture in the world.

Its most famous artist was Antonio Francisco Lisboa, better known as Aleijadinho, or the Little Cripple. Visitors to the city journey back in time through its museums, churches and mansions from bygone centuries.

Brasilia was another town visited. Inaugurated in 1960, Brazil's capital is another World Heritage Site. The city was built in the late 1950s to be the seat of the federal government, which had previously been located in Rio de Janeiro.

Its overall urban plan, known as the Plano Piloto, was developed by Lúcio Costa, and many of the buildings were designed by world renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer. One million people go to Brasí­lia each year, mainly on business trips. Among its main attractions are the National Congress, the Praça dos Três Poderes (Three Powers Square), the Cathedral and the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge.

As well as its natural beauty, Brazil is also known for the beauty of its handicrafts, which are made from various materials. Ceramic pots, cloth dolls, miniature wooden rafts and a range of musical instruments, meticulously produced by artists from all over the country adorn the Embratur stand at the Rio de Janeiro Pan American Games.

The space known as Brasil Sensacional was officially opened by the Tourism Minister, Marta Suplicy. Located in the Pan American Village  -  the 17-building accommodation complex in Barra da Tijuca housing athletes from 42 countries during the Games  -  the stand occupies an area of 263 square yards and promotes Brazil focusing on three main segments: culture, sun and beach, and ecotourism.

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