What's next: Pan Am Games athletes ponder Tokyo 2020

Nathan Adrian on new life perspective after beating cancer (1:37)

After winning a gold medal at the 2019 World Swimming Championships, U.S. Olympian Nathan Adrian opens up about battling back from testicular cancer. (1:37)

LIMA, Peru -- Few if any of the big names at the 2019 Pan American Games had anything at stake with regard to next year's Olympics. Medalists in Lima such as gymnast Riley McCusker, sprinter Mike Rodgers and swimmer Nathan Adrian will take other avenues seeking access to Tokyo.

Direct passages were booked from Lima to Tokyo for the U.S. in events such as the modern pentathlon and water polo, while Olympic quotas were earned in archery, equestrian, sailing and shooting. All other hopefuls most carry on with their respective sport's qualification process.

Still, the Lima 2019 Games proved a crucial warmup to next year's Olympics, if for nothing else to help those involved get accustomed to the feel of international competition or life in the athletes' village -- experiences not readily available at other events.

Over the course of the past 2½ weeks, several athletes discussed their prospects for Tokyo and beyond with ESPN. Below are select responses:

U.S. all-around silver and team gold medalist Riley McCusker said she's not thinking yet about the Olympics, preferring to concentrate on a meet at a time: "It's definitely a great experience to get out of the country and compete because we don't have a lot of opportunities to do that. Just to be on new equipment, be on a big world stage, I'd only really experienced that one other time when we were in Doha [at last year's world championships], and I definitely wanted to just take it one step up from there and get better every time."

U.S. 3x3 women's basketball gold medalist and Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu on the future of the sport, which makes its Olympic debut next year: "I think it's super beneficial for any player that's playing basketball to be able to play 3-on-3. Just being able to go out there without a coach and have to make reads on your own; you have to be able to get along with the team that's just [been] put together and compete at a high level is something that is challenging."

U.S. swimmer Nathan Adrian, after winning silver in 100-meter freestyle, one of his five medals in Lima: "No matter what anyone goes this year, next year it's going to be different. You could look at the world top-10 rankings this year, and next year I guarantee you, a lot of those guys will still be there but the numbers are going to be different."

U.S. sprinter Mike Rodgers on the confidence gained from winning gold in Lima with an eye on Tokyo: "It's been climbing a mountain to get a medal on a podium in a big stage, and this is like a dress rehearsal to get my mind to, 'Hey, I can do this.' So now, I've got to go to the world championships and do the same thing, and then get myself up for the Olympics next year to do the same thing. So it's a big next two years for me."

U.S. women's softball pitcher and 2008 silver medalist Monica Abbott, whose team already qualified for Tokyo as the sport returns to the lineup for the first time in 12 years: "I think the biggest difference right now is how much the game of softball has changed from 2008 to 2020. I think technology alone, information, and just overall competitiveness across the world right now is so much better than it was in 2008."

U.S. softball pitcher and Olympic veteran Cat Osterman on what she hopes to bring to the next generation of players: "No matter how many international events you're in, the Olympics are the pinnacle. So your nerves and your adrenaline and your emotions are a little bit different."

Venezuelan gold-medal triple jumper Yulimar Rojas, who won the event with reigning champion Caterine Ibarguen absent because of injury: "This medal is but a sample of all the sacrifices that I have made. I think it's a sign of things to come at next year's Olympic Games. I've been dreaming of that moment when I can again go for Olympic gold. I hope it comes through."

American-born Mexico softball player Danielle O'Toole on her goal of reaching the Olympics, even if it's with another team's colors: "I just didn't want to be 40 or 50 years old and regretting that I didn't try and go after my dreams."

Jamaica men's rugby sevens coach Stephen Lewis, whose team remains hopeful for a distant shot at Tokyo despite logistical setbacks and a sixth-place finish at the Pan American Games: "They know what it takes now. It's OK to dominate the Caribbean, but if you want to move up, we have to accept higher standards and aspire to attain them."

U.S. gold-medal stand-up paddler Connor Baxter, who hopes his event can follow surfing which will debut in Tokyo as an Olympic discipline in 2024: "This is only the start. This has fired me back up. Like I said, I've been doing it for the last 10 years, so you get to a certain point of your career and I'm still so young, 24 years of age, but you hit a wall, like 'OK, why am I doing this? What's the meaning behind it? I've done it.' Personally, I'm grateful to say I've accomplished a lot of my goals and a lot --of my achievements I've set out for. But coming out here to the Pan American Games has really lit the fire for me to put my head back down, train hard and have hopes for a possible chance of being in the Olympic Games.

ESPN's Alfonso Duro and Eric Gomez contributed to this report.