Some people consider the squad of Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman to be the best gymnastics team ever.
The Zika virus. Systemic doping scandals. Green pools. Substandard athlete housing. Gold medal tax controversy. Ryan Lochte being robbed at gunpoint. Ryan Lochte not being robbed at gunpoint. IOC corruption. Heartbreak for the fourth place finishers. As usual, this year’s Olympics had more than its share of negative headlines. On the flip side, as usual, this year’s Olympics had more than its share of uplifting headlines as well. With Americans winning more medals in Rio than any other country, by far, the U.S. has much to celebrate. Every athlete, whether they medaled or not, is to be respected for their accomplishments. These Americans, however, all made history with their medal-winning performances at this year’s games.
With a third straight gold medal after winning the bronze in 2004, Anthony is the only male basketball player to win three Olympic gold medals. He is Team USA’s all-time leader in points, games played and rebounds at the Olympics.
With her win in the women’s individual time trial, she cemented her place in Olympic history as the only woman to win gold in the same individual event in three Olympic summer games. Having won the race just a day before her 43rd birthday, Armstrong also became the oldest woman to win cycling gold.
With a combined total of 19 Olympic and World Championship medals, Biles ranks as the most decorated American gymnast (Shannon Miller held this record for 20 years). With four golds, she set the U.S. mark for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Games. While some are calling her the best gymnast ever, others are saying this year’s gymnastics squad, including Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian and Aly Raisman, might be the best squad ever.
Carter made history as the first American to win a gold medal in the women’s shot put event, but there’s a twist behind her trip to the winner’s podium. Michelle followed in her father Michael Carter’s footsteps to the Summer Games, who took home the silver medal in shot put more than 30 years ago at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
She may have “only” won the bronze medal, but being the third best in the world in anything is pretty darn good. Coburn clocked 9:07.63 to break her own American record and became the first U.S. woman to stand on an Olympic 3000m steeplechase podium since the event debuted on the women’s Olympic program in 2008.
The thirty-five-year-old became the oldest-ever individual Olympic swimming gold medalist when he won two gold medals for the men’s 50-meter freestyle and the men’s four-by-100-meter freestyle relay. With the gold and silver he won at the 2000 Games, became the first swimmer of African descent to medal in Olympic swimming.
When the U.S. women’s 4-100 relay team (Tianna Bartoletta, Allyson Felix, English Gardner and Tori Bowie) won the gold, Felix earned a fifth gold medal, the most of any U.S. female track star in history. The Americans almost didn’t have a chance to defend their gold medal. Felix dropped the baton after being bumped by a Brazilian runner in the qualifying heat, but they were given a re-do which allowed them to qualify for the final. She ended up adding to her haul by winning a gold with the 4-400 relay.
The Ohio native became the first American to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in judo. Harrison used to train with Ronda Rousey, who won bronze in judo at the 2008 Olympics. Harrison’s unsure if she wants to follow in her former training partner’s shoes and pursue a career in the MMA.
She gave the United States its first gold in the women’s triathlon since it became in Olympic sport in 2000. She’s been utterly dominant the past few years, winning all but two individual races since April 2014. She set a record with 13 consecutive victories in the ITU’s World Triathlon Series from May 17, 2014 to April 3 of this year.
King made news when she made comments on the Russian doping scandal involving one of her chief rivals, Yulia Efimova. She didn’t let that distract her as she went on to win the Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, setting an Olympic record of 1:04:93 in the process. She also won a gold medal in the breaststroke leg of the of the women’s 4×100 m medley.
Ledecky made history as the just second woman to win three individual freestyle events at a single Olympic Games when she successfully defended her 2012 gold in the 800m freestyle in world record time. She joins American Debbie Meyer, in the 1968 Mexico City Games, to win three individual freestyle gold medals in a single Olympics. She also ties distance swimming greats Janet Evans and Brooke Bennett as the only U.S. women to win back-to-back 800m freestyle Olympic golds.
In winning the 100-meter freestyle, a tie with Penny Oleksiak of Canada, the Stanford student became the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming and set American and Olympic records in the process. She left Rio with two gold and two silver medals.
Maroulis defeated Japan’s Saori Yoshida 4-1 in the 53-kilogram freestyle final to win the first-ever gold medal for an American women’s wrestler. Yoshida was a 16-time world champion who was going for her fourth gold.
Not only is she the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics, she earned the bronze medal as part of Team USA in the team sabre, becoming the first female Muslim-American athlete to earn a medal at the Olympics. The Guardian called her “one of the best symbols against intolerance America can ever have.”
Before the Olympics, Murphy was already a collegiate swimming star at Berkeley where he is a six-time NCAA individual national champion, winning the 100-yard and 200-yard backstrokes in 2014, 2015 and 2016. In Rio, he swept the backstroke events by winning gold in the 100 and 200-meter races. Murphy also won gold in the 4×100-meter medley relay and his leadoff backstroke leg broke fellow American Aaron Peirsol’s former world record set in 2009.
Naddour won a bronze in the pommel horse on Sunday for the first medal won by an American male gymnast since Peter Vidmar won gold and Tim Daggett won bronze in 1984. No offense to Vidmar and Daggett, but if 14 countries hadn’t boycotted the L.A.-held Olympics that year, Naddour might be the first American male to medal in that event since an American medal sweep in the 1904 games.
Phelps finished a career that spanned five Olympics with 28 medals, 23 of them gold. No other athlete in any sport has more than nine gold medals in the modern games. If ancient records are true, Leonidas, a runner who competed between 164 and 152 BC in ancient Greece, won 12 gold medals according to Philostratus the Athenian and Pausanias. Back to modern history, Phelps also joined the track and field greats, Al Oerter and Carl Lewis, as the only Americans to win an individual event four times.
Brianna Rollins/Nia Ali/Kristi Castlin
By winning the gold, silver and bronze respectively, the trio made history as that was the first time one country swept all the medals in the 100-meter hurdles. The American 100-meter pool is so deep that 9 of the top 12 competitors in the world are from the U.S. American Kendra Harrison is the world record holder but didn’t qualify for the Olympics. Defending Olympic champion Sanya Richards Ross also didn’t qualify for the Olympic team this year.
She successfully defended her London 2012 gold in the women’s middleweight boxing division, beating the Netherlands’ Nouchka Fontijn in a unanimous decision. With that second gold, she became first U.S. boxer, male or female, to win two Olympic gold medals.
Last year at the world championship, a fellow runner clipped her heel, causing her to lose her shoe and finish a disappointing eleventh place. At the Olympics, not only did she finish the race with both shoes, but she earned a bronze medal. With her third place finish, she became the first American to ever medal in the 1500. Oddly enough, former world champion Mary Decker, who held the U.S. record for 32 years, never medaled in the event.
Last year, the Ohio State student shocked the world and became the youngest World champion in U.S. wrestling history. He now leaves Rio as the youngest Olympic wrestling champion in U.S. history at age 20 with a 2-1 victory over eight-time World and Olympic medalist Khetag Goziumov of Azerbaijan.
In her first Olympics, 19-year-old Ginny Thrasher, became the first gold medal winner for the United States and the first medal winner of the 2016 Games after firing an unbeatable score in the Women’s 10-meter Air Rifle event. She is also the youngest female to ever win the first gold medal and set a new Olympic record with a finals score of 208.0 – finishing an unprecedented full point above Du Li of China, gold medal winner back in 2004.
USA Women’s Basketball
By winning another gold medal, they have now won 49 consecutive games in the Olympics, with only one of those decided by single digits. The team won by nearly 40 points a game, but it fell short of the record 102.4 points the 1996 team averaged. They’ve been so dominant in fact, that this team features 12 players with a combined 29 Olympic gold medals, the most ever for any team. Three of those players, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings and Diana Taurasi just won their fourth gold medal.
USA Women’s Rowing
With their third straight gold medal, the women’s eight team has now won 11 straight world and Olympic titles: that’s every major global championship for 11 years running. The last national team to be this dominant is the Cold War-era Soviet Union hockey team that won 14 straight titles from 1963-1976.
Though the three-time defending Olympic champion “only” won the bronze this year, that bronze medal makes her the most decorated beach volleyball player – male or female – in Olympic history. She also claims the most wins by a female professional volleyball player – by far.
Venus already shared the record for the most number of Olympic gold medals for a tennis player with her sister, Serena, with four. With her silver medal won in mixed doubles with partner Rajeev Ram, she now becomes the most prolific tennis player in Olympic history. Technically, she’s tied with Great Britain’s Kitty McKane who won five medals in the 1920s, but Williams’ four gold medals and one silver trumps McKane’s one gold, two silvers and two bronzes.
See you in Tokyo in 2020!
Additional reporting by Keith Paulsen.
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