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USA in Olympics History, a Tale of Gold Medals

History traces the origin of the Olympic Games up to 776 BC in Olympia, Greece which was dedicated to the gods and was therefore staged on the land of Olympia and were celebrated until 396 AD. The ancient Olympic Games consisted of only one race on a track of about 180 to 240 meters long. Over the years the games have been altered greatly and other sports like long jump, chariot racing, boxing, wrestling, discus throwing, javelin, swimming, archery, weightlifting and much more have been added to the list.

The Olympia
The Olympia

In the archaic times only the men were allowed to participate in these games, the eligibility for the participation was that these men were to be free men who knew how to speak the Geek language.  Women were, however, not allowed to take part in these games that were closely linked to the religious festivals of the cult of Zeus, the women were not allowed to participate in these games until in 1900. However in the year 1894, the French nobleman, Baron de Coubertin managed to bring about a change in the tradition by managing to bring together representatives of different countries onto one single platform. The first modern Olympics were hence held in Athens in the year 1896.

Prior to each Game, the Olympic torch or the flame is lit in Olympia and is brought to the host city by runners carrying it in the relay. The Olympic flag consists of 5 rings of different colors symbolizing the 5 continents of the earth participating in the events. The flag was originally designed by Pierre de Coubertin in 1913. In the modern Olympic Games, the winners get Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals respectively unlike the earlier times where the winner was awarded a crown made out of olive leaves that signified hope and peace.

ancient olympics crown
Ancient Olympics crown made of olive leaves

The Unites States of America has been sending its athletes to every celebration of the modern day Olympic Games. The first athlete to participate in the Olympic Games was Thomas Burke who was an American sprinter  and the first Olympian champion in the 100 and 400-meter race in the 1896 summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.  In a total, the USA has won a total of 2404 medals in the Summer Olympics and another 281 medals at the winter Olympics.

Olympics torch
Modern day Olympics medals

The USA also holds the record for winning more Gold medals than any country in the summer games and the second most gold medal winning country in the Winter Olympics. The most medals won are by athletics (field & track) 322 medals followed by swimming 230 medals. Shooting is in the third with a total number of  53 gold medals. Michael Phelps who is an American swimmer is to be the most celebrated athlete of the USA with a total number of 19 Gold medals on his credit.

Following the tradition, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has organized the Rio 2016 Olympics which is a 16 day event having a wide variety of sports categories to participate including, diving, swimming, synchronized swimming, water polo, archery, athletics, badminton, basketball, boxing, canoeing, slalom, sprint, cycling, BMX, Mountain Biking, Road, Track, Jumping, Fencing, Golf, Judo, wrestling, freestyle and many more.


Olympics medal history - USA
Olympics medal history – USA

It has more than 150 countries participating with the Unites States Of America having the greatest number of athletes: 554 and Tuvalu with the lowest number of athletes: only one. Up to now, China secures the first position with a total number of 10 medals, 4 of gold and bronze and 2 of silver. The USA secures the third position with a total number of 13 medals, 3 of gold, 6 of silver and 4 of bronze while the Great Britain secures the last position in the top 10 with a total number of 4 medals, 1 of gold, 1 of silver and 2 of bronze.

USA Olympics gold medal – Vancouver [Source]
Ginny Thrasher an American shooter is the first gold medalist of the Rio Olympics 2016 by pulling off an upset in the women’s 10-meter air rifle event on the 6 of August. Thrasher, despite the fact only 19 managed to defeat the silver medalist Du Li of China in the final round with a total of 208.0 setting up and Olympic World record in the finals. Thrasher is an NCCA champion and it was her first time I the Olympics when she won a gold medal and made her country proud.

The Rio 2016 medal design.
The Rio 2016 medal design.

Throughout history, there have been many of such great athletes who have been a cause of pride for their country and have brought home the gold medals. The list below mentions a few of them;

Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner as we now know her has won a gold medal in men’s decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Jenner late on went ahead and became a reality TV star on E! cable network’s “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” a career turn that made the entire family a ubiquitous presence in the American pop culture from its launch in the year 2007.

USA Olympics Logo
USA Olympics Logo

Tommie Smith’s appearance at the 1969 games in Mexico won him the gold medal in the 200 meters and set a world record for the next 11 years! He later went ahead and became  an assistant professor of physical education and track coach at Oberlin College. He helped to coach the 1995 US team at the world Indoor Championships in Barcelona and in 1999 was awarded the California Black Sportsman as the Millennium Award.

Mary Lou Retton was America’s first woman ever to win w gold medal in gymnastics. She won the most medals of any athlete at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Retton then became an inspiration for American Women’s gymnastics and an 80’s cultural icon in America. She also appeared on the Wheaties box and in movies like Scrooged. Today, she is a motivational speaker, according to her website, and frequently serves as a television commentator and host for Olympics-related programming.

Carl Lewis is one of the most celebrated athletes with a total number of ten medals to his credit and nine of them being gold. He is playing an active role in helping to bring the 2024 Olympics to Los Angeles. The Birmingham, Alabama native is now an assistant track coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston, where he focuses on sprints and jumps and tries develop future Olympians.

Greg Louganis won a gold medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. He was also named as the “Athlete Of The Year” in 1998 by ABC’s wide world of sports. Today, Louganis mentors the US Olympic diving team and is an advocate for HIV-awareness being himself diagnosed with it during the 1988 Olympic games. He also stands up for gay rights himself being one.

“The Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century”, Jacqueline Joyner-Kersee has won three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals in the Summer Olympic games between the years 1984 to 1996. She later went on to play professional basketball for the Richmond Rage of the American Basketball League, but only appeared in 17 games total. Along with founding the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation, she co-founded Athletes for Hope in 2007, alongside other prominent sports figures such as Muhammad Ali, Lance Armstrong, Mia Hamm, Jeff Gordon, Tony Hawk and Cal Ripken, Jr.Joyner-Kersee is also one of the most famous athletes to have overcome severe asthma. After retiring from athletic competition, Joyner-Kersee joined the board of directors for USA Track & Field and will make an appearance in Rio de Janeiro as part of her role. She now tours the country giving speeches and mentoring athletes.

The Olympic Games motto, “Citius, Altius, Fortius” which is Latin for “Swifter, Higher, Stronger” therefore proves the fact that Sports are about teamwork, competition, victory, defeat, growth, endurance, strength, intelligence, drive, passion, inspiration, desire, motivation, and honor. They stand for all the qualities we can ever dream of having. To feel a little more, to work a little harder, to taste the blood of victory, to agonize in a moment of defeat is something you can’t effectively put into words.

Olympics games - A bigger picture
Olympics games – A bigger picture

In the big picture, our nations may be a war, or in a nuclear weapons race.  We may have human rights issues with them or think they are not good neighbors, in the big scheme of things. but during the Olympics, we can just relax and enjoy each other.  There is plenty of time to disagree and fight amongst ourselves back in the real world.  The Olympics give us a few days of peace and security and an opportunity to complete with the best athletes in the world. And as Pierre de Coubertin, has himself said, The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

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By Syed Anwer Ali

Ali Anwer is a veteran journalist having worked in Asia’s leading English daily newspaper for almost a decade. A prolific writer, he has contributed articles to different newspapers and established websites. He has also engaged in sports reporting for a brief period.

Having traveled the world extensively, he is a repository of information on world history, current affairs, political events and the entertainment industry. Being a movie buff he is an encyclopedia on Hollywood movies and actors.

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