TOKYO — Team USA, whose 600-plus athletes competed in hundreds of events over 19 whirlwind days here, staged a thrilling comeback in the final hours of the 2020 Olympics to top the gold medal table for the third Summer Games in a row.
The U.S. entered Sunday trailing China 38-36 in that vaunted gold medal column. But U.S. women’s basketball beat Japan in their final, and American cyclist Jennifer Valente won gold in her omnium points race, to pull the U.S. level at around 1 p.m. here in Tokyo.
And then, a little before 3 p.m. at the Ariake Arena, U.S. women’s volleyball won their first-ever Olympic title to clinch the nation’s spot atop the gold medal table for good.
The final U.S. total of 113 was by far the most of any nation here. But it paled in comparison to the American haul five years ago — 121 total, 46 of them gold, in roughly 30 fewer events in Rio. The gold medal tally in particular, prior to this weekend, had been relatively underwhelming, and lagged behind China’s for much of the Games.
Of course, assessing “Team USA” as one single entity is always a bit foolish. Medals are won by athletes and their individual support systems, or in some cases by teams, not by a country. Sporting infrastructure across the U.S. contributes to those support systems, but no broad trends explain quadrennial fluctuations in the medal count. Success, or a lack thereof, in track and field isn’t connected to success in wrestling, or archery, or swimming, or really any other sport.
The reasons, instead, were a hodgepodge of disappointing results across two and a half weeks and dozens of sports. Among them:
No American man won an individual gold in track events. It’s the first time they’ve been shut out in modern Olympic history.
No U.S. skateboarders won gold in their sport’s Olympics debut.
The U.S. topped the swimming medal table, but won 11 golds at the Tokyo Aquatics Center instead of the 14-15 that some had projected.
Simone Biles had been expected to win up to five golds, and with Sunisa Lee a contender on bars, the U.S. women had a chance to sweep the six gymnastics events. Instead, Biles struggled with mental health and the “twisties,” and Americans (Lee and Jade Carey) only won two of the six.
But of course, there were still American stars — including many who didn’t win gold, and many who did. There were dominant teams, a few of whom had to wait until this final weekend to claim their medals. Men’s basketball and women’s water polo pulled the U.S. within touching distance of China on Saturday.
Women’s basketball, Valente, and women’s volleyball rounded out a list of more than three dozen U.S. individuals, relays and teams who are leaving Tokyo golden:
Chase Kalisz (men’s swimming 400-meter individual medley)
William Shaner (men’s 10-meter air rifle)
Lee Kiefer (women’s foil fencing)
Anastasija Zolotic (women’s 57-kg taekwondo)
Men’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay (swimming)
Amber English (women’s skeet shooting)
Vincent Hancock (men’s skeet shooting)
Lydia Jacoby (women’s 100-meter breaststroke swimming)
Carissa Moore (women’s surfing)
Katie Ledecky (1,500-meter freestyle swimming)
Women’s 3-on-3 basketball
Bobby Finke (men’s 800-meter freestyle)
Caeleb Dressel (100-meter freestyle)
Sunisa Lee (women’s all-around gymnastics)
Caeleb Dressel (100-meter butterfly)
Katie Ledecky (800-meter freestyle)
Caeleb Dressel (50-meter freestyle)
Bobby Finke (1500-meter freestyle)
Men’s 4x100-meter medley relay (swimming)
Xander Schauffele (men’s golf)
Jade Carey (women’s floor exercise gymnastics)
Valarie Allman (women’s discus)
Athing Mu (women’s 800-meter track)
Tamyra Mensah-Stock (women’s 68-kg wrestling)
Sydney McLaughlin (women’s 400-meter hurdles)
Nevin Harrison (women’s 200-meter sprint canoe)
Ryan Crouser (men’s shot put)
Katie Nageotte (women’s pole vault)
David Taylor (men’s 85-kg wrestling)
Women’s beach volleyball
Gable Steveson (men’s 125-kg wrestling)
Nelly Korda (women’s golf)
Women’s water polo
Women’s 4x400-meter relay (track)
Men’s 4x400-meter relay (track)
Jessica Valente (women’s omnium cycling)
Excluding host countries, the U.S. has now topped both the overall medal table and the gold medal table at every Summer Olympics since it hosted the Games in Atlanta in 1996.
Yahoo Sports’ Jack Baer contributed research.
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