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United States’ Biggest Medal Gains, Drops From Beijing To London

When competition in London was over the United States had won the overall medal count for the fifth straight time and with 46 golds took back the overall golds total from China, who had won it as the hosts in 2008. It was the most medals ever for the United States in a foreign games. Golds wise, the key for the United States from Beijing to London was consistency: already a strong team across the board, the U.S. was able to maintain that level over the course of the four years and their two biggest medal winners, swimming and track, saw improvements. In fact, the swimming team led the United States with a +4 margin:

Gold Medal Increase

Swimming (+4)

Track & Field (+2)

Tennis (+2)

Boxing, Diving, Gymnastics, Judo, Shooting, Water Polo, Wrestling (+1)

Gold Medal Decrease

Beach Volleyball, Equestrian, Fencing, Sailing, Volleyball (-1)

(all others were the same)

The overall totals were, understandably, a bit more volatile in terms of movement, but one thing that didn’t change was track and field’s excellent performance. This, despite having no one reach the 400m final, just one 400m hurdles medalist, and the overwhelming performance by Jamaica in the sprints. Likewise, the U.S. made diving more of a priority and it paid off big time in London with four medals, including David Boudia’s shock win on the final day of diving. On the flipside, the shocking failure of Mariel Zagunis to even medal in London carried over to the rest of the fencing team, as they went from 6 medals in Beijing to just 1 in London

Overall Medal Increase

Track & Field (+6)

Diving (+4)

Track Cycling, Tennis (+2)

Archery, Canoe Slalom, Boxing, Judo, Wrestling (+1)

Overall Medal Decrease

Fencing (-5)

Gymnastics (-4)

BMX, Equestrian (-3)

Shooting, Sailing (-2)

Water Polo, Taekwondo, Road Cycling, Volleyball (-1)

It seems nearly impossible to think that the U.S. were a -4 in London with the women winning team gold and Gabby Douglas capturing the all around title, but the men were extremely disappointing and the women only won two medals on event finals. Though it is extremely tough to predict gymnastics four years out (especially because few return for a second Olympics anymore, we really are talking about 12 and 13 year olds who will be shouldering these medal hopes in four years) traditional U.S. performance in gymnastics suggests they will win more medals in Rio than they did in London. The lack of BMX medals could be a blip, or it could be a sign that the rest of the world is catching up in X Games type events (I believe it’s the latter, and hopefully it doesn’t happen in the winter olympics where each of those medals is a much greater percentage of the overall medals won).

The most interesting group for me to follow every Olympiad is the swimmers, and even more so this time:  With no Michael Phelps in 2016 it is tempting to think we could be due for a bit of a lull in terms of medals. But that is without factoring in Missy Franklin, who already at 17 seems like a lock to become the best female swimmer of all time. She won’t pile up the medals like Phelps did because she won’t swim the same number of events, but she should lead the way in Rio. The men will have to find the next great IMer as well as shore up the breaststroke, but they always seem to churn out great swimmers who come from relatively out of nowhere. The women on the other hand seem to be in great shape for the next Olympiad with Franklin, Katie Ledecky, Dana Vollmer and Elizabeth Beisel leading the way. I expect swimming and track to lead the way in 2016 yet again, and the United States to do so as well.

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