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US Olympic Medal Records: A History of Our Country's Biggest Wins

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Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps

United States athletes at the Olympics often are draped in red, white and blue … and gold. 

The U.S. reached a historic milestone by capturing its 1,000th gold medal in the history of the Olympic Games at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It was the continuation of the United States’ history of global domination at the Olympics, with a record-setting 2016 performance with a total of 121 medals — the most ever in a non-boycotted Games.  

It’s one of many records the United States holds when it comes to Olympic medal counts. Here are a few:

In how many Olympics have the United States won the most medals?

More than half. 

Of the 27 Summer Olympic Games the U.S. has competed in since 1896, the country has finished atop the medal count in 15 of them.  

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the United States looks to lead the medal count for a seventh consecutive time. 

Olympic Medals Adjusted Per Athlete

Since the 1896 games in Athens, the number of countries and athletes participating in the Olympics has ballooned in size lowering the number of medals per athlete for each country.

Source: International Society of Olympic Historians; Olympedia; International Olympic CommitteeCredit: Andrew Williams/NBC

What was the United States’ largest medal margin of victory? 

Technically, it’s when the United States won 246 medals during the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, which was 216 more than any other country (Germany was second with 14). But that was when competition was scarce with only 10 competing countries.   

The largest margin of victory for the U.S. in a non-boycotted Olympics was in 1924 when they won 61 more medals than any other country. The United States’ 51-medal margin during the 2016 Games was its second largest of all time.  

 

What country has the most gold medals?

Yep, you guessed it. The United States has the most gold medals with 1,022 total entering Tokyo.

Which sport has the United States won the most medals at the Summer Olympics?

The United States has won more medals in athletics (track and field) than nearly every other country has won in all events combined. 

The U.S. has captured 802 medals in athletics, the most for any country in a single sport. Only two other nations, the Soviet Union and Great Britain, have won more than 800 total medals in Olympic history. The Americans’ medal count in athletics includes 335 gold, 261 silver and 206 bronze — way ahead of Great Britain, which has 206 medals in athletics.

U.S. Olympians have shown that they are quite fast on land and in the water. The United States has 553 medals in swimming, capturing 246 gold, 172 silver and 135 bronze. Australia has the second-most swimming medals with 197. 

Which American man has won the most Olympic medals?

That would be the most decorated Olympian of all time: Michael Phelps

Phelps won 28 medals in swimming between 2004 and 2016, topping the previous American male record of 11 held by fellow swimmers Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi as well as shooter Carl Osburn. Phelps broke the overall record of 18 held by Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina during the 2012 London Games. 

Of Phelps’ 28 medals, 23 of them were gold for an Olympic record that might never be broken. 

Phelps’ former teammate Ryan Lochte is second among American men with 12 medals. 

Which American woman has won the most Olympic medals?

Three female swimmers — Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin — currently share the lead among American female medal winners with 12 each. 

Thompson captured eight golds, three silvers and one bronze between 1992 and 2004. Torres won four golds, four silvers and four bronzes during an Olympic career that spanned between 1984 and 2008. Coughlin took three golds, four silvers and five bronzes between 2004 and 2008.      

Which American man has won the most Olympic medals in a single Olympics?

Phelps left the 2004 Olympics with eight medals. He did so again in 2008, and that time each of them were gold.

Eight medals was not only the most ever for an American in a single Games, but it tied the Olympic record held by Soviet Union gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin, who won eight medals during the 1980 Games. 

Phelps’ eight gold medals in a single Games broke the previous record of seven that was set by American swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972.

Which American woman has won the most Olympic medals in a single Olympics?

Phelps wasn’t the only American to dominate in the pool during the 2008 Olympics. Natalie Coughlin won six medals, the most for an American woman in a single Games.

Coughlin won gold in the 100-meter backstroke, silver in the 4×100-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter medley, and bronze in the 100-meter freestyle, 200-meter medley and 4×200-meter freestyle.

Coughlin won five medals during the 2004 Olympics, which is tied for second most for an American woman in a single Games with Simone Biles (gymnastics, 2016), Katie Ledecky (swimming, 2016), Missy Franklin (swimming, 2012), Allison Schmitt (swimming, 2012), Shirley Babashoff (swimming, 1976), Nastia Liukin (gymnastics, 2008), Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics, 1984) and Shannon Miller (gymnastics, 1992).