2,797 Medals, 1,119 of them Gold. Each figure more than the next two countries on the list, combined. The United States has dominated at the Olympics since its formation at the start of the 20th Century.
Over the years, there have been many defining moments for the US at the games, and we’ve become accustomed to dominant athletes, from Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps to the 1992 Dream Team.
We’ve also seen heroics from unlikely candidates.The most notable of these was Bruce Jenner, a part-time insurance salesman who did all of his work at night so that he could train all day. He set the World Record for the Decathlon and instantly become one of the most iconic olympians ever.
In 1996 Kerri Strug sprained her ankle on her first attempt at the vault in team gymnastics. In order to clinch a victory against the Russians, she needed to stick the landing on her second attempt.
She did, basically on one foot, and after posing for the judges she collapsed and had to be carried off. When she got to the hospital, it was revealed that she had a third degree lateral sprain and tendon damage.
It seems that when our country needs it most, we manufacture absolute brilliance in the most dramatic ways.
In 1936, with global tensions rising, the games were held in Germany. Hitler himself attended and was very vocal about the games, hoping to show the world that his “master race” was truly dominant.
Instead, Jesse Owens (a Black American) absolutely dominated the games in the most important discipline at the time: track and field. Owens won four gold medals that year, and embarrassed the Germans at their games.
But there has never been, nor will there ever be, another moment like the Miracle on Ice.
It was 1980, the Cold War was at its height and the Soviets were at the peak of their Olympic power. As if tensions weren’t high enough, the Olympic Committee decided that the winter games would be held in New York and the summer games would be held in Russia.
Until 1988, professional athletes were not allowed to compete at the Olympic level. So, naturally, we turned to college players who had not yet turned pro. The Soviets took a different approach, hiring “amateurs” who worked jobs that allowed them to practice whenever they needed to. It was college players against full-time athletes.
In an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden, just days before the Olympics started, the Russian hockey team beat the US 10-3. This solidified their dominance, as if they weren’t heavy enough favorites already, and it seemed their path to the Olympic gold was red-carpeted.
But by the time the US team reached the medal round (semifinals), it was clear that the team was different. We were cohesive and committed, and everyone on the team believed they could win. And with the support of enthusiastic US fans, it seemed we actually might have a chance.
Down 3-2 heading into the final period, we managed to score twice in the first ten minutes, and then staved off Russian attacks for the remaining ten. We then went on to beat Sweden 4-2 (after being down 2-1 heading into the final period) to win the gold medal.
This moment transcended sports. In a time when space-races, nuclear arsenals and second-hand wars were being used as the measuring stick between the two countries, the Olympic gold we won at Lake Placid stands above the rest.
I would argue that it was not only the best Olympic moment ever, but the best sports moment ever. It was the perfect storm of political backdrop, underdog team and hometown crowd. We will never see anything like it again.
Tyler Dean is a junior studying mathematics.