LONDON — Just because the US Olympic Committee wasn’t sharing its medal projections didn’t mean that it didn’t have them. And while most pundits — including London chief organizer Sebastian Coe — were predicting that the Chinese would displace the Americans atop the table, the execs at Colorado Springs headquarters were betting on maintaining the status quo, if not better. “We had very high expectations coming into these Games and our expectations have been exceeded,” proclaimed executive director Scott Blackmun.
Indeed, the Yanks not only won the overall count for the fifth straight Summer Olympics with 104 to China’s 88, they won their most golds (46) at a non-boycotted Games since they were held here in 1908. The women, who claimed 29 of those and 58 in all, beat the medal total of every country except for China, Russia, and the hosts. A sport-by-sport look at how the US fared in London:
ARCHERY: After missing the target in Athens and Beijing the Yanks were closer to the bull’s-eye this time. Though Brady Ellison didn’t get an individual medal his teammates grabbed the silver and Khatuna Lorig was just off the women’s podium.
BADMINTON: Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan, reunited at Olympus, couldn’t match their golden magic from the 2005 worlds and didn’t win a match and Rena Wang lost to a Chinese opponent. It may take massive Asian match-fixing to get the Americans near the podium in Rio.
BASKETBALL: Anything less than double gold would have been a disappointment in a game the Americans invented, but they got the job done again. While the men had to labor to beat the Spaniards, they found a second wind here after a sapping NBA season. And nobody’s betting against the women getting a sixth straight gold in Rio. They’ve taught the world how to play.
BOXING: The men had the biggest team at the Games and needed a reversed decision to produce one quarterfinalist, their worst showing ever. The women sent three entrants and got a gold from teenager Claressa Shields and a bronze from Marlen Esparza. Next time the USOC should put its money where the medals are.
CANOE/KAYAK: The size of the squad — just seven entrants in flatwater and slalom — says it all. Nobody made a final, much less contended for a medal. The Americans simply no longer are competitive in a sport where they were golden two decades ago.
CYCLING: As expected, the women carried the team and delivered as promised — a repeat time trial gold by Kristin Armstrong (coming off maternity leave) and silvers from Sarah Hammer in omnium and her teammates in team pursuit. Taylor Phinney just missed a couple of bronzes on the road but the men’s team was off the pace on the track. And after a trio of medals in Beijing there was nothing from the BMXers this time but Georgia Gould came up with a mountain biking bronze.
DIVING: After belly-flops in Athens and Beijing, the Americans made an impressive splash here. David Boudia’s platform gold was the first by the men since Greg Louganis in 1988 and the three synchro medals — a silver from Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnston and bronzes by Boudia and Nick McCrory, and Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen — were pleasant surprises. Now if they can make a similar splash in Rio . . .
EQUESTRIAN: For the first time since 1956 the horsey set was off its feed. After winning five medals in Athens and one of each color last time the US didn’t come close to the podium in Greenwich Park. The empty outing may have been an aberration, but it’s clear that the Americans have been losing ground to the British, Germans, and Dutch.
FENCING: Nobody expected another half-dozen medals this time but getting only a lone bronze from the women’s epee team was a letdown. When Mariel Zagunis, the two-time sabre titlist, missed the podium, it was an omen.
FIELD HOCKEY: They won the de facto championship of the Americas by beating silver medalist Argentina in the prelims but otherwise it was a lost Games as the Americans finished last in the 12-team field and took an unsightly 7-0 flogging from the South Africans, who didn’t make the podium. Though four of its losses were by one goal, the US should be getting more from a scholarship sport.
GYMNASTICS: While they didn’t come close to matching their eight medals in Beijing, the women got the two they most wanted — their first team gold at an overseas Games and their third straight all-around title with Gabby Douglas. Though McKayla Maroney’s rump-landing cost the Americans what they thought was a gimme gold on vault, Aly Raisman got one on floor and added a bronze on beam. While the men’s fifth-place effort was a decided disappointment, Danell Leyva’s back-from-the-dead bronze in the all-around was a delightful surprise. As expected, there was nothing from rhythmic but Savannah Vinsant’s sixth-place showing in trampoline was encouraging.
JUDO: Kayla Harrison’s gold was a breakthrough and Marti Malloy’s bronze a bonus. The Yanks may not be deep but they come with quality. Jim Pedro knows how to produce podium people at his Wakefield dojo.
MODERN PENTATHLON: Margaux Isaksen’s fourth-place finish was tantalizingly close — eight points from the podium — for a program that hasn’t won a medal since 1984 but Dennis Bowsher’s 32d-place showing on the men’s side wasn’t unexpected. Until more than a smattering of Americans can name the five events in George Patton’s old sport, the USOC won’t pour cash into an upgrade.
ROWING: The Yanks collected what they’d come for — a repeat gold from the dominant women’s eight and bronzes from the women’s quad and men’s four, which was the priority boat this time. If the men’s eight and women’s pair had made the podium (they missed by a combined half a second), that would have been cause for Pimm’s Cups all around.
SAILING: Dead in the water. Except for the women’s fifth place in Elliott 6-meter, the US flotilla was nowhere near the podium after winning gold and silver in Beijing. While wind and water vary from Games to Games, there was no reason the Americans shouldn’t have been more in the mix across the board.
SHOOTING: Their four medals were two fewer than the Americans bagged in Beijing but three of them were gold from Kim Rhode (her third in women’s skeet), Jamie Lynn Gray (women’s 3-position rifle), and Vince Hancock (men’s skeet). Only the South Koreans matched that.
SOCCER: Once again the women turned World Cup disappointment into Olympic delirium with their third straight gold medal, taking the Japanese down a peg and doing it in regulation as sharpshooter Carli Lloyd and keeper Hope Solo had a Beijing reprise. Beating the Brazilians in Rio will be a challenge but nobody’s betting against four in a row, especially if the Yanks come up short again at the 2015 Cup.
SWIMMING: Once again the chlorinated crew dunked the world, winning 31 medals to equal their Beijing haul, with their golds up from 12 to 16. Michael Phelps (6 for 7 for a career-record 22 medals) made a classy exit while Missy Franklin (four golds and a world record) made an exuberant entrance. Rhode Island’s Elizabeth Beisel came home with silver and bronze, which should entitle her to a lifetime supply of Del’s Frozen Lemonade.
SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMING: After double bronzes in Athens and a pair of fifths in Beijing it was 11th-place for Mary Killman and Mariya Koroleva and noplace for the team, which didn’t qualify. Ever since the Yanks made a golden splash in 1992, they’ve gradually been sinking out of sight.
TABLE TENNIS: After a Beijing breakout by the women, reality returned. Ariel Hsing beat a Mexican and a Luxembourger but couldn’t handle a Chinese and nobody else won a match. Unless the USOC wants to pour millions into a grass-roots program, a medal is a distant dream.
TAEKWONDO: While the Lopez siblings were off the podium for the first time, Terrence Jennings and Paige McPherson both came up with bronzes after the Americans were blanked at the world championships. The Yanks still can kick it.
TENNIS: A golden repeat performance for the Williams sisters at Wimbledon, with Serena winning her first gold and she and Venus claiming their third in doubles. Brothers Bob and Mike Bryan won their first. Taken with Mike’s bronze in mixed doubles with Lisa Raymond, it made for another splendid fortnight.
TRACK AND FIELD: Skeptics thought that the Project 30 plan was a pipe dream but the Americans missed 30 medals by just one and collected nine golds. Six of them came from the women, who shattered East Germany’s doped world mark in the 4 x 100 relay that had stood for 27 years. The most impressive achievement was that 16 sprinters handled the baton without dropping it and came up with two golds and two silvers. Just like old times.
TRIATHLON: Middlebury grad Sarah Groff came within 10 seconds of making the podium, which would have been a boon for a program that has produced a sole bronze at four Games. Given how many Americans have taken to the swim-bike-run thing, they should have had more than one competitor in the top 10.
VOLLEYBALL: Matching the men’s gold and women’s silver from Beijing figured to be a tall order, and it was. The men were squelched by the Italians in the quarterfinals while the women again were spiked by the Brazilians in the final. It won’t get any easier in Rio.
WATER POLO: Denied three times, the women finally grabbed their gold medal to confirm their global dominance. The men got as far as the quarterfinals before the Croatians drubbed them and ended up eighth.
WEIGHTLIFTING: A decent effort from a team so small that it could fit into a black cab. Seventh place from Sarah Robles and 10th-place finishes from Holley Mangold and Kendrick Farris were respectable results.
WRESTLING: Only one more medal than Beijing but it was gold. The freestyle victories by Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner were satisfying, as were the bronzes by Coleman Scott and Clarissa Chun. The Greco guys have to get back in the mix, though.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.