Team USA staged a thrilling comeback in the final hours of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to top the gold medal table for the third Summer Games in a row.
The U.S. entered Sunday’s final day of the Games trailing China 38-36 in that vaunted gold medal column. But the 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, before 3 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: