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United States Summer Olympics timeline

Compiled by Ron Kopczick

Editor’s note: Below is an expanded version of the United States Summer Olympics timeline that appears in the July 23 Pentecostal Evangel, which can be ordered by calling 1-800-641-4310 and requesting product #69-7030. The cost is 50 cents per copy for quantities 10 and less, 24 cents apiece for 11 to 49, and 22 cents each for 50 or more. The edition has a strong evangelistic thrust and is a great publication to share with family, friends and neighbors.

1896
Athens, Greece:
13 nations. The dawn of the modern Olympic movement breaks and the United States is among a handful of nations to usher it onto the world stage.

United States medals: 11 gold, 7 silver, 1 bronze; 19 total.

1900
Paris, France:
21 nations. The United States begins to flex its Olympic muscle, as American athletes capture more than 20 percent of the available 255 medals. Leading the U.S. charge is Alvin Kraenzlein with four gold medals in the long jump and 60-, 110- and 200-meter hurdles. In the next 96 years, only Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis will be able to match Kraenzlein’s track and field performance.

United States medals: 21 gold, 16 silver, 16 bronze; 53 total.

1904
St. Louis, Mo.:
13 nations. Ray Ewry is among the American track and field stars, as he is in the midst of a three Olympic-run that will produce eight gold medals. Ewry spent part of his childhood confined to a wheelchair due to polio.

United States medals: 80 gold, 85 silver, 81 bronze; 246 total.

1908
London, England:
22 nations. For the first time, the number of events scheduled for one Olympiad surpasses the 100 mark. U.S. swimmer Charles Daniels concludes his seven-medal Olympic career with gold in the 100-meter freestyle, even though the event started without him. Middle distance-runner Mel Sheppard nearly duplicates the 1904 track and field performance of Ray Ewry. Sheppard wins three gold medals.

United States medals: 23 gold, 12 silver, 13 bronze; 48 total.

1912
Stockholm, Sweden:
29 nations. One name summarizes the 1912 Games: Jim Thorpe, the only man who has ever won the decathlon and pentathlon during a single Olympiad. While presenting Thorpe his gold medal for the decathlon, King Gustav of Sweden calls him "the greatest athlete in the world."

United States medals: 25 gold, 18 silver, 19 bronze; 62 total.

1920
Antwerp, Belgium:
29 nations. After the 1916 Olympics scheduled for Berlin, Germany, are canceled due to World War I, the Games resume on the battle-scarred European continent. Among the athletes who endured the eight years between Olympiads is U.S. swimmer Duke Kahanmoku. Following his capture of gold and silver medals in Stockholm, Kahanmoku wins his second 100-meter freestyle title and helps the Americans to a first-place finish in the 4x200-meter free relay at Antwerp.

United States medals: 41 gold, 27 silver, 27 bronze; 95 total.

1924
Paris, France:
45 nations. American sprinter Charley Paddock prevents a one-two finish by Great Britain’s Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell in the 200 meters by winning the silver medal. Liddell, whose refusal to run the 100-meter race on a Sunday becomes the basis for the movie Chariots of Fire, takes the gold in the 400 meters. Liddell would later die as a missionary to China.

Unites States medals: 45 gold, 27 silver, 27 bronze; 99 total.

1928
Amsterdam, Netherlands:
46 nations. U.S. swimmer Johnny Weismuller follows his three-gold-winning performance in 1924’s Paris Olympic games with a two-gold and a bronze medal performance here. While training for the 1932 Games, Weismuller is cast in the lead role for Tarzan, the Ape Man. Although he would portray Tarzan 10 more times, he never competes again in the Olympics.

United States medals: 22 gold, 18 silver, 16 bronze; 56 total.

1932
Los Angeles, Calif.:
37 nations. Whether it was on dry land or in the water, the 1932 Games belong primarily to a pair of American women: Babe Didrikson and Helene Madison. Didrikson captures two golds and a silver medal in track and field. Madison, meanwhile, is the world’s record-holder in 16 freestyle swimming events heading into the Olympics. She finishes with three gold medals.

United States medals: 41 gold, 32 silver, 30 bronze; 103 total.

1936
Berlin, Germany:
49 nations. World War II is just around the corner as is the longest interruption in modern Olympics history. Adolf Hitler attempts to use the Olympiad as a stage for German nationalism as American track star Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in Berlin. Owens is victorious in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, 4x100 relay and the long jump.

United States medals: 24 gold, 20 silver, 12 bronze; 56 total.

1948
London, England:
59 nations. Because of WWII the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were canceled. Two American athletes have gold medal premieres at the 1948 Olympics that will be followed up in 1952 with identical winning performances. Bob Mathias wins the first of two decathlon titles, a feat accomplished by no other U.S. competitor. Weightlifter John Davis, meanwhile, wins the gold medal in the heavyweight division. Davis’ 1952 repeat will place him in a select group of only 12 weightlifters who have accomplished the feat.

United States medals: 38 gold, 27 silver, 19 bronze; 84 total.

1952
Helsinki, Finland:
69 nations. Following a 12-year delay, after it lost the chance to co-host the 1940 Games due to World War II, Helsinki finally has the opportunity to stage the northernmost Summer Olympics in history. The United States continues to be the strongest contingent with a record fifth 40-plus gold medal haul. But U.S. domination is about to be challenged. For the present, however, American Bob Richards wins his first gold medal in the pole vault. A minister, Richards will successfully defend his championship four years later.

United States medals: 40 gold, 19 silver, 17 bronze; 76 total.

1956
Melbourne, Australia:
67 nations. Due to a quarantine on horses in Australia, the equestrian events are held in Stockholm Sweden. It’s the only time a Summer Olympiad is conducted in two nations, let alone on two different continents. The United States is about to enter an intense Olympic rivalry that will last for more than three decades as the Soviet Union begins participating in the Summer Games. Al Oerter begins his role as an American track and field standout when he wins the first of four gold medals in the discus. Oerter’s four-Olympiad run as a gold medallist in one sport has yet to be matched.

United States medals: 32 gold, 25 silver, 17 bronze; 74 total.

1960
Rome, Italy:
84 nations. Although the U.S. total medal count drops to its lowest since the 1936 games, Wilma Rudolph becomes the latest American track star as she wins three gold medals in Rome. Rudolph, who overcame a sickly childhood, wins the 100- and 200-meter dashes, in addition to anchoring the gold-medal 4x100-relay team. The U.S. men’s basketball team also continues its dominance with a fifth consecutive gold medal. Future NBA all-stars Walt Bellamy, Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West lead a team that wins by an average of more than 42 points per game.

United States medals: 34 gold, 21 silver, 16 bronze; 71 total.

1964
Tokyo, Japan:
94 nations. For the first time the Summer Games are held on the Asian continent and the United States has it strongest performance since 1932. American swimmer Donna de Varona, who competed in the 1960 Olympics as a 13-year-old, wins two gold medals. De Varona would later become well known for her work as a television sports commentator and championing the cause of women’s athletics. Bill Bradley, who leads the U.S. men’s basketball team to another gold medal, will also have a highly visible post-Olympic career. After two NBA titles with the New York Knicks, Bradley becomes a three-term U.S. senator from New Jersey.

United States medals: 36 gold, 26 silver, 28 bronze; 90 total.

1968
Mexico City, Mexico:
113 nations. The Summer Olympics are held at their highest elevation ever, but the "thin air" seems to have no effect on a U.S. team that builds on its success in Tokyo. In fact, it is believed the environment contributes to one of the greatest Olympic performances: Bob Beamon’s long jump of 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches. Beamon’s leap surpasses the world record by an incredible 21 3/4 inches. Superheavyweight boxer George Foreman, who had only fought 18 times before the Summer Games, wins a gold medal.

United States medals: 45 gold, 28 silver, 34 bronze; 107 total.

1972
Munich, Germany:
122 nations. Tragedy strikes the Summer Olympics as Arab terrorists invade the athletes’ village and eventually take the lives of several Israeli competitors and coaches. In an Olympiad stained by horror, controversy pervades many of the events. The most notorious is the conclusion of the U.S.-USSR men’s gold medal basketball game. The game’s final seconds are replayed until the Soviets end up with a 51-50 victory. Out of the chaos, however, comes the greatest single performance in Olympic history: American swimmer Mark Spitz and his seven gold medals. Spitz, who won four medals in Mexico City, establishes a world record in all seven of his events.

United States medals: 33 gold, 31 silver, 30 bronze; 94 total.

1976
Montreal, Canada:
93 nations. As tragedy and controversy rocked its 1972 predecessor, a boycott by African nations taints the Montreal Summer Olympics. In addition, Taiwan is forced to sit out the Games because it insists on competing as the Republic of China. Without a Mark Spitz to lead the way, the United States looks to some new heroes. Among them is Bruce Jenner, who wins the 10th and most recent American gold medal in the Olympic decathlon. The much-anticipated rematch between the U.S. and Soviet Union for the men’s basketball gold medal never materializes as the Americans defeat Yugoslavia for the championship.

United States medals: 34 gold, 35 silver, 25 bronze; 94 total.

1980
Moscow, USSR:
81 nations. Thanks to a U.S.-led boycott to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the Summer Olympic field is the smallest since 1956. Only the action of U.S. President Jimmy Carter probably prevents American swimmer Tracy Caulkins from making her presence known on the world stage. The winner of 48 national titles, Caulkins would instead have to shine at the 1984 Olympics where she wins three gold medals.

United States medals — did not participate.

1984
Los Angeles, Calif.:
140 nations. To pay back the United States for boycotting the 1980 Summer Games, the USSR and several of its Soviet-bloc allies stay away from the ’84 Olympics. Still, a record 140 nations participate in the "Good Feel" games, which begin with remarkable camaraderie among the athletes during the opening ceremonies on the Los Angeles Coliseum floor. Carl Lewis is among a bevy of American athletes who turn in memorable performances. Remarkably, Lewis wins gold medals in the same four track and field events as Jesse Owens did in 1936.

United States medals: 83 gold, 61 silver, 30 bronze; 174 total.

1988
Seoul, Korea:
160 nations. One of the few nations boycotting the 1988 Summer Games is North Korea, upset that it didn’t host some of the events. As a result, security is a major concern during the Seoul Olympiad that involves a record number of participants. Of the four Olympics she competes in, American track and field standout Jackie Joyner-Kersee has her strongest showing in 1988. Besides a gold medal in the long jump, Joyner-Kersee also wins the heptathlon with a world record-point total. She would win another heptathlon gold four years later.

United States medals: 36 gold, 31 silver, 27 bronze; 94 total.

1992
Barcelona, Spain:
171 nations. Some major changes in the world are reflected in the makeup of the 1992 Summer Games. For the first time in 40 years, there is no Soviet Union contingent. Instead, a Unified Team representing several of the former Union of Soviet Socialists Republics is on hand. But the group getting the most attention is the "Dream Team," a squad of NBA greats representing the United States in men’s basketball. Consisting of future Hall of Famers like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, the team has no problem reclaiming the gold medal for the United States. The Americans had finished third in basketball at the 1988 Olympics.

United States medals: 37 gold, 34 silver, 37 bronze; 108 total.

1996
Atlanta, Georgia:
197 nations. Nearly 200 countries participate in the largest Summer Olympics to date. Most of the former Soviet republics compete under their own flags, while Germany is a united force. In fact, the Germans’ total medal count of 65 ranks only behind the Americans. Altogether, a record 78 different nations receive medals. The United States women’s gymnastics team does something its predecessors never did, including the 1984 squad featuring Mary Lou Retton: It wins a gold medal. Kerri Strug’s final vault on a sprained ankle clinches the U.S. victory.

United States medals: 44 gold, 32 silver, 25 bronze; 101 total.

Sources: United States Olympic Committee, Associated Press, USA Today.


Ron Kopczick is promotions coordinator for the Pentecostal Evangel.

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