The United States’ first government came into being 240 years ago – in September 1774, with the formation of the 1st Continental Congress. But Americans celebrate the nations’ birthday on July 4th, the day chosen to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, although it is well known that the signing actually occurred on July 2, 1776. Nonetheless this is what we consider the United States’ birthday – so Happy Birthday, USA. (Yes, I am a USA-ian, and I approved this post)
The United States has also competed at every Olympic Games except for, sadly, the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. During that time, the USA has dominated the medal lists and the medal standings more than any other nation, mainly at the Summer Olympics. There have been pretenders to attempt to usurp that dominance – the USSR from 1952-88, the GDR from 1972-88, and now China threatens to lead the medal standings. But overall, from 1896-2014, Summer alone, Summer and Winter, men, women, it matters not. The USA has been the dominant nation at the Olympic Games in terms of medals won.
Here are the top 5 nations in terms of all medals won, actually listing 6 nations, because North American and Europe tend to count the medal lists differently, and there is a discrepancy, even at the top of the lists (USA uses totals, gold, silver, bronze for the rankings; Europe / International uses gold, silver, bronze for the rankings) (Note: these numbers are all per the IOC standards, meaning they do not include the 1906 Olympics):
So skipping the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, the USA has won more gold medals than the next 4 best nations that are still extant, and more medals than the next 3 best nations, however you rank them.
Just looking at the Summer Olympics, that dominance becomes even more impressive.
Again, skipping the USSR, the United States has won more gold medals than the next best 4 nations, and more medals than the next best 3 nations. Including the Soviet Union, the USA has won more gold medals and medals than the next best 3 nations at the Summer Olympics.
If we try to split this up by gender, the dominance remains. Here are the lists for men, women, and mixed medals:
The male dominance for the USA is as complete, with more gold medals than the next 4 remaining nations, and more medals than the 3 next nations still extant. The female dominance is less so, as the Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic (GDR – East Germany) emphasized women’s medals during their existence. And it is even less dramatic for mixed events, where it is approached by several other nations, but the USA still leads the mixed medal lists, both in terms of medals won and gold medals won.
Now at the Winter Olympics, the USA is not #1, that honor still going to Norway, with the United States 2nd, Germany 3rd, and Austria 4th. But if we look only at the Summer Olympics, here is how the medal standings have ended up at each Games:
So of the above 32 leaders (by either system), the USA has been the leading nation at the Summer Olympics 17 times, or more than all other nations combined. However, if one looks at 1956-88, you can see that the Soviet Union was quite dominant in that era. What if they had competed before 1952 or since 1988?
One can argue that Russia, China, and Germany have not existed for as long as the United States, in Olympic terms. So let’s compare numbers against Pan-Soviet (USSR 1952-88 and all former Soviet republics prior to 1952 and since 1992) and Pan-Germania (Germany, East and West Germany) (Note: The Saar also competed in 1952 but did not win any medals.). We really can’t do the same for China. And this tabulation will give an advantage to Pan-Soviet counts, because since 1992 they can have far more than 3 competitors, or 1 team, in an event. The same was true for East and West Germany from 1968-88.
Here are the numbers for all Olympic medals:
|German Demo. Rep.||192||165||162||519|
|Fed. Rep. Germany||67||82||94||243|
So even with the advantage Pan-Soviet and Pan-Germania get from extra competitors and teams, the USA still leads the medal lists comfortably. Of course, Pan-Soviet had only a few competitors from 1912-36 – Russia in 1912 and the Baltics from 1924-36 – but given how much fewer events there were in that era, the USA would still lead the lists.
Happy Birthday, America. We have a national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, which I’ve considered like our alma mater, but I much prefer what could be considered similar to our college fight song – The Stars and Stripes Forever (officially the USA National March since 1987). Here’s one of my favorite versions of it: