USA Dominance at the Olympics

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):

RkUS RkEU NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 1 United States 1071 857 754 2682
2 2 Soviet Union 473 376 355 1204
3 3 Germany 288 320 307 915
4 4 Great Britain 246 277 282 805
5 6 France 235 256 298 789
6 5 Italy 236 200 228 664

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.

RkUS RkEU NOC Gold Silver Bronze Totals
1 1 United States 975 754 669 2398
2 2 Soviet Union 395 319 296 1010
3 3 Great Britain 235 271 266 772
4 5 Germany 201 235 249 685
5 4 France 204 225 251 680
6 7 Italy 199 166 185 550

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:

Men

RkUS RkEU NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 1 United States 761 591 520 1872
2 2 Soviet Union 323 259 228 810
3 5 France 171 195 217 583
4 4 Great Britain 172 193 194 559
5 6 Germany 171 190 190 551
6 3 Italy 188 157 168 513

Women

RkUS RkEU NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 1 United States 277 222 202 701
2 2 Soviet Union 122 96 113 331
3 3 China 120 100 83 303
4 5 Germany 88 115 97 300
5 4 German DR 94 84 63 241
6 6 Russia 72 83 63 218

Mixed

RkUS RkEU NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 1 United States 33 44 32 109
2 2 Great Britain 31 27 24 82
3 5 France 27 20 27 74
4 3 Germany 29 15 20 64
5 4 Soviet Union 28 21 14 63

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:

Year NOC G S B Tot RkUS RkEU
1896 Greece 10 16 19 45 1 2
1896 United States 11 7 2 20 2 1
1900 France 28 41 38 107 1 1
1904 United States 78 79 82 239 1 1
1906 France 15 9 16 40 1 1
1908 Great Britain 55 49 34 138 1 1
1912 Sweden 23 24 17 64 1 2
1912 United States 25 18 20 63 2 1
1920 United States 41 26 26 93 1 1
1924 United States 45 27 27 99 1 1
1928 United States 22 18 16 56 1 1
1932 United States 40 33 30 103 1 1
1936 Germany 33 26 30 89 1 1
1948 United States 38 27 19 84 1 1
1952 United States 40 19 17 76 1 1
1956 Soviet Union 37 29 32 98 1 1
1960 Soviet Union 43 29 31 103 1 1
1964 Soviet Union 30 31 35 96 1 2
1964 United States 36 26 28 90 2 1
1968 United States 45 28 34 107 1 1
1972 Soviet Union 50 27 22 99 1 1
1976 Soviet Union 49 41 35 125 1 1
1980 Soviet Union 80 69 46 195 1 1
1984 United States 83 61 30 174 1 1
1988 Soviet Union 55 31 46 132 1 1
1992 Unified Team 45 38 29 112 1 1
1996 United States 44 32 25 101 1 1
2000 United States 37 24 32 93 1 1
2004 United States 36 41 26 101 1 1
2008 United States 36 38 36 110 1 2
2008 China 51 21 28 100 2 1
2012 United States 46 29 29 104 1 1

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:

NOC Gold Silver Bronze Total
United States 1071 857 754 2682
Soviet Union 473 376 355 1204
Russia 183 166 179 528
Unified Team 54 44 37 135
Ukraine 35 28 59 122
Belarus 18 28 45 91
Kazakhstan 17 20 22 59
Estonia 13 11 16 40
Azerbaijan 6 5 15 26
Latvia 3 15 8 26
Georgia 6 5 14 25
Uzbekistan 6 5 11 22
Lithuania 6 5 10 21
Armenia 1 2 9 12
Moldova 0 2 5 7
Kyrgyzstan 0 1 2 3
Tajikistan 0 1 2 3
Pan-Soviet 821 714 789 2324
Germany 288 320 307 915
German Demo. Rep. 192 165 162 519
Fed. Rep. Germany 67 82 94 243
Pan-Germania 547 567 563 1677

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:

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