Sometime during the coming fortnight, a United States athlete will win a gold medal and it will be the 1,000th gold medal won by a US Olympian at the Summer Olympic Games. The problem comes in knowing which one that will be, and we’re not talking about predicting who it will be.
I compile Olympic statistics and do work for the US Olympic Committee at each Olympic Games. I am always asked to compile various lists for the USA Media Guide, and that always includes the list of most medals won by nations. In the list for 2016 I ran the query thru our database and came out with 975 gold medals for the US at the Summer Olympics since 1896. (This did not include 1906, considered unofficial by the IOC, but not the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH), which would add another 12 gold medals.)
Then a few days later Infostrada / Gracenote came out with their similar list and had 977 gold medals for the USA. Oops! So I know the guys at the former Infostrada and asked for their data and we compared our lists.
I had a mistake of 1 gold medal, where in a counting field what should have been a 1 was listed as a 0. So my count became 976, which still did not agree with Infostrada / Gracenote. So now what?
Looking at their data, I also noted that InfoGrace had a mistake when they did not include the 1904 women’s team archery event, which the USA won. It is listed as a competition in the Spalding Official Athletic Almanac for 1905, which is considered the 1904 Official Report (except for athletics [track & field], where there was a second report).
Further, InfoGrace had two gold medals I did not list – one in 1904 gymnastics all-around, won by Julius Lenhart, and one in 1904 gymnastics team all-around, won a team from the Philadelphia Turngemeinde, which included Lenhart.
Here is the problem. Lenhart was Austrian, and this has been known since the early 1970s and was discovered by Austrian Erich Kamper, the doyen of Olympic historians and statisticians. We credit the individual all-around gold to Lenhart and to Austria, which is correct. InfoGrace is wrong on that one, I feel, for certain.
The gold medal open to interpretation is the 1904 team all-around. My data credits it to a mixed team, not Austria, and not the United States. In 1900 and 1904, there were several events with teams composed of athletes from various nations. There were no national teams in that era, and athletes basically competed for themselves.
Infostrada / Gracenote conceded on the 1904 women’s archery event, bringing their total to 978, but would not yield on the Lenhart question. This is despite the fact that their results for the 1904 individual all-around also listed Lenhart as Austrian, as he was.
Now, I will admit that the team all-around gold is open to interpretation and somewhat controversial. However, I still think 978 is wrong. I’m sticking with 976 gold medals, although I would concede 977, if somebody wants to use that.
The problem then is who will win the 1,000th gold medal for the USA? Depends on if you use 976 or 977 (or if you use InfoGrace’s data, 978).
Here’s my # – 976 gold medals to date. I’ll go with that and let the race to 1,000 begin.