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From A To Z: A List Of Reasons To Be Thankful For Team USA

By Karen Rosen | Nov. 25, 2015, 4:07 p.m. (ET)

Members of Team USA celebrates at the ISU World Team Trophy at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on April 13, 2013 in Tokyo.

In honor of Thanksgiving, we’re setting the table with an A to Z list from our Olympic and Paralympic cornucopia. Besides giving thanks for the athletes who inspired us, amazed us and pioneered new techniques, we’re also grateful for the places, events, broadcasters and sports contributing to Team USA’s rich history.

Since we have no more room on our plate, please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Allyson Felix celebrates after winning gold in the women's 400-
meter at the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015
at Beijing National Stadium on Aug. 27, 2015 in Beijing.

A is for Allyson Felix, who runs like the wind. With her victory in the 400-meter at the 2015 world championships, she breezed to the top of the U.S. list with nine world gold medals, breaking a tie with Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson. Felix also won silver medals in the 4x100- and 4x400-meters to bring her total to 13 medals, also an American record.

B is for Dick Button, who took figure skating to new heights. He was the first athlete to land a double Axel and a triple jump in competition. Button also invented the flying camel spin. In 1948, he was the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating, coming back four years later to defend his title. No U.S. skater has managed to duplicate that double.

C is for Claressa Shields, who pulls no punches. She is the first American woman to win a gold medal in boxing. Shield was just 17 when she won the middleweight title at the London 2012 Olympic Games, where women’s boxing made its debut. She recently won the 2016 Olympic Trials, but must earn a Rio Olympic berth in qualifying tournaments.

D is for Donna de Varona, who continues to blaze trails. She won her first swimming gold medal in 1960 at the tender age of 13, then added two more gold medals in 1964. De Varona has continued to champion women in sport on and off the field of play.

E is for Ashton Eaton, aka “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” Eaton, the London 2012 Olympic gold medalist, won his second straight world championships title in 2015 in Beijing, breaking his own world record with a mark of 9,045 points.

F is for Fosbury, who proved that a flop can be a huge success. He popularized his innovative high jumping technique – the Fosbury Flop – while winning the 1968 Olympic gold medal. It is used by nearly every athlete today.

G is for golf, which makes its Olympic comeback after a 112-year absence. The 1904 field in St. Louis was composed almost entirely of Americans (although a Canadian won the individual event), but the 2016 edition in Rio will be international. Rugby also returns to the Olympic program for the first time since 1924.

Steve Holcomb celebrates after a run during the men's four-man
bobsled at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Sliding Center
Sanki on Feb. 23, 2014 in Rosa Khutor, Russia.

H is for Steven Holcomb, who drives the Night Train bobsled like there’s no tomorrow. Holcomb piloted the U.S. to first place in Vancouver in 2010, ending a 62-year gold-medal drought, and added two bronze medals in Sochi.

I is for Kyrie Irving, who is shooting to become the next U.S. Olympic basketball star. The Cleveland Cavaliers guard was the MVP at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, where Team USA earned its berth in the Rio 2016 basketball tournament. Irving scored 26 points in the final, a 129-92 win over Serbia.

J is for Jesse Owens, who took the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games by storm. He won four gold medals, electrifying the world and helping dispel the Nazis’ notion of Aryan supremacy. No athlete is as identified with a particular Olympic Games as Owens is with Berlin.

K is Katie Ledecky, who is blowing everyone out of the water. The 2012 Olympic champion in the 800-meter freestyle, she won a record five gold medals at the 2015 world championships and holds three world records.

L is for Ted Ligety, the king of the mountain in giant slalom. The two-time Olympic champion skier won his third straight world championships title in the event in 2015. He was in fifth place after the first run, then Lickety-Split! he shredded the second run, skiing .55 faster than any other man to claim the gold.

M is for Mary Lou Retton and the Mag 7, who inspired two generations of gymnasts including three-time all-around world champion Simone Biles. Retton was the first American all-around champion in 1984 in Los Angeles. Again on home turf in 1996 in Atlanta, the Mag 7, vaulted to the first women’s team gold medal for the U.S.

N is for NBCUniversal, which brings the Games to our televisions, computers and mobile devices.

O is Apolo Anton Ohno, who made short track speedskating super cool. With his trademark goatee and bandana, Ohno won eight Olympic medals and then – sans bandana (except for in one dance) – a “Dancing with the Stars” mirror ball.

Michael Phelps celebrates with his gold medal at the London 2012
Olympic Games on Aug. 4, 2012 in London.

P is for Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time – and he’s not finished. Since returning home empty-handed from the Sydney 2000 Olympics at age 15, Phelps has won 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall from 2004 to 2012, including his record-setting eight-gold medal bonanza in Beijing.

Q is for Queen Harrison, who earned her crown at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games in the 100-meter hurdles. The 2008 Olympian’s victory came eight years after she won the 400-meter hurdles and took silver in the 100-meter hurdles at the Pan American Junior Championships.

R is for Rio de Janeiro, and we can’t wait to get there. The Marvelous City, known for its Carnival festivities in February, promises a huge celebration in August and September for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

S is for Serena Williams, who is still serving up winners. Williams clinched her second straight “Serena Slam” – four straight major titles – in 2015. Though her U.S. Open loss cost her the coveted “Calendar Slam,” Williams treasures the career “Golden Slam” she achieved by winning the 2012 Olympic singles title.

T is for Trischa Zorn and Tatyana McFadden, who know no limits. Zorn, a swimmer born legally blind, is the most decorated Paralympian of all time, winning 55 medals – 41 gold, nine silver and five bronze – from 1980 to 2004. McFadden, born in the former Soviet Union with spina bifida, won 10 medals in wheelchair track and field from 2004 to 2012, then added a silver medal in sitting cross-country skiing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.

U is for U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.

V is for Lindsey Vonn, who is as fierce in rehabilitation as she is on the slopes. The downhill gold medalist and super-G bronze medalist at the Vonn-couver Olympics in 2010, she was forced to miss the Sochi 2014 Games due to injury. Vonn roared back in 2015, taking home the record for most world cup wins by a female ski racer with 67.

Jordan Burroughs (L) wrestles Parveen Rana during the 2014 FILA
Freestyle Wrestling World Cup at The Forum on March 15, 2014 in
Inglewood, Calif.

W is for wrestling, whose proponents heaved a sigh of relief in 2013 when it was restored to the Olympic program after losing core sport status. One of wrestling’s brightest stars is Jordan Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic champion at 74 kg., who was undefeated in 2015 and won his third world title.

X is for the Xth Olympiad in 1932, when we first witnessed Los Angeles’ love affair with the Olympic Games. In 1984, the City of Angels again hosted the world’s biggest sporting event. Now Los Angeles is the U.S. candidate for the 2024 Games, which would be the XXXIIIrd Olympiad, but who’s counting?

Y is for Kristi Yamaguchi, who is grace personified. She was the 1992 Olympic champion in figure skating, capturing the first U.S. gold medal in women’s singles in 16 years. Yamaguchi remains in the public eye with her charitable efforts, a clothing line and a “Dancing with the Stars” victory.

Z is for Mariel Zagunis, Team USA’s own Zorro. She slashed her way to Olympic championships in 2004 and 2008 in women’s saber, becoming the first U.S. fencer in 100 years to win gold. Zagunis was the flag bearer for Team USA in the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Games, but a medal eluded her. Now she’s on the attack again, so look out!

Related Athletes

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Allyson Felix

Track and Field
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Claressa Shields

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Ashton Eaton

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Steven Holcomb

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Katie Ledecky

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Ted Ligety

Alpine Skiing
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Apolo Ohno

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Michael Phelps

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Queen Harrison

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Serena Williams

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Tatyana McFadden

Nordic Skiing
US Paralympics
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Lindsey Vonn

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Mariel Zagunis