The U.S. women's soccer team celebrates with the the gold medal after defeating Japan 2-1 to win the women's soccer gold medal match at the London 2012 Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium on Aug. 9, 2012 in London.
RIO DE JANEIRO – Team USA is poised to win its 1,000th Olympic gold medal during the Rio 2016 Games, which officially begin tonight with the Opening Ceremony.
The United States has won 977 gold medals, more than the next three countries combined – the Soviet Union (395), Great Britain (235) and France (203).
“What it means is a great sporting culture and a really amazing system of sport in our country,” said Alan Ashley, the chef de mission for Team USA and chief of sport performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “It's different than other places in the world. It's very exciting to think of it in those terms and realize we're on the doorstep of that amazing achievement.”
It's hard to predict when the golden moment will come.
Four years ago in London, Team USA won 46 gold medals (among 103 overall), with swimmers, who compete in the first week, accounting for 16.
The USOC will be ready to celebrate whenever it happens.
“At USA House, we welcome the athletes there every time they win a medal,” said Lisa Baird, USOC chief marketing officer, said of the Ipanema Beach venue that hosts sponsors, dignitaries and athletes. “And I assure you there will be something special for the 1,000th gold medal.”
USOC board of directors chair Larry Probst said that when he visited Casa Italia, the Italian team was talking about winning its 200th gold medal in Rio. “That shows the scale of accomplishment our athletes have achieved over many years,” he said.
The United States won the medal count with 11 gold medals at the 1896 Olympic Games (although the top prize for victorious athletes were actually silver medals, with second-place athletes taking home bronze medals and third-place athletes receiving no medal).
Overall, the U.S. has won the medal count at 17 summer Games. The largest haul was 83 gold medals in 1984, when the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries boycotted.
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Team USA has 292 women competing in Rio, more than any nation has ever sent to an Olympics. Blackmun credited the impact of Title IX for the success on the women's side. Title IX was a law passed in 1972 that prohibited discrimination against girls and women in federally-funded education, including athletics programs.
“We're able to do as well as do at the Games because of the great performance we have from our women,” Blackmun said.
He said the passage of Title IX combined with the huge support from NCAA institutions to prepare Team USA athletes for the Games. Among the 554 team members, Blackmun said, “Almost 80 percent of the athletes competed in the past or are competing for our colleges.”
While Team USA is excited about the medals and memories the athletes will take home, it is also giving back to Brazil.
“What's special for us is the legacy that we're going to be able to leave behind,” said Blackmun.
The USOC has developed three high performance training centers to help support athletes where they can work with their personal coaches and training partners who are not accredited.
“Instead of writing a check, we said 'Let’s help improve the quality of the facilities,’” Ashley said.
At the famous Flamengo football club, which has 26,000 members in a variety of sports, the USOC, with help from some sponsors, has upgraded the quality of the facility and will leave behind equipment.
“It's been really fun to watch,” Ashley said. “The kids are really excited about what they're going to have for years to come after the Games are over.”
The same goes for USA House, which is located in Colégio São Paulo, a school for kids ages 3 to 17. Baird said that while the renovation and design create an experience for USOC guests, modern amenities such as air conditioning and a wireless IT system are gifts that will be left behind for the children and the nuns.
“We're really happy we could leave this legacy as a commemoration of our time in Rio,” Baird said.