From the pool to the hardwood and from the track to the ice rink, American men continued their dominance on the world stage in 2016. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Olympic Games in Rio, where U.S. men racked up the medals, shattered records and ended droughts.
Here’s a look at the top 16 men from 2016:
Matthew Centrowitz, Track and Field
Matthew Centrowitz was named USA Track & Field’s Male Athlete of the Year, and for good reason. He started his year with his first world title – 1,500-meter indoor gold in Portland, Oregon. At the Rio Games, the distance runner managed a tactical 1,500-meter race and then blistered the field in the final lap to claim the gold medal in 3:50. It was the first time an American had won the event at the Games since 1908, breaking a 108-year drought. The historic performance more than made up for missing the podium at the London 2012 Games by .04 seconds.
Nathan Chen, Figure Skating
Nathan Chen, at age 17, became the youngest American man to earn a grand prix medal when he earned silver at NHK Trophy, and two weeks later was the second-youngest man from any nation to medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final when he won silver there. At NHK Trophy, he set an American record for highest score in a short program (92.85). At the Final, Chen landed four quadruple jumps to score a personal best of 197.55, capping a remarkable comeback that started with him in fifth place after the short program. Just last year he won the Junior Grand Prix Final. His medal broke a seven-year drought at the Final for American men, who last took the podium in 2009 with Evan Lysacek’s gold and Johnny Weir’s silver. Earlier in the year, he finished third at the U.S. championships when be became the first to land two quads in a short program and the first to land four in the free skate.
Ashton Eaton, Track and Field
Ashton Eaton proved he is still the “world’s greatest athlete” when he won Olympic gold in the decathlon at the Rio Games, successfully defending his 2012 gold medal from London. Eaton’s performance in Rio rang up 8,893 points, which tied an Olympic record. His repeat success made him the first American to win back-to-back decathlon golds since Bob Mathias in 1948 and 1952. In the final event, the 1,500-meter, Eaton raced the final lap to post a time of 4:23.33, securing the gold medal over Kevin Mayer of France. After the race, Eaton was greeted with a kiss from his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who won a bronze medal in the heptathlon a few days earlier for Canada. Ashton Eaton also won the heptathlon at the 2016 world indoor championships, repeating a feat he also accomplished in 2012 and 2014.
Brady Ellison, Archery
The top recurve archer in the United States showed that he’s among the top in the world with his 2016 resume. At his third Olympic Games, Brady Ellison finally earned his first individual medal, a bronze which was the first individual medal for a U.S. archer since 2000. He also anchored the men’s team to a second straight silver medal in Rio. Ellison’s success in 2016 extended far past the Olympics, though. In September, he won the World Cup Final for the fourth time, giving him five medals in seven appearances – both of which are a first for any athlete. He had also won three world cup stage medals – individual gold (his first in two years), mixed team gold and men’s team bronze. In indoor competition, Ellison took bronze at Stage 3 of the 2015-16 series, then won gold at the Indoor Archery World Cup Final and was a bronze medalist at the World Archery Indoor Championships. He started the 2016-17 indoor season by setting a world record, becoming the first to ever shoot a 598 (out of a possible 600). The 28-year-old also won the world field championships.
Anthony Ervin, Swimming
Anthony Ervin found the fountain of youth in the swimming pool at the Rio Games. The oldest member of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team at 35 years, 2 months and 17 days, he won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle to become the oldest swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal. The win came 16 years after Ervin tied teammate Gary Hall Jr. for gold at the Sydney 2000 Games. He stopped swimming in 2003, returned to the sport in 2011 and made the 2012 Olympic team. In Rio, Ervin touched first in 21.40 seconds, just edging 2012 champion Florent Manaudou of France at 21.41. Ervin also swam on the 4x100-meter freestyle team that won gold in Rio.
Connor Fields, BMX
Connor Fields torched the track in Rio for the first American gold medal in BMX, which debuted at the Games in 2008. He finished the final in 34.642, which was more than half a second ahead of the next competitor. The path to Rio wasn’t easy, as four months prior to the Games he had surgery on a broken wrist and qualified for the team via discretionary selection. His injury not fully healed, Fields competed in Rio knowing that one good crash could lead to a chance of permanent damage. He rode through it, and fulfilled a lifelong dream to medal in the Olympic Games.
Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skiing
Although his biggest headlines appeared in 2015, when he became the first male action sports athlete to come out as gay, freeskier Gus Kenworthy saw perhaps his most successful year of competition in 2016. He finished No. 1 in the AFP world overall rankings for a mind-boggling sixth straight year. He had a breakthrough year on the X Games scene, winning silver medals in both halfpipe and slopestyle in Aspen, Colorado, after earning only one medal (a bronze) in 16 prior competitions. Kenworthy became the first skier to medal in both slopestyle and superpipe at the same X Games event since 2005. The next month, he medaled twice at X Games Oslo with bronzes in big air and halfpipe. Kenworthy also won the halfpipe at the grand prix in Mammoth Mountain, California.
Danell Leyva, Gymnastics
Gymnast Danell Leyva had a freak accident at his Miami home just days before the national championships, when he suffered a series of bad dog bites on his legs while trying to break up a fight between his two canines. The 2012 Olympian still competed at nationals with heavily bandaged legs and finished 16th. Still not 100 percent a few weeks later at the Olympic Trials, Leyva was named an alternate to Team USA. However, an injury to his 2012 Olympic teammate John Orozco opened up a spot for Leyva in Rio. And Leyva embraced the opportunity. The Cuba-born gymnast won an impressive two silver medals in Rio – on parallel bars and high bar – in one day. His parallel bars medal was the first for the U.S. since Jair Lynch won silver in 1996, and he went from being an alternate to the most decorated U.S. men’s gymnast in Rio.
Alexander Massialas, Fencing
Alexander Massialas spent 2016 ranked No. 1 in men’s foil, a huge feat for a U.S. fencer. At the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he fell just short of a gold medal, winning silver and bringing U.S. fencing back to prominence on the world stage. He became the first American man to win an individual medal since Peter Westbrook’s bronze in 1984, and he became the first to win an individual medal in foil since Albie Axelrod’s bronze in 1960. A few days later, Massialas was part of the U.S. team that earned bronze in the men’s foil team event, the first medal for Team USA since 1932. The 22-year-old’s stellar 2016 also includes individual gold and silver at grand prix events, plus two team silvers in world cup competition.
Ryan Murphy, Swimming
If it weren’t for a guy named Phelps, then Ryan Murphy might be the star man on the U.S. swimming team this summer in Rio. Murphy is a backstroke specialist who did nothing but shatter records in college and win three gold medals in Rio with the 100- and 200-meter backstroke and the 400-meter medley relay. He was the first American to sweep both races since Aaron Peirsol did so in 2004, and continued a reign of U.S. dominance in both events: In the 20 years before Rio, American men won every 100 back and earned nine of 15 available medals in the 200 back. His NCAA resume was equally impressive in 2016. The Cal junior won the national championship in both the 100-yard and 200-yard backstroke — the third straight year he’s accomplished that. He also placed third in the 200 individual medley.
Michael Phelps, Swimming
Michael Phelps had already won more Olympic medals and gold medals than any other athlete. But his last year as an Olympic swimmer will go down as one of his most memorable. It began in May, when Phelps’ fiancée Nicole Johnson gave birth to their first son, Boomer. The couple then married in secret before the Games, where Phelps was once again the center of attention. Competing in his fifth and final Olympic Games, the 31-year-old Phelps won five more gold medals and a silver medal to cap off his swimming career, plus his peers chose him as Team USA flag bearer in the Opening Ceremony. Among his highlights in Rio are winning his fourth straight 200 IM gold, becoming only the fifth athlete to have an individual four-peat, and breaking a first-place tie with Ancient Olympian Leonidas of Rhodes when he won his 13th individual Olympic title. He goes into retirement with a record 28 Olympic medals — 23 of them gold.
Brad Snyder, Paralympic Swimming
Brad Snyder, one of the stars of Team USA at the 2012 Paralympic Games, was again a force in the pool in Rio. The 30-year-old Snyder won three gold medals and a silver medal while breaking a 30-year-old world record in the 100-meter freestyle S11. No U.S. man won more medals at this summer’s Games. It was little surprise, then, when Snyder was voted Male Athlete of the Paralympic Games at the Team USA Awards. The Maryland native was blinded after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in the U.S. Navy in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Kyle Snyder, Wrestling
The only thing more reliable than Kyle Snyder’s phones has been his own determination. Long before the freestyle wrestler ever made it to Rio, he had a countdown to Rio on his phone. His phone broke, so he got another phone and started a new countdown. This happened several times. Meanwhile, the Ohio State Buckeye in 2015 became the youngest U.S. wrestler to win a world championship at age 19. In 2016, he won an NCAA title and then defeated 2012 Olympic champion Jake Varner at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to earn his spot in Rio. Snyder defeated Azerbaijan’s Khetag Goziumov 2-1 to claim gold in the 97 kg. division and become the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion ever.
Travis Stevens, Judo
One Olympic Games begat the next, and Travis Stevens finally reached the podium in Rio when he won a silver medal in the 81 kg. division in judo. Stevens made it to the quarterfinals in the Beijing 2008 Games and then the semifinals at London in 2012. After forcing his Georgian opponent to tap out in the 2016 Olympic semifinals, Stevens lost in the gold-medal match, but he still became the first American medalist in men’s judo since 2004 and the first U.S. medalist in his weight class. The feat was made all the more impressive in that Stevens nearly had to have his leg amputated due to a staph infection. Less than three months before Rio, Stevens became the first U.S. man to win the prestigious World Judo Masters tournament.
Roderick Townsend, Paralympic Track and Field
Roderick Townsend didn’t lack confidence heading into the Rio Paralympic Games. He just lacked a lot of experience on the Paralympic level. Neither fazed him as he won gold in both the high jump and long jump. Townsend was a decathlete at Boise State, where he competed against able-bodied collegians. He only got classified (T46) one year before the Rio Paralympics, and won a gold and three silver medals at the 2015 world championships. He’s currently the jumps coach at Northern Arizona.
Men's Basketball Team
The U.S. men’s team has been good as gold ever since Mike Krzyzewski was named coach after the program fell into a funk over a decade ago. The Americans won their third straight gold medal in Rio, and the final wasn’t even close. They beat Serbia 96-66 in the gold-medal match. Team USA had some close calls in the group stage and against Spain in the semifinal game, but the squad’s top two all-time Team USA points leaders — Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant — took over to lead the team to a strong finish. Anthony finished his career as the most-decorated men’s basketball Olympian with three gold medals and one bronze medal.
Scott McDonald has 18 years experience in sports reporting. He was named the State Sports Writer of the Year in 2014 by the Texas High School Coaches Association. McDonald is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.