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18 Medal Droughts Team USA Ended At The Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Nov. 03, 2016, 3:16 p.m. (ET)

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs finally reached the pinnacle of Major League Baseball again, winning the World Series in a thrilling seven games over the Cleveland Indians. It was professional sports’ longest such drought… but several months earlier at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, one U.S. Olympian broke an equally long drought. But he wasn’t the only one to end a dry spell in his particular event. From 16 years to 108 years, here are 18 droughts broken by Team USA athletes in Rio.

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1) Brady Ellison, Archery

Ellison knew the significance of his accomplishment in Rio well before he shot his final arrow. With a team medal already under his belt, his individual bronze medal was the first individual medal of any color by an American archer since Vic Wunderle won silver in 2000. Ellison defeated the Netherlands’ Sjef van den Berg, 6-2, in the bronze-medal match, scoring a perfect 30 points in the third set to break a 2-2 tie.

2) Lilly King, Swimming

Making her Olympic debut, King made a huge splash in Rio when she took gold in the 100-meter breaststroke ahead of four-time world champ Yulia Efimova and teammate Katie Meili. Her 1:04.93 finish ensured her the first gold in the event won by an American woman since Megan Quann in 2000.

3) Katie Ledecky, Swimming

Ledecky owned the pool in Rio, winning four gold medals and five medals overall, setting a new record in seemingly every race. Indeed, in the 400-meter freestyle, she lowered her own world record by two full seconds to claim gold. She became the first U.S. woman to win the event since Brooke Bennett did so in 2000.

4) Sarah Robles, Weightlifting

At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, U.S. weightlifters Tara Nott and Cheryl Haworth won gold and bronze, respectively. No other American weightlifter had stood on the podium since, until Robles stepped onto the platform in Rio. The super heavyweight competitor lifted a combined 286 kg., including 126 kg. in the snatch and 160 kg. in the clean and jerk, to take home her historic bronze medal.

5) Shakur Stevenson, Boxing

Though Stevenson was disappointed to take home silver instead of gold in men’s bantamweight boxing, losing a split decision to Cuba’s Robeisy Ramirez, his finish was a historic one for Team USA. It marked the best result for a U.S. men’s boxer since 2004 and he was the first U.S. bantamweight boxer to medal since Clarence Vinson won bronze in 2000.

6) Ginny Thrasher, Shooting

Thrasher not only won the first gold medal of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she broke a 16-year drought to do so. On the opening day of competition, she set a new Olympic record in women’s air rifle with a score of 208.0 to take gold by a point over China’s Du Li and become the first American woman to win the event since 2000.

7) Danell Leyva, Gymnastics

Leyva’s road to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games was a rocky one, as he was injured in a freak accident in May and eventually named an alternate to the men’s gymnastics team, tabbed for competition only after a teammate’s injury. But he made all the struggles worthwhile, winning a stunning silver on the parallel bars with a score of 15.9. It was the first medal in the event by an American gymnast since Jair Lynch won silver in 1996.

8) Clayton Murphy, Track and Field

The 21-year-old Murphy wasn’t alive the last time a U.S. man medaled in the 800-meter: Johnny Gray won bronze at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games three years before Murphy was born. With a personal best time of 1 minute, 42.93 seconds, Murphy matched that bronze-medal performance, using a blistering kick on the homestretch to take his place in the history books.

9) Nico Hernandez, Boxing

Hernandez ended an eight-year medal drought for U.S. men’s boxers, but he also ended a drought that was significantly longer. His bronze medal made him the first U.S. man to win a light flyweight medal since Michael Carbajal won silver in 1988.

10) Evan Jager, Track and Field

For Jager to win silver in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, it took running a season’s-best time of 8:04.28 in what Jager said was his perfect race. He finished one second behind Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto, who set an Olympic record with his time of 8:03.28; Jager’s time was under the old Olympic record, which had stood since 1988. Jager’s silver medal was the first of any color in the event for a U.S. man since Brian Diemer's bronze in 1984.

11) Simone Manuel, Swimming

Manuel made all kinds of history by standing on the podium in Rio. Her gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle was the first individual medal won by an African American woman, but it had more significance as well. Manuel’s gold was the first for a U.S. swimmer in the event since Carrie Steinseifer and Nancy Hogshead tied for gold in 1984. Interestingly, Manuel also tied for gold with Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, the two setting a new Olympic record of 52.70.

12) Alexander Massialas, Fencing

Ranked No. 1 in the world in men’s foil entering the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Alexander Massialas put high expectations against the weight of history. His silver medal etched his name into the history books: he became the first U.S. men’s fencer to win an individual medal at the Olympic Games since Peter Westbrook won a bronze in men's saber in 1984, and the first U.S. Olympian to win a foil medal since 1960, when Albert Axelrod won bronze.

13) Daryl Homer, Fencing

In 1984, Peter Westbrook won an Olympic bronze medal in men’s saber fencing. Years later, a young Daryl Homer began learning the sport in Westbrook’s fencing program. Now living just 10 blocks apart in New York City, Homer became the first U.S. man since his mentor to win a saber medal when he earned silver in Rio. Together with Massialas, he helped bring about the first multi-medal Olympics for the U.S. in individual men’s fencing since 1904.

14) Alex Naddour, Gymnastics

U.S. men’s gymnasts have had noted struggles on the pommel horse in recent years, but Naddour did his part to quiet the critics. With his score of 15.700, he finished in the bronze-medal position behind Great Britain’s duo of Max Whitlock and Louis Smith. This was the first pommel horse medal for Team USA since Peter Vidmar and Tim Daggett won gold and bronze in 1984.

15) Michelle Carter, Track and Field

In her third Olympic appearance, Carter became the second person in her family to win an Olympic shot put medal, following her father Michael Carter’s silver in 1984. She also became only the second U.S. woman to win a medal in the shot put, breaking a 56-year drought after Earlene Brown’s in 1960. Carter broke her own American record on her sixth and final throw with a heave of 67 feet, 8 ¼ inches to win gold, the only U.S. woman ever to do so.

16) Paul Chelimo, Track and Field

Chelimo had quite a bumpy road to his 5,000-meter silver medal. He almost didn’t make it out of his heat at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field after mistakenly taking a sleeping pill instead of a pain reliever. Once in Rio, he won an Olympic silver medal, lost it through disqualification and won it again, all within about 90 minutes. In the end, his personal best of 13.03.90 stood up as the first U.S. medal in the event since Bob Schul and Bill Dellinger earned gold and bronze in 1964.

17) Men's Foil Team, Fencing

It was a long, long wait for U.S. men’s foil fencing teams. The 1932 squad earned bronze, and so began 84 years of fighting to return to the podium. The group of Miles Chamley-Watson, Race Imboden, Alexander Massialas and Gerek Meinhardt came agonizingly close at the London 2012 Olympic Games, falling in the bronze-medal contest to finish fourth. But the same group was back with a vengeance in Rio, defeating defending champion Italy, 45-31, to claim bronze.

18) Matthew Centrowitz, Track and Field

The Chicago Cubs may have ended a 108-year drought in 2016, but Centrowitz did it first. No U.S. man had won gold in the 1,500-meter, the metric mile, since Mel Sheppard did so in 1908. (How’s this for eerie? Before their 108-year drought, the Cubs won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1908. And before their 108-year drought, U.S. men won back-to-back 1,500-meter Olympic gold medals in 1904 and 1908.) Centrowitz finished fourth in 2012 and was determined not to be denied in Rio, leading at every split before grabbing gold with a time of 3 minutes, 50 seconds.

Related Athletes

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Michelle Carter

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Matthew Centrowitz

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Miles Chamley-Watson

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Paul Chelimo

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Brady Ellison

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Nico Hernandez

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Daryl Homer

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Race Imboden

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Evan Jager

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Lilly King

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Katie Ledecky

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Danell Leyva

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Simone Manuel

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Alexander Massialas

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Gerek Meinhardt

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Clayton Murphy

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Alex Naddour

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Sarah Robles

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Shakur Stevenson

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Ginny Thrasher