As another Olympic year draws to a close, we give thanks for the inspiring performances from A to Z at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Team USA brought home a heaping helping of medals (236!) while also demonstrating sportsmanship and friendship with athletes from other nations. So, dig in!
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A is for Ashton Eaton
A is for Ashton Eaton, still the World’s Greatest Athlete. He became the first U.S. decathlete to repeat as Olympic champion since Bob Mathias (1948 and 1952) and tied the Olympic record with 8,893 points. Eaton also holds the world record of 9,045 points.
B is for Basketball
B is for basketball, a Team USA specialty. The United States claimed gold medals in both women’s and men’s competition, with the women winning a record sixth in a row and the men their third straight for an overall record of 138-5 dating back to 1936.
C is for Claressa Shields
C is for Claressa Shields, the queen of the boxing ring. Shields won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the middleweight division by unanimous decision in Rio. She is the first American boxer, male or female, to win back-to-back Olympic golds. With a 77-1 amateur record and two world titles, Shields punched her ticket to the professional ranks, winning her pro debut last Saturday.
D is for Abbey D'Agostino
D is for Abbey D’Agostino, the U.S. distance runner who epitomized fair play and the Olympic spirit. In their 5,000-meter heat, Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand tripped and fell, taking D’Agostino down with her. Although the American got up quickly, she would not leave her fellow competitor behind. D’Agostino helped Hamblin to her feet, urging her to finish the race. When D’Agostino, who was hurt in the fall, crumpled to the track in pain, Hamblin stayed with her and helped her get up. D’Agostino ran more than a mile with a severe knee injury and Hamblin was waiting to embrace her at the finish line. Both runners received a Fair Play award from the IOC and the International Fair Play Committee.
E is for Anthony Ervin
E is for Anthony Ervin, the oldest swimmer to win an individual event at any Olympic Games. At age 35 years, two months and 17 days, Ervin won the 50-meter freestyle. Sixteen years earlier, he had tied Gary Hall Jr. for the gold in the same event at the Sydney 2000 Games.
F is for Fencing
F is for fencing, a sport in which Team USA won four medals and ended several droughts. Alexander Massialas won the first foil medal by a U.S. male fencer since 1960 when he took the silver. He also joined Miles Chamley-Watson, Race Imboden and Gerek Meinhardt on the podium for the bronze in men’s team foil, the first for the U.S. in that event in 84 years. Daryl Homer clinched the silver in men’s saber (Team USA’s first since 1984), proving the U.S. men were more than a one-weapon team. On the women’s side, Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first U.S. Olympian to compete wearing a hijab, won a bronze medal in women’s team saber with Monica Aksamit, Dagmara Wozniak and Mariel Zagunis. Zagunis, a two-time gold medalist in women’s saber, is the most decorated fencer in U.S. history.
G is for Galen Rupp
G is for Galen Rupp, who won the Olympic bronze medal in only his second marathon. Rupp was the Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000-meter at the London 2012 Games while also competing in the 5,000. He tripled his options in 2016. Rupp won the Olympic Trials marathon – his first attempt at the 26.2-mile distance – in February in Los Angeles. At the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field in Eugene, Oregon, in July, Rupp qualified for both the 5,000 and 10,000. He dropped the shorter event, placed fifth in the 10K in Rio and eight days later reached the podium in the marathon.
H is for Helen Maroulis
H is for Helen Maroulis, the first American woman to win a gold medal in Olympic wrestling. She was definitely the underdog. Maroulis had to take down most decorated freestyle wrestler of all time: Japan's Saori Yoshida, the three-time reigning Olympic gold medalist and 13-time world champion, who was inconsolable after the 53 kg. bout.
I is for Isaksen
I is for Isaksen, sisters Margaux and Isabella. Margaux became the first woman to represent Team USA in modern pentathlon in three Olympic Games. She was joined by younger sister Isabella in her first Olympic appearance, making the Games — like Thanksgiving — a family affair.
J is for Jorgensen
J is for Gwen Jorgensen, who won Team USA’s first Olympic triathlon gold medal. After a flat tire deflated her hopes four years earlier — en route to a 38th-place finish at the London 2012 Games — Jorgensen won 17 races in the ITU World Triathlon Series, including 12 straight. Primed for gold in Rio, she won with a 40-second margin.
K is for Kayla Harrison
K is for Kayla Harrison, the first U.S. judoka to win back-to-back Olympic medals of any kind. Four years ago in London, Harrison was the first Team USA athlete to win a gold medal in judo. In Rio, the top-ranked Harrison defeated No. 2 Audrey Tcheumeo of France by ippon in the women’s 78 kg. gold-medal bout and promptly retired. However, she’s still a fighter. Harrison will now try her hand at mixed martial arts.
L is for Katie Ledecky
L is for Katie Ledecky, the most dominant female swimmer at the Rio Games and already one of the greatest swimmers of all time. Ledecky won four gold medals and a silver in Rio to go along with the gold she captured in London at age 15. Ledecky won the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles — shattering world records in the longer two events — and contributed to two relays. Ledecky is now smashing collegiate records at Stanford University.
M is for Michelle Carter
M is for Michelle Carter, who added some Olympic hardware to the family trophy case. She won the women’s shot put gold medal 32 years after her father Michael took the silver in the same event at the Los Angeles 1984 Games. Michelle’s win was Team USA’s first Olympic gold in women’s shot put. The Carters are the only father-daughter combination from Team USA to win medals at the Games. Ryan Crouser, who won the men’s shot put, is also from a family of Olympic throwers. His uncle, Brian Crouser, made two Olympic teams in the javelin.
N is for Grace Norman
N is for Grace Norman, who did more in 36 hours than many people accomplish in 36 years. Norman, 18, won the first Team USA gold in paratriathlon. She said of standing on the podium, “raising that flag, especially on 9/11, remembering and being thankful for my freedom was just amazing.” The following night Norman took the bronze in a different sport — track and field — in the women’s 400-meter T-44.
O is for One Thousand U.S. Gold Medals Won
O is for one thousand U.S. gold medals won. The U.S. women’s 400-meter medley relay team of Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Simone Manuel and Dana Vollmer swam into the history books by winning the 1,000th gold medal for Team USA at the Olympic Games in summer competition. Team USA came into the 2016 Games with 977 gold medals beginning with triple jumper James Connolly on April 6, 1896 and now has 1,023. Shooter Ginny Thrasher won the first gold medal of the Rio Games — in women’s 10-meter air rifle — and the U.S. men’s basketball team won the last gold of the Games, marking the first time in history Team USA took the first and last golds of the Games.
P is for Michael Phelps
P is for Michael Phelps, who, of course, is the greatest Olympian of all time. Phelps had a full plate once again at his fifth Olympic Games. He came out of retirement to add to his record haul with five gold medals and a silver. Phelps now has 28 medals, including 23 gold. For the first time, he was also a team captain and Team USA’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer. His son Boomer watched from the stands with Phelps’ wife, Nicole, whom he had secretly married in June.
Q is for Qualifiers
Q is for qualifiers, every member of Team USA who made it to the Games. A total of 558 athletes wore the red, white and blue at the Olympic Games, with 289 athletes comprising the largest U.S. Paralympic roster in history.
R is for Kim Rhode
R is for Kim Rhode, for whom winning Olympic medals is a 20-year tradition. Rhode is the first woman to win six medals in six straight Olympic Games. The shooter is also the first athlete — male or female — to hit that target in summer competition. Her bronze medal in women’s skeet in Rio also marked the fifth continent on which she has won a medal. Rhode, 37, was just 17 when she won a gold in Atlanta in double trap, becoming the youngest shooting champion in Olympic history. She won a bronze in 2000 and another gold in Athens. When double trap was dropped from the Olympic program, Rhode switched to skeet, winning the silver in 2008 and the gold in 2012. And she’s not done yet.
S is for Simone
S is for Simone, a name synonymous with success in Rio. Gymnast Simone Biles won four gold medals – including all-around and team titles – and a bronze while charming the crowd with her ease and effervescence. Meanwhile, swimmer Simone Manuel won two gold and two silver medals. Manuel tied for the gold in the 100-meter freestyle with Penny Oleksiak of Canada, becoming the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic gold in swimming. She also set an American record in the race and she and Oleksiak jointly hold the Olympic record.
T is for Tatyana McFadden
T is for Tatyana McFadden, the wheelchair racer who won four gold and two silver medals at the Rio Paralympic Games. McFadden also led Team USA sweeps in the T54 1,500 and 5,000-meter finals with Chelsea McClammer and Amanda McGrory. Swimmer Jessica Long also won six medals (three silver medals, two bronze and a gold). McFadden has now won 16 summer Paralympic medals since 2004 and also won a silver medal in Paralympic cross-country skiing at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.
U is for Team USA
U is for Team USA, which topped the medal count in its sixth straight Olympic Games. Team USA led the medal chart in every category for only the seventh time in Olympic history and the first since 1948, leading all nations with 121 medals, including 46 golds, 37 silvers and 38 bronzes. Team USA’s 121 medals were the most ever for a U.S. team in a non-boycotted Games, topping the previous high of 110 from Beijing in 2008.
V is for Venus Williams
V is for Venus Williams, who won her fifth Olympic medal — the most by any U.S. tennis player. At age 36, she teamed with Rajeev Ram to win the silver medal in mixed doubles, losing to fellow Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock. Williams began her Olympic career with the gold in singles and doubles (with sister Serena) in 2000, and also teamed with Serena for gold in 2008 and 2012.
W is for Women's Water Polo
W is for women’s water polo. Led by tournament MVP Maggie Steffens, the U.S. women’s water polo team was the first to successfully defend its Olympic title and the only nation to medal at each of the five Olympic Games since the women’s competition joined the program in 2000.
X is for X-Factor
X is for “X factor,” which men’s volleyball team captain David Lee called Taylor Sanders en route to a hard-fought bronze medal. The U.S. men, who won the gold in 2008, tied for fifth in 2012 and worked hard to return to the podium.
Y is for You
Y is for you — yes, you, the reader and viewer who cheered Team USA in Rio and from home.
Z is for Matthew Centrowitz
Z is for Matthew Centrowitz, a fitting end to our list since it is the last letter of the alphabet and the last letter of his name. Centrowitz ended one of the longest droughts in U.S. Olympic history when he won the men’s 1,500-meter. He became the first American to take gold in the race, one of the signature distances in the Games (the metric mile), since Mel Sheppard in 1908. His coach, Alberto Salazar, also has a “Z” in his name for good measure.