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20 Times Team USA Women Stole The Show At The Rio Olympics

By Karen Price | March 20, 2017, 12:06 p.m. (ET)



As we celebrate Women of Team USA Week, there’s no better place to start than looking back at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

In an unprecedented showing, U.S. women who won 61 of Team USA’s 121 medals, with an additional five in mixed events, and 27 of the United States’ 46 gold medals. But it wasn’t only the medals that made Team USA women stand out in Rio. Across disciplines and events, from athletes both young and old, fans were treated to spectacular displays of strength, speed, skill and sportsmanship.

Here are 20 times Team USA women stole the show in Rio:

Gymnast Simone Biles Hauls in the Hardware
At just 19 years old, Biles had already won nearly everything there was to win in gymnastics several times over, but she’d never had a crack at the Olympics. That all changed in Rio, when the tiny but mighty powerhouse lived up to sky-high expectations and won gold medals in the all-around, floor, vault and team events, as well as bronze on beam. Next up, she’ll follow in the steps of gymnasts before her including teammates Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez and compete on “Dancing with the Stars.”

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Aly Raisman Was Really Good, Too
At age 22 Raisman may have been the “grandma” of the Final Five in Rio, but Grandma Aly also put in one of the best performances in U.S. gymnastics history. She finished second to Biles in the all-around and floor exercise while helping the team take the gold medal in her second Olympic appearance. In doing so, her six total medals made her the second-most decorated U.S. Olympic gymnast behind Shannon Miller.

Gwen Jorgensen Wins First Triathlon Gold
The United States had never won a gold medal in Olympic triathlon before 2016, but Jorgensen kicked it into another gear on the final lap of the run. It’s a move for which the 2014 and ’15 world champion and exceptional runner is well known in the triathlon community, and this time it allowed her to win by 40 seconds over the 2012 gold medalist and accomplish a goal she set for herself four years earlier.

The U.S. women's eight rowing crew celebrates on the podium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Lagoa Stadium on Aug. 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Kayla Harrison Defends Her Judo Title
No American woman had won two Olympic medals in judo before 2016, but Harrison quickly and decisively defeated everyone who came up against her in Rio. She’s now not only the only U.S. woman to medal twice, but the only American of either gender to win two gold medals in judo. Harrison announced her retirement shortly after the Games ended and her intention to move into MMA fighting.

Abbey D’Agostino Embodies True Olympic Spirit
D’Agostino’s Olympic dream came crashing down along with her body in the semifinals of the 5,000-meter track race after she tripped over a fallen competitor, New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin. Her next move, however, showcased everything good about Olympic competition. D’Agostino helped Hamblin up and encouraged her to finish the race. It was then Hamblin’s turn to push D’Agostino to finish the race as the pain from the torn ACL and meniscus suffered in the fall almost became too much to bear. At the finish line, the two athletes embraced. The International Olympic Committee later awarded the two with the Fair Play Award.

Ibtihaj Muhammad Makes History In Hijab, Earns Medal
Muhammad made news across the United States leading into Rio because of her plan to do something no American had ever done before — compete at the Games wearing a hijab. The member of the U.S. fencing team is Muslim and embraced the opportunity to challenge stereotypes and be a role model for other women and girls. Although she fell short of an individual medal, she did win bronze as part of the team saber competition.

Kim Rhode Continues Her Streak
Rhode became the youngest Olympic shooting champion ever when she won gold in Atlanta at the age of 17, and 20 years later she added to her legacy in the sport. Rhode won a bronze medal in skeet in Rio and became the first athlete to win a medal in six consecutive summer Games, and the first woman to medal in six consecutive Games. She plans to try to make it seven in a row in 2020.

Women’s Eight Continues To Be Great
Few teams in history can claim to be as dominant as the U.S. women’s rowing eight. Although the team members have changed over the years, the American women continue to be unstoppable. Their Olympic gold medal in Rio was their third in a row, and the team now has an unbeaten streak in world championship and Olympic competition that is 11 years long. The last time they lost a major international competition was 2005.

Basketball Domination Continues
The women of USA Basketball also know a thing or two about dominating the competition. They won their sixth straight and eighth overall Olympic gold medal in Rio and ran their overall Olympic record to 66-3 dating back to 1976. After two years with Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma coaching the U.S. women in Olympic competition, 2020 will see South Carolina coach and three-time Olympian Dawn Staley take the reins.

Water Polo Completes A Heck Of A Run
It’s impossible to talk about dominant U.S. women’s Olympic teams and not include the squad that won gold in water polo in Rio. They went undefeated at 6-0 last summer, outscored opponents by a combined score of 73-32 and became the only team to medal at every Olympic Games since the sport debuted in 2000. They also became the first team to defend its Olympic water polo title. The 2016 gold medal continued a dominant run of success during which the U.S. team became the first in the sport’s history to hold all four major titles — Olympic, world championship, World Cup and World League.

Helen Maroulis Upsets A Wrestling Legend
While every athlete works hard to prepare for what will be the biggest moment of his or her career on the Olympic stage, Maroulis took it a step further by studying the woman she knew would likely stand in her way. By the time Maroulis met the legendary Saori Yoshida, the three-time Olympic and 13-time world champion from Japan, in the final of the 53 kg. class, she’d learned Yoshida’s moves and what she liked to do. Maroulis came out on top, and earned the United States its first gold medal in women’s wrestling.

The U.S. women celebrate winning gold in the 4x100-meter medley at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Aug. 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Claressa Shields Becomes First Boxer To Defend Title
At just 21 years old, Shields became the only U.S. boxer, male or female, to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals. The middleweight champion defeated the Netherlands' Nouchka Fontijn in the final Olympic match by unanimous decision and closed out her amateur career with a staggering 77-1 record. Shields is now a professional boxer.

Katie Ledecky Dominates The Pool
Ledecky was in a class by herself in the pool last summer. The 19-year-old swimmer claimed five medals, including four golds, and did so in two cases by shattering her own world records. She became just the second woman to sweep the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles, and she finished so quickly at times that she made it look as if her opponents had to swim an extra lap.

Simone Manuel Wins First Individual Swimming Medal By Black Woman
Manuel, who is one of Ledecky’s Stanford teammates, made her own history in Rio when she became the first black woman to win an individual Olympic swimming gold medal. The history-making swim came in the 100 freestyle, when Manuel tied Canada’s Penny Oleksiak for the gold medal in Olympic-record time. And she wasn’t done. Before heading home, Manuel also won a gold medal in the 4x100 medley and silver medals in the 50 free and 4x100 free.

Michelle Carter Wins Historic Gold In Shot Put
Carter was already an American indoor shot put record holder, but she doubled down in Rio when her final throw of the competition traveled 67 feet, 8 1/4 inches to break her own U.S. outdoor record. Not only did she become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in the event, she also became just the second American woman to medal in the discipline. Carter was named USA Track & Field’s Female Athlete of the Year.

Hurdlers Sweep The 100
Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin made history when they won gold, silver and bronze — respectively — to give the United States its first women’s sweep in Olympic track and field and make it the first sweep ever by a country in the history of the event. And while Rollins’ (12.48 seconds) and Ali’s (12.59 seconds) place was clear, it was a photo finish for Castlin, who finished in 12.61 seconds and beat Great Britain’s Cindy Ofili by just .02 seconds.

Venus Williams Does It Again
The four-time Olympic tennis gold medalist — once in singles and three times in doubles — returned to the Games for the fourth time in 2016 and went home with a silver medal in mixed doubles. She and partner Rajeev Ram fell in the championship match to fellow Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock, but Williams now shares the record with Kathleen McKane Godfree, of the United Kingdom, for most Olympic medals won by a male or female tennis player.

Kristin Armstrong Returns And Leaves A Champion — Again
Armstrong retired from cycling after winning her second gold medal in the time trial in London in 2012, she but returned in 2015 with the goal of making the Olympic team. She not only did that, but on the day before her 43rd birthday she earned her third consecutive gold medal in the event and provided proof to all those who believe age is nothing but a number.

Ginny Thrasher Gives Team USA Its First Gold
Thrasher didn’t start competitive shooting until she watched it on television during the 2012 Games, and as the youngest member of the U.S. rifle team last summer, the college sophomore was thinking more about gaining experience for 2020 than competing for a medal. Yet Thrasher set an Olympic record with a score of 208.0 in the final and outshot two Chinese athletes who entered the match with six Olympic medals combined to win gold in the 10-meter air rifle, the first gold medal awarded at the 2016 Games.

Swimmers Give Team USA Its 1,000th Gold Medal
Simone Manuel anchored the U.S. 4x100-meter medley team that included Kathleen Baker, Lilly King and Dana Vollmer to not only win gold but also give Team USA its 1,000th gold medal at the summer edition of the Games, dating back to 1896. The race and milestone win came on the final day of swimming competition.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Related Athletes

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Simone Biles

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Aly Raisman

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Gwen Jorgensen

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Kayla Harrison

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Abbey D'Agostino

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Ibtihaj Muhammad

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Kim Rhode

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Claressa Shields

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Katie Ledecky

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Simone Manuel

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Michelle Carter

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Brianna Rollins

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Nia Ali

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Kristi Castlin

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Venus Williams

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Kristin Armstrong

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Lilly King

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Dana Vollmer