The 10 teams enshrined in the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame occupy legendary positions in the pantheon of all-time greats.
There are the men’s ice hockey teams of 1960 and 1980, which taught the U.S. to believe in miracles. The 1984 men’s gymnastics team. The 1996 women’s gymnastics team, from which the image of an injured Kerri Strug hobbling on one leg after the team clinched its gold medal will endure forever in discussions of Olympic determination. Along with the men’s basketball teams of 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1992, the 1996 women’s soccer team and the 2004 women’s softball team, this group includes the best of the best, and now one more team will join them as the hall of fame readies to enter its permanent home in the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado, opening in early 2020.
Will it be the 1996 women’s basketball team, the 1998 women’s ice hockey team or the 2010 men’s four-man bobsled team that joins the first class to enter the Hall since 2012?
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Team USA fans can help decide by casting their vote at TeamUSA.org/Vote between now and Sept. 3. Here’s a closer look at the impressive finalists:
1996 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team
When people talk about the dream team in basketball it’s often about the 1992 men’s squad, but this was a dream team that launched a multitude of careers and redefined women’s basketball in the U.S. Going 8-0 in the Olympic tournament and 52-0 in international competition over the course of the season, the U.S. won and won big, to the delight of the home crowds that followed them in Atlanta.
Defining Moment: Competing in front of a record 32,987 fans at the Georgia Dome, the U.S. defeated Brazil 111-87 to win the first of six consecutive Olympic gold medals, a streak the U.S. women carry into 2020. They set an Olympic women’s basketball record for single-game field-goal percentage in that game by shooting 66.2 percent.
Key Player(s): Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Sheryl Swoopes, and Dawn Staley are just a few of the players who became household names during the Games. The whole team was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame as Trailblazers of the Game in 2016, and six individuals are enshrined at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Bet You Didn't Know: Leslie was so good that she’s a finalist not only with the team but also individually in the Olympian category for the class of 2019. She owns four Olympic gold medals, but 1996 was her first. She led the team in scoring that year with 19.5 points per game.
Why You Should Vote For Them: Not only is the U.S. women’s basketball team one of the most dominant in sports today as a result of what the ’96 team started, but the Atlanta team also helped spark the emergence of the ABL and WNBA women’s professional leagues. The ABL folded in its third season, but the WNBA is still going strong, and more recent Olympic stars such as Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings have talked about watching the ’96 team as their inspiration. Three of the five U.S. Olympic women’s basketball single-game records they set still stand: field goals made (47), field goal percentage (.662) and assists (30). That says a lot given the amount of talented teams that have followed in their footsteps.
1998 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team
Most of the United States was still asleep when the U.S. won the first Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. The reverberations, however, are still being felt today.
Defining Moment: The U.S. and Canada were by far the best teams in the tournament, but Canada was favored to win against the underdog Americans. The momentum began to shift when the U.S. beat Canada in pool play. After a scoreless first period of the gold-medal game, Gretchen Ulion scored on a power play in the second period, Shelley Looney scored on the advantage in the third and then Sandra Whyte added an empty netter as the U.S. went on to a 3-1 victory to claim the Olympic title.
Key Players: Cammi Granato, Karyn Bye, Katie King and Ulion all scored eight points throughout the tournament to lead the team. Angela Ruggiero, the youngest player on the team at 18, defined what it meant to be a top defenseman and would go on to three more Olympics, winning two silvers and one bronze. Ruggiero is also a finalist for the Olympian category in the class of 2019. Goaltender Sarah Tueting made 21 saves on 22 shots in the gold-medal game and went 3-0-0 overall.
Bet You Didn’t Know: The opportunities for women to play internationally in sanctioned IIHF tournaments were limited prior to the Olympics. Between 1990 and 1997 there were four world championships and two Pacific Rim Championships, and Canada beat the U.S. for the title in all of them. The U.S. and Canada then went on a 13-game tour across North American in the lead-up to the Nagano Games. The U.S. won six of those games.
Why You Should Vote For Them: Like the 1996 women’s basketball team, the 1998 ice hockey team inspired a whole new generation of athletes, including future Olympian Meghan Duggan. Duggan was 10 years old in 1998 and credits watching that team with her desire to play for the U.S., and 20 years later she was captain when the red, white and blue won Olympic gold medal No. 2 in PyeongChang. Overall, USA Hockey experienced a 50-percent increase in female registration and a 40-percent increase in all-female teams within two years following the win in Nagano, and registration went from 28,000 women before 1998 to roughly 80,000 today.
2010 U.S. Olympic Four-Man Bobsled Team
Sixty-two years is a long time, and that’s how much passed in between the U.S. winning an Olympic gold medal in four-man bobsled in 1948 and then again in 2010. The 2010 gold medal in Vancouver was the culmination of a string of success for the team, including winning the 2009 world championship, the first such title for the U.S. since 1959.
Defining Moment: The U.S. built a huge lead on Day 1, setting course records on both runs, before cruising to a dominant victory on Day 2. Their final margin of victory was a massive 0.38 over the German sled driven by Andre Lange, who’d won the last two Olympic gold medals in the event.
Key Players: The USA-1 “Night Train” crew consisted of pilot Steven Holcomb and brakemen Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler and Curt Tomasevicz.
Bet You Didn’t Know: The team nearly lost its driver three years prior to the Games as his eyesight deteriorated, and had Holcomb retired it most certainly would have set the remaining members on a different path. Twelve different surgeons told Holcomb he needed cornea transplants because of the eye disease keratoconus before he found one who performed a non-surgical procedure that saved his sight and allowed him to continue on the path to Olympic glory.
Why You Should Vote For Them: Throughout their run of success, the U.S. men were known for helping advance sled technology, helping teammates and interacting with sponsors, fans and volunteers. Their friendship, perseverance, teamwork and dedication are still held as Olympic ideals today, and Holcomb, a three-time Olympic and six-time world medalist who died in 2017 at the age of 37, is still held as the standard for U.S. sliders.
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.