From skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Jessie Diggins landing on world cup podiums on Jan. 1, 2019, all the way through to the winners of “Milk Life presents, The Next Olympic Hopeful” being declared – and Shiffrin again landing on a podium – on Dec. 29, this year was filled with record-breaking performances, undefeated seasons, surprising upsets and unimaginable feats from Team USA’s top Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
It was a year where stars from the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 continued to show their excellence, while emerging summer athletes made a name for themselves and began to earn their tickets to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Here’s a look behind just a few of the numbers that made up Team USA’s impressive year:
Olympic-Event World Championship Medals: 135
From luger Emily Sweeney’s remarkable bronze medal in January – which came less than a year after she crashed at the 2018 Winter Games – to BMX park rider Hannah Roberts winning her second world title in November – just months ahead of her event’s Olympic debut – Team USA athletes competed on their sports’ highest stages (Olympic Games aside, of course) nearly all year long. Swimmer Caeleb Dressel contributed the most to this medal count, earning six medals in Olympic events (and eight total) at his sport’s biennial event, which included breaking a long-standing Michael Phelps world record. U.S. swimmers led the medal count at worlds with a whopping 27, as did their track and field counterparts with 29, which included Donavan Brazier becoming the first American to win the 800-meter world title. Among the countless other highlights: Gymnast Simone Biles won five gold medals, becoming the most decorated gymnast in world championships history with a career total of 25; Nevin Harrison became the first American ever to win a world title in a canoe sprint event; Brady Ellison claimed the long-awaited first outdoor world title of his career and first for a U.S. men’s archer in 34 years; Nathan Chen was the first U.S. men’s figure skater to win consecutive world titles in 35 years; Adeline Gray won her fifth world title for the most by a U.S. wrestler; shooter Ashley Carroll earned the first women’s trap world title by an American in 20 years; and alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin became the first to win four consecutive world titles in the same event (slalom), in addition to her super-G gold and giant slalom bronze from the same week.
Paralympic-Event World Championship Medals: 118
Just like their Olympic teammates, Para athletes competed in world championships held January through November. Kendall Gretsch emerged as the most dominant, claiming seven medals across two world championships. In the winter she earned four in cross-country skiing and two in biathlon, then transitioned to paratriathlon for the summer and took silver in that sport. Oksana Masters was not far behind with six total: two in cross-country, three in biathlon and one in road cycling. Also in winter sports, alpine skier Laurie Stephens claimed the eighth medal of her career while Thomas Walsh earned his first—and then won another; meanwhile, the sled hockey team reclaimed the top spot of the podium after falling to Canada in 2017. On the summer side, this was a year for worlds in both swimming and track and field, where Americans earned a combined 69 medals. Swimming performances were highlighted by Becca Meyers’ two world records and four individual medals, as well as Leanne Smith, who after not claiming any medals at her worlds debut in 2017 left the 2019 edition with four individual ones as well. In track and field, world records were set by Josh Cinnamo in the men’s shot put F46 and on the track by Deja Young and Brittni Mason. Young set the world record in the semifinals of the 100-meter T47, then worlds rookie Mason bested it in the final. Young would take silver in that final, then claim gold in the 200 later in the meet. Other multi-medalists there included Alexa Halko (bronze in 100- and 800-meter T34), Raymond Martin (gold in 100-meter T52, bronze in 400-meter T52), Amanda McGrory (silver in 400-meter T54, bronze in 800-meter T54), Susannah Scaroni (bronze in 800- and 5,000-meter T54) and Roderick Townsend (gold in high jump T47, silver in long jump T47).
Pan American Games Medals: 293
For the seventh consecutive time, the United States earned more medals than any other nation at the Pan American Games. The competition, which is held every four years and features almost all summer Olympic sports – plus others like bowling, squash and water ski, had a bevy of highlights for established U.S. stars and up-and-comers. Swimmers Nathan Adrian and Margo Geer earned more medals than any other athletes in Lima, Peru, with six each, while rhythmic gymnast Evita Griskenas tallied the most individual medals of the Games at five, including four golds. Two athletes in the sport of modern pentathlon used their impressive finishes in Lima to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020: Samantha Achterberg and Amro Elgeziry. The men’s water polo team also qualified for Tokyo with its seventh straight gold medal. U.S. teams also won gold in women’s softball and women’s water polo. Archer Brady Ellison broke a world record in the qualifying round, shooting 702 of a possible 720. Harrison Maurus earned the country’s 100th weightlifting medal in Pan Am Games history, dating back to the first one in 1951. Shooter Kim Rhode won her sixth consecutive Pan American Games medal, matching the feat she already achieved at the Olympic level. Lee Kiefer became the first fencer, regardless of gender or weapon, to win three Pan Am Games individual gold medals. The U.S. squash athletes dominated, winning seven medals across six events, including their first golds in men’s doubles and team.
Parapan American Games Medals: 185
Shooter McKenna Dahl opened the sixth edition of the Parapan American Games in a big way for Team USA, becoming the country’s first medalist at the Games and the first Parapan Am Games shooting gold medalist in history. The highlights kept rolling in from there. U.S. teams medaled in men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball, men’s and women’s goalball, soccer 7-a-side, men’s and women’s sitting volleyball and wheelchair rugby. Four of those teams earned their spots for the Tokyo Games, while the women’s sitting volleyball team continued its undefeated season, dropping just one of 16 sets, and the soccer team earned its first Parapan Am medal. The wheelchair tennis team earned five medals, with every member of the team contributing to that haul. Americans set six world records in track and field, including the two set by Nelya Stary Schasfoort in the women’s long jump T47 and 400-meter T47. Also on the track, Jaleen Roberts won four golds – three of which were in individual events. In the pool, Carson Sanocki led the way with four medals. Meanwhile, cyclist Clara Brown wowed with four medals in her four events: two golds on the road and a gold and bronze on the track. In the Parapan Am debut of badminton – ahead of its Paralympic Games debut next year, 14-year-old Miles Krajewski earned a historic silver medal. Taekwondo also made its debut before joining the Paralympic program in Tokyo and U.S. athletes earned three medals, including Evan Medell’s gold.
Olympic Athletes Qualified For Tokyo: 29
The 2020 U.S. Olympic Team began to take shape on July 14 when the first two athletes – open water swimmers Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell – qualified based on their results at world championships, which included a silver medal for Anderson; teammate Jordan Wilimovsky joined them the following day. Pentathletes Samanta Achterberg and Amro Elgeziry made their way onto the team in late July at the Pan American Games Lima 2019. Summer Rappaport was the first U.S. triathlete to qualify when she finished fifth at the Olympic test event in mid-August. A few days later, 18-year-old Brooke Raboutou became the first American climber ever to qualify for an Olympic Games during her sport’s world championships in Japan; Nathaniel Coleman and Kyra Condie joined her on the team in late November, and up to one more U.S. men’s climber could still qualify. Chloé Dygert, who is already an Olympic medalist in track cycling, competed at her first road cycling senior worlds in September, where she became the youngest time trial world champion – by the greatest margin of victory in event history – and earned her spot in Tokyo in that discipline. On Oct. 6 the 2020 U.S. Olympic Softball Team was named, revealing which 15 players will contend for a medal at the sport’s return to the Olympic program after a 12-year absence. Keeping with sports debuting or returning in Tokyo, surfer Kolohe Andino became the first American in his sport to make an Olympic team in mid-October. He was followed by Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks and John John Florence in December.
Paralympic Athletes Qualified For Tokyo: 4
Forty-four-year-old table tennis player Tahl Leibovitz became the first member of the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team when he won gold at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 on Aug. 24. Leibovitz has already competed at five Paralympic Games, claiming gold in 1996. In October, three wheelchair racers joined Leibovitz on the team that will eventually surpass 200 athletes. Tatyana McFadden, Daniel Romanchuk and Susannah Scaroni qualified for Tokyo based on their results at the Chicago Marathon – highlighted by a win for Romanchuk – which also served as the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials. This will be the second Games for Romanchuk, third for Scaroni and sixth for McFadden.
Olympic Teams Qualified For Tokyo: 7
While the U.S. women’s basketball and women’s softball teams secured their spots in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 back in 2018, the majority of team sports took care of their qualification this past year. With a historic season that included seven medals in 10 events – equaling its total from the prior 19 seasons – the men’s rugby sevens team qualified for Tokyo in May. The women’s team followed suit the following month, also having its best season ever with five of a possible six medals. Women’s water polo also qualified in June by winning the World League Super Final; the team is currently on an astonishing 63-game win streak and is expected to claim a third straight Olympic gold next year. The men’s team qualified in August when it won the Pan American Games Lima 2019. The volleyball teams earned their spots in Tokyo on consecutive weekends in August at qualifying tournaments when they both swept their opponents. Finally, the men’s basketball squad eked out qualification when it made the quarterfinals of the FIBA Basketball World Cup. The baseball team and both soccer teams will aim to qualify in 2020.
Paralympic Teams Qualified For Tokyo: 5
The women’s sitting volleyball team had qualified in 2018 – and the men’s team will try to succeed at its last-chance qualifier in 2020 – but all other team sports found their way to Tokyo in 2019. The women’s goalball team won silver at a qualifier in July in Indiana to claim its spot, and four other teams did so at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019. The wheelchair rugby and men’s wheelchair basketball teams won gold in Peru, while men’s goalball and women’s wheelchair basketball both earned silver. U.S. teams were a force to be reckoned with at the last Paralympic Games in 2016 and will have high expectations in Tokyo; in Rio, both wheelchair basketball teams and the women’s sitting volleyball team claimed gold, while wheelchair rugby and men’s goalball took silver and women’s goalball left with bronze.