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By John Lohn
LONDON, August 4. THE moment Nathan Adrian hit the touchpad to cap the United States' victory in the men's 400 medley relay, the last triumph for the Stars and Stripes at the 2012 Olympic Games, discussion could begin on the status of this American squad. Where does it rank on a historical basis? If nothing else, it will go down as one of the best.
With 16 gold medals, the United States managed its most Olympic victories since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, when Team USA walked away with 21 gold medals. In 1984, however, some top competition was missing due to the Eastern Bloc boycott led by the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the U.S. also won 30 overall medals at the London Games, an impressive number considering the growing parity in the sport.
The strong showing for the United States started with a solid few days, but as the meet progressed, the all-time winningest nation in Olympic history became more powerful. The competition ended with American victories in both medley relays and a message sent to the rest of the world: On a team basis, there is some serious catching up to do.
The multi-event medal performances by the likes of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte spoke volumes for the veteran portion of the team. Meanwhile, impressive efforts by 17-year-old Missy Franklin and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky screamed of continued success into the future. In between, there were countless efforts of considerable note.
And historically, the United States could argue the London Games as its best showing in 28 years. Here's a breakdown of the United States' medal count going back to the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
* 2012: 16 gold (30 overall)
* 2008: 12 gold (31 overall)
* 2004: 12 gold (28 overall)
* 2000: 14 gold (33 overall)
* 1996: 13 gold (26 overall)
* 1992: 11 gold (27 overall)
* 1988: 8 gold (18 overall)
* 1984: 21 gold (34 overall)
* 1980: Boycott
* 1976: 13 gold (34 overall)
The success of this American team compared to those of the past depends upon an individual's perspective. Is greater emphasis paid to gold medals? Or, is greater emphasis placed on the overall medal count? Either way, 2012 will go down as a big-time showing.
**Not that it was surprising, but the performance by China's Sun Yang in the 1500 freestyle was downright incredible, the distance star making an assault on his own world record from the outset. Finishing in a global standard of 14:31.02, Sun further illustrated that he has taken the metric mile to once-unthinkable heights.
Sun actually broke from the blocks before the starter's beep, for a moment leading to the possibility of a disqualification. However, it was deemed that crowd noise was the reason for his premature dive, and Sun was able to compete in the biggest event of his career. Rather than be rattled by the circumstances, he was in command the whole way.
As legendary as Australian Grant Hackett was in the event, he's been lapped by Sun's ability. It just happens that the talent of Sun is being cultivated by Denis Cotterell, the same man who mentored Hackett. With gold in the 400 free and a share for silver in the 200 free earlier in the meet, Sun is unquestionably a candidate for World Swimmer of the Year.
**Taking down relay records from tech-suit era was considered to be one of the toughest feats, due to four individuals getting a fresh boost from the advantageous apparel. However, the United States showed it could be done when the quartet of Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt clocked 3:52.05 in the 400 medley relay.
The American squad consisted of a lineup in which each woman had at least one individual gold medal from the London Games. The margin of victory proved to be more than two seconds over two-time defending champion Australia, a gap which illustrated just how far ahead the United States women have moved in relation to the rest of the world.
There was a time not long ago in which the United States wasn't the premier women's power in the world, that distinction going to the Aussies. Now, however, the Americans are back on top and feature a roster which doesn't cause any concern for a dropoff anytime soon.
**Big credit to Dutchwoman Ranomi Kromowidjojo for claiming victory in the 50 freestyle, thus handing her a sweep of the freestyle events. Since just after last summer's World Championships, Kromowidjojo has been the best sprinter in the world, but that identity doesn't always translate to Olympic success. The 21-year-old handled the pressure and expectations well and got the job done in London.
**The final regional count for medals went in favor of the Americas, which racked up 34 medals between the efforts of the United States, Brazil and Canada. The Pacific Rim finished with 33 medals while Europe checked in with 25. Africa accounted for four medals.
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