Matt Slocum/Associated Press file photo
Matt Slocum/Associated Press file photo
Swimming, track and field, basketball, women’s soccer, Serena Williams and Aly Raisman. They all found their way onto U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst’s highlight list from the London Games.
“I like to hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ – a lot,” Probst said.
Good thing, because the U.S. national anthem has blared more than any other in London over these last two weeks, and it’s doubtful that will change much before the Olympic flame is extinguished tonight. With the games winding down, the U.S. opened a significant lead over China in the overall medals race and also was holding off the Chinese in the chase to win the most gold medals.
If the Americans finish atop the medal standings – and it was a near mathematical certainty that it would be the case – it would mark the fifth consecutive Summer Games where U.S. athletes took home more prizes than anyone else from an Olympics.
“The Olympic motto is faster, higher, stronger. And I think that every American came here to do that,” U.S. judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison said Saturday. “Not necessarily fastest, highest, strongest, but I came here to perform at my very, very best and make America proud as a result.”
She wasn’t alone.
American swimmers won 31 medals. Track and field was on pace for about 30, a goal that seemed farfetched to some in the U.S. Olympic movement not long ago. Gabby Douglas won the women’s all-around competition in gymnastics, Raisman left that venue with three medals, and Williams won Olympic gold at Wimbledon over Maria Sharapova in what Probst said was “the most dominating performance I have ever seen by a female tennis player, ever.”
Williams rolled over Sharapova that day, 6-0, 6-1.
Most of the other Americans weren’t quite that dominant – but weren’t exactly slackers, either.
“Yeah, we like to come in first. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Probst said. “This is a competition, and I think it’s absolutely great that we’re leading in the medal count, both on golds and in total. The last time we won both gold and the total was in Athens, so it’s been a while. I think it feels good to see our athletes be so successful on the field of play.”
USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun said about 200 American athletes will leave London with a medal, a figure buoyed by success in plenty of team sports. If his estimate of 200 holds, that would mean roughly 38 percent of the U.S. athletes competing at the Games would make at least one trip to the award podium.
“One of our primary objectives is to get as many American athletes on the podium as we can,” Blackmun said.
Blackmun said before the Olympics that the U.S. obviously was hopeful of winning the medal chase again but never revealed if the committee had a specific target number.
On Saturday, Blackmun did say the way the Games have panned out was “pretty darn close” to the U.S. expectations.
Through Saturday, U.S. Olympians in London had claimed 102 medals, 15 more than the Chinese. Americans also were leading the gold-medal chase over China 44-38.
“For me, it’s not a competition in medal count against somebody else,” said U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton, a gold medalist in London and the world-record holder in his event. “I think if you just are cheering your country on and you’re just trying to beat whoever is in front of you in your competition, the medals take care of themselves, really.”
Probst gave high praise Saturday to the way London organizers put the Olympics together, and a number of U.S. athletes also raved about the logistics – from buses running on time to the quality of the Olympic village.
Probst, however, took one good-natured shot at London organizing committee head Sebastian Coe, who said earlier this year that he expected China to take away more medals than anyone else.
“The only thing that Seb got slightly wrong was he predicted that we would come in behind China in the medal count,” Probst said. “And I told him back in April that we were going to work really, really hard to prove him wrong.”
So this medals win might be a bit sweeter for the Americans than the most recent ones that came at Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing.
“The American public has high expectations for our Olympic team and our Olympic athletes,” Probst said. “There was a lot of speculation about where we would finish as a team, and a lot of people predicted that we might finish second and some even suggested third. So we’re extremely proud of what our team has accomplished and what our athletes have accomplished.”