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#pounditSaturday, April 13, 2024

Top five stories for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics

Simone Biles

The 2016 Summer Olympics Games in Rio have provided some spectacular and historic moments thus far. There have been Olympic records shattered, world records set, new heroes born, and countries that have never before won a medal stepping into the limelight.

Even for those representing the United States of America there have been instances of monumental and life-changing success. In some cases, there has even been controversy.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the top five moments for the USA.

5. Lilly King makes waves, figuratively and literally

Not every top moment comes without some sort of uproar. And such was the case for swimmer Lilly King.

King, who won two gold medals (women’s 4x100m medley relay and women’s 100-meter breaststroke) during her trip to Rio, caused quite the stir with her criticism of athletes who had been caught up in doping scandals, including Russian rival Yulia Efimova and even Team USA teammates Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay.

“Do I think people who have been caught doping should be on the team? They shouldn’t,” King said via The Guardian after qualifying for the women’s 200-meter breaststroke semi-finals, in which she placed seventh. “It is just something that needs to be set in stone.”

The 19-year-old immediately caught flack for her comments, but when pressed, stuck to her guns.

“My parents raised me to say what I wanted to say even if it wasn’t what people wanted to hear necessarily. That’s always been how I am,” King said. “I obviously got some negative backlash [over my comments], which I expected. But for the most part the support has been very positive.”

King’s comments made waves not only in the United States, but also in Russia after Efimova claimed her Olympic experience was made “a nightmare” thanks to King.

“It was war,” Efimova told USA Today. “It was like a nightmare. This completion is a relief because I love racing, but this was more like a war.”

The lasting image of the cold “war” between King and Efimova will be a Dikembe Mutombo-like finger wag that will undoubtedly be replayed thousands of times over the next four years.

4. A star is born in Simone Biles

Some contend there is no such thing as perfection, but Simone Biles certainly came close to achieving that during her time in Rio.

Even as a favorite entering the Olympics, the 19-year-old Biles astounded spectators with her incredible athleticism, strength and poise. She ultimately finished the Games having won four gold medals (women’s vault, women’s floor exercise, women’s individual all-around and women’s team all-around) and one bronze medal (women’s beam).

Only an unexpected slip on the beam — a slip in which she remarkably recovered — kept Biles from winning a fifth gold medal.

Despite her mistake, Biles still finished the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in historic fashion. She is the only US gymnast in history to win four gold medals, and one of only a handful world-wide throughout history to accomplish such a feat. In fact, not since Romania’s Ecaterina Szabo in 1984 has any one gymnast been so dominant.

Biles’ remarkable performance has some calling her the greatest gymnast not just in American history, but in Olympic history.

One such person is “America’s Sweetheart,” 1984 women’s gymnastics champion Mary Lou Retton.

“I say it over and over. She is the greatest gymnast ever, I really do think that,” Retton told People. “She’s a special athlete, very unique with a God-given talent that you don’t teach. . . She’s just the best gymnast I’ve ever seen in my life and I think a lot of us as athletes and even Olympic champions say the same thing.”

In addition to becoming the only US gymnast in history to win four gold medals, Biles joins Mary Lou Retton (1984), Shannon Miller (1992) and Nastia Liukin (2008) as the only gymnasts to ever win five medals during an Olympic competition.

It’s remarkable to think that Biles is only just now getting started.

3. Michael Phelps exits as the greatest ever

Following the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, American swimmer Michael Phelps announced his retirement. But after only two years, he decided it was time to return.

Phelps’ comeback was initially marred by controversy, however. He was arrested in September of 2014 on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding, and subsequently suspended by the United States for six months. He would go on to miss the 2015 World Aquatics Championships.

But a return to the Olympic Games in 2016 would finally offer Phelps a chance at redemption, and he immediately grabbed the bull by the horns.

Phelps finished what would ultimately be his final Olympic appearance with five gold medals (men’s 4x200m freestyle relay, men’s 200-meter butterfly, men’s 4x100m medley relay, men’s 4x100m freestyle relay and men’s 200-meter individual medley) and one silver medal (men’s 100-meter butterfly).

In total, Phelps ends his career with 28 medals, 23 of which were gold. Comparatively, that would make him the most decorated US athlete in history.

Not enough? If he were his own country, Phelps would rank 32nd all-time. He also has more gold medals than all but 12 countries since 2004.

Still not enough? In a total medal count, Phelps tops all but 46 countries. Ever. As in 120 years. That also means he has more Summer Olympic medals than 160 other countries.

Pehlps’ medals, stacked on top of each other, also tower him by more than one foot.

At the end of the day, it all makes Phelps the greatest ever. The legitimate G.O.A.T.

“I’m in the best place possible, with everything that’s going on in my life,” Phelps told Yahoo! Sports during his retirement press conference. “This is what I wanted to finish my career with. This is the cherry I wanted to put on top of the cake.

“When I decided to come back I wanted to do it the right way. I wanted to challenge myself, see how much more I could actually do. Looking back at the two-plus years spent training, I don’t have anything else that’s left.”

For Phelps, it’s an exit befitting of a King. And deservedly so. He did America proud.

2. Katie Ledecky smashes her own world record

Complete and total domination. That is legitimately the only way to describe what Katie Ledecky did to her opponents as she completely shattered her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle.

“I just wanted to lay it all out there,” Ledecky told NBC after her race. “It’s my last swim here. The Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport and I have to wait another four years to have that moment, and I just wanted to enjoy it all and put my very best swim out there.”

There is no overstating how dominant Ledecky was. The best possible way to put it into context is a still photo of her finish where not so much as a single competitor was in the frame.

Not only was the 8:04:71 performance a new world record, but her next closest opponents didn’t finish the race until 11.4 seconds later.

After the fact, fellow US superstar, Michael Phelps, asked her for her autograph, recreating a moment the two had shared more than 12 years earlier.

Ledecky would ultimately finish the Games with four gold medals (women’s 200-meter freestyle, women’s 4x200m freestyle relay, women’s 400-meter freestyle and women’s 800-meter freestyle) and one silver medal (women’s 4x100m freestyle relay).

1. Simone Manuel makes history

Entering the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Simone Manuel wasn’t the most well known US athlete. In fact, she wasn’t even the most well known Simone representing the United States of America.

But then Manuel’s life changed forever. And as part of that change, she may have changed the lives of many others coming after her.

With her gold medal performance in the 100-meter freestyle, Manuel became the first African-American woman in history to win a gold in an individual swimming event at the Olympic Games.

“I definitely think it raises some awareness and will get [others] inspired,” Manuel told the New York Times following her victory. “I mean, the gold medal wasn’t just for me. It was for people that came before me and inspired me to stay in the sport. For people who believe that they can’t do it, I hope I’m an inspiration to others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it.”

In the aftermath of her historic moment, social media erupted in celebration. An instant superstar, Manuel was receiving messages from the likes of LeBrom James, who also grouped in words of encouragement and praise for Simone Biles.

But Manuel wasn’t done making history. After capturing silver in both the 50-meter freestyle and the 4x100m freestyle relay, she went on to win another gold medal in the women’s 4x100m medley relay.

The significance of that gold? It was the 1,000th US gold medal since the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.

When the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo roll around, you had better believe the 20-year-old Manuel will be a far more recognizable figure then than she was entering 2016.

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