With 2298 medals at the Summer Olympics, the United States of America is the most successful nation in the history of the Games. The USA have competed in every Olympics except for the 1980 Moscow Games, and have hosted the Summer Olympics on four occasions
Thomas Burke was the first athlete to represent the United States at the Olympics, and he became the first to medal when he claimed gold in both the 100 metres and the 400 metres of the 1896 Olympics in Athens, Greece. That set the tone, and 12 of the 14 Americans to compete in those Games earned a medal, as the USA pipped Greece 11 to 10 in the gold medal count.
That early success came in track and field, and even as other sports were added to the Games that would continue to be the USA’s strength. After another solid showing in 1900, the Americans hosted the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri and won 241 of the 283 total medals awarded, although that was largely due to the fact that the Games were sparsely attended by athletes from outside the USA.
Politics would become a feature in the Olympics over the next century, and they raised their head for the first time in 1908 when American athletes refused not dip their flag to the British royalty during the opening ceremony in support of the Irish boycott over Great Britain's refusal to grant Irish independence. The USA would rank second on the medal table that year, behind hosts Great Britain, but four years later they were back on top ahead of the eight-year gap in Games due to the First World War.
The next time the USA were beaten on the medal table was 1936, as Germany hosted one of the more memorable Games. Jesse Owens recorded one of the greatest Olympic performances of all time as he won four gold medals on the track, and the picture of him standing on the podium in Berlin remains one of the most iconic images in Olympic history. Germany finished top of the medal table as Adolf Hitler watched on in the final Games before the Second World War.
The 1960 Summer Olympics were the first time that the athletes marched under the current flag, and they were also the first time that the Games were broadcast on US television after CBS bought the rights. Although the US were behind the Soviet Union on the medal table, they provided one of the standout athletes as Cassius Clay – who would later become Mohammad Ali – made his Olympic debut and won the gold medal for the light heavyweight division.
The 1972 Summer Games in Munich belonged to Mark Spitz, as the swimmer rewrote the history books with a remarkable seven gold medals in the pool, setting new world records in the process of winning each of those medals. His achievement would only be bettered 36 years later when his fellow countryman Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in the pool in Beijing.
The United States and a number of other countries boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, though some athletes from some of the boycotting countries participated in the games, under the Olympic Flag. This prompted the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics when Los Angeles hosted four years later.
The 1984 Olympics were iconic for the US not only because they hosted the Games for the third time, but because Carl Lewis won the 100m and 200m double as well as taking gold in the long jump. Michael Johnson would provide the highlights 12 years later when the Games returned to American shores, as he won the 200m and 400m in record times in Atlanta, Georgia.