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London Olympics: U.S. wins medal count, but British celebrate as well

Sunday, August 12, 2012 | 3:14 p.m. CDT; updated 5:02 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 12, 2012
U.S. athletes won the most gold medals and the most overall medals at the 2012 London Olympics.

LONDON — Most medals. Most gold medals. The U.S. left no doubt at the Olympics.

When the U.S. men's basketball team took the Olympic title Sunday, it won the 46th gold medal for Americans in London, their highest total at a "road" Olympics. The U.S. — winners of 104 medals overall in London, easily the most of any country — won 45 golds at Paris in 1924 and Mexico City in 1968.

LeBron James recognized that winning gold means more than, well, winning gold.

"It means more than myself, it means more than my name on my back. It means everything to the name on the front," he said.

The final numbers for the Americans in London won't go down as record-setting for all Olympics.

They won 83 golds (174 overall) at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, boycotted by most of the Soviet bloc countries; and 78 golds (a whopping 239 overall) at the 1904 St. Louis Games, when U.S. athletes won roughly seven out of every eight medals.

Different eras, different dynamics. By any measure, 2012 will be considered a booming success for the U.S.

Many thought the Chinese would go home with more medals than the Americans, and that didn't come close to happening. China won 38 golds, its most ever on foreign soil, but finished 17 medals behind the U.S. overall and took a major step back from when it served as the host team four years ago.

"We are immensely proud of the success that our athletes had in London," U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said Sunday.

With good reason.

Red, white and blue was everywhere in London over the last two-plus weeks, waved proudly and often.

And remember, that's not just the color scheme of the U.S. flag, but the Union Jack of the British, too.

Britain had plenty to celebrate at these games: 29 gold medals, 65 medals overall, riding the wave of home-field energy for its best Olympic showing in more than a century to deliver on a promise of greatness in 2012 — and possibly set the stage for continued success down the road.

"What I've witnessed in the last couple of weeks has been both uplifting and energizing," London Games chief Sebastian Coe said. "I don't think any country that has staged the games or any city that staged the games is ever the same afterwards."

Celebrations weren't limited to the big nations — Grenada won its first Olympic gold, with Kirani James winning the men's 400-meter dash. And six other countries hit the Olympic podium for the first time.

"I think these games were absolutely fabulous," International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said.

Well, for most, anyway.

Australia won only seven gold medals in London, half as many as it did in Beijing — and no individual gold medals in the swimming pool for the first time since 1976, something that would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago when the likes of Ian Thorpe were among the world's very best.

And Brazil, which will host the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, has some work to do over the next four years, in addition to all the construction that comes with getting ready for sport's largest spectacle. The Brazilians won three golds in London, those coming in women's volleyball, judo and gymnastics, and their overall medal haul of 17 was its best at an Olympics.

Still, that's not exactly what fans of the home team at an Olympics have come to expect. The Brazilians already have plans in place for an Olympic Training Center to be built in Rio, and levels of funding for athletes and teams will likely be unprecedented for the South American nation.

The Olympic committee clearly hopes whatever Brazil invests now will pay off in 2016.

"We need gold medals up front," Rogge said. "That is so important for the mood of the public, of the general atmosphere of the games."

Michael Phelps ended his Olympic career in London with a record 22 medals, the last six of them won here, the most of any athlete in London, as his amazing run ended with — what else? — a splash. Four other athletes in London won five medals, three of them American swimmers, including 17-year-old Missy Franklin.

"We're Americans and we're human," said Teresa Edwards, the United States Olympic Committee's mission chief for London. "When I was competing, when I went up against another country, I felt they wanted the same thing I wanted. But we were given an opportunity to prove it at that moment, and that's what these games give us."

Swimming and track combined to deliver 60 medals for the U.S., and to the athletes, the medal count most definitely mattered.

"I do feel it's important for us to be the No. 1 team because we've held that title and to lose that title would be somewhat disappointing," said Dee Dee Trotter, who won gold on the U.S. 4x400-meter relay team. "We just want to maintain the level of talent and the level of medals we always bring home, and if we fall short, that would mean we're not bringing our 'A' game. So, yes, absolutely important for us."

Blackmun said the medals are just part of what he'll remember about London.

Sure, there were the stars — Phelps, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, British cyclist Chris Hoy — but there also were those who just missed, like triathlete Sarah Groff and modern pentathlete Margaux Isaksen, both fourth-place finishers.

"They fell just short but inspired us with their determination," Blackmun said. "Just as importantly, all of our athletes were good ambassadors, and we have no doubt that they left a positive impression both in London and with the hundreds of millions of Americans who were watching back home."


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