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Top 10 medal-winning moments from Rio

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The U.S. Olympic team came away with 121 medals during the Rio games that concluded on Sunday. Among those were 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze.

They won golds in 14 different sports that included ending long droughts in certain events. Of the 121 medals, 77 came from swimming, track and field and gymnastics. Some of the medal-winning performances stand out among some of the others.

At the risk of slighting medal-winning performances, here is this observer’s top 10 medal moments in descending order.

  • Matthew Centrowitz taking the gold medal in the men’s 1500-meter run. His victory was unexpected as he was not a reigning or former world champion. In the end, he finished ahead of five other challengers who were within one second. Centrowitz became the first American to win the event since 1908.
  • Claressa Shields’s gold in boxing. She dominated the gold medal bout against Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands, earning a unanimous 3-0 decision from the judges. With her victory, Shields became the first American boxer to ever win two golds.
  • Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross winning bronze in women’s beach volleyball. Walsh Jennings was a three-time gold medalist with partner Misty May-Treanor and had never lost a match in the Olympics. Walsh Jennings played poorly in semi-finals against second-seeded Brazilian team. Came back after losing first set to defeat other Brazilian team to take the bronze.
  • Paul Kipkemoi Chelimo’s silver in the men’s 5,000-meter run. He finished only 0.6 seconds behind gold medalist Mo Farrah of Great Britain, but was disqualified for stepping on – not over – the track boundary line. His reaction to being disqualified, then reinstated, made for good television. When it was over the Army Specialist became only third American to medal in the event and first since 1964.
  • The U.S. men’s winning bronze in volleyball. Just after suffering a crushing 3-2 defeat to Italy in the semifinals, the Americans faced a good Russian team for the bronze. They fell behind by two sets, then came roaring back to take the final three. A key factor was the play of seldom-used 38-year-old Reid Priddy, playing in his final Olympics.
  • It is hard to pick which of Katie Ledecky’s four gold medals stand out, but her gold in the women’s 800 meter freestyle wins here. When she touched the wall, she was a full 11 seconds ahead of silver medalist Jazmin Carlin of Great Britain. Ledecky set a world record time of 8:04.79.
  • Simone Manuel’s gold in 100m freestyle. She was not favored to win and was in fourth as the race neared its conclusion. In the end, she touched at precisely the same time as Canada’s Penny Oleksiak to share the gold in Olympic record time.
  • Women’s gymnastics team and individual all-around golds. In the team event, retiring coordinator Martha Karolyi’s “Final Five” defeated second place Russia by 8 points. Spots 2-8 were separated by just 4 points. Simone Biles won the individual all-around over teammate Aly Raisman. Raisman gained some satisfaction after being knocked out of a bronze in 2012 due to a bizarre tie-breaker system.
  • Lilly King’s gold in 100m breaststroke. After being identified as using performance enhancing drugs, Russia’s Yulia Efimova was still allowed to compete. King called out Efimova, saying “I’m not a fan” of the Russian. King then proceeded to defeat Efimova by nearly two seconds while setting a new Olympic record.
  • Michael Phelps winning gold in 200m butterfly. Phelps had lost to Chad le Clos of South Africa in the 2012 Olympics. Clos, for some reason, was trying to play mind games with Phelps, also known as “tugging on Superman’s cape.” Phelps was more demonstrative than normal at the end of the race, while Le Clos finished out of the medals. The last of his 23 gold medals, the 4×100 meter freestyle relay is also worthy of mention.

Let the debate begin.


Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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