Olympic gold is arguably the pinnacle of athletic excellence.
Team USA has dominated the modern-day Olympics, winning more than twice as many gold medals as any other country since the rebooted games began in Athens in 1896.
As American athletes compete in the Tokyo Olympics, Newsweek takes a look back at some of Team USA’s greatest moments in photographs.
The first celebration of the modern Olympic Games took place in its ancient birthplace, the Greek capital, Athens.
On April 6, 1896, American James Connolly won the triple jump to become the first Olympic champion in more than 1,500 years.
It is worth mentioning that Athletes from only 14 countries took part.
The 1900 Games were held in Paris as part of the World’s Fair—the previous year’s fair had brought the opening of the Eiffel Tower.
However, competitions were spread over five months and officials under-promoted the event to such an extent some athletes had reportedly not realized they had taken part in the games.
The star of the 1900 Games was Team USA’s Alvin Kraenzlein, who won the 60m, the 110m hurdles, 200m hurdles and the long jump.
He is seen right of centre in the back row of this photograph from the time.
St. Louis 1904
Events at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games were this time held over four-and-a-half months and coincided with a World’s Fair celebrating the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France.
One of the stand-out competitors was Team USA’s Archie Hahn (pictured), known as the Milwaukee Meteor, who won the 60m, 100m and 200m.
The 1908 Olympic Games were originally awarded to Rome, but they were reassigned to London at the last minute after it became apparent the Italian capital would not be ready in time.
Team USA’s Forrest Smithson (pictured second right) competed in the games, at which he won gold in the 110-meter hurdles on the final day, with a then-world record setting time of 15.0 seconds.
Stockholm, Sweden, was the host city of the 1912 Games.
It introduced several key innovations, including the Olympics’ first use of automatic timing devices for the track events, the photo finish and a public address system.
Team USA’s Platt Adams competed in the Olympic triple jump and Olympic Baseball demonstration event in 1912.
The 1916 Olympic Games were scheduled to be held in Berlin but were cancelled due to the chaos of World War I.
The 1920 Games were instead eventually awarded to Antwerp to honor the suffering inflicted upon Belgium during the war.
In addition to being the man who popularised the sport of surfing, Team USA’s Duke Kahanamoku became the first swimmer to win the Olympic 100m freestyle twice in a row.
In 1921, the International Olympic Committee announced an innovative Winter Sports Week would occur in 1924 in the French town of Chamonix.
This event was considered a rousing success, attracting 10,000 paying spectators, and was retrospectively named the First Olympic Winter Games.
American Charles Jewtraw became the first Winter Games champion by winning the first event, the 500m speed skating.
For the first time, a symbolic fire was lit during the Games, with the eternal flames housed in a cauldron situated at the top of a tower in the Amsterdam stadium.
Team USA’s Betty Robinson won the 100 metres in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam just before she was 17 years-old and remains the youngest ever winner of the event.
Robinson was severely injured in a plane crash in 1931, but came back to win gold again in 1936. She died in 1999.
Los Angeles 1932
The 1932 Olympic Games were held in the depths of the Great Depression, but the standard of sporting competition was high.
Helene Madison anchored Team USA to victory in the 4x100m freestyle relay, helping to smash the world record by an impressive 9.5 seconds.
The next day, the swimmer battled in the pool teammate Lenore Kight in the 400m freestyle and won a third gold medal by just barely touching the wall first.
That night, Madison reportedly celebrated by dancing at the Coconut Grove nightclub with actor Clark Gable.
The Berlin Games are remembered fondly for Adolf Hitler’s failed attempt to use them to prove his revolting theories of Aryan racial superiority.
The most popular hero of the Games was the African-American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in the 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.
The Olympic Games had not been held in either 1940 or 1944 due to World War II, and London was called upon at short notice to host them.
Team USA’s 17-year-old Bob Mathias won the decathlon a mere four months after taking up the sport and he remains the youngest athlete in Olympic history to win a men’s athletics event.
Israel and the Soviet Union entered the Olympic Games for the first time and concerns Cold War rivalries would escalate from the athletics fortunately proved unfounded.
Team USA boxer Floyd Patterson’s early performances in the Helsinki 1952 Olympic arena marked him out as a rare talent.
Melbourne, Australia, won the right to host the 1956 Olympic Games by one vote over Buenos Aires.
Team USA’s Bobby Morrow—aka “The San Benito Bullet”—won the 100m, before beating reigning Olympic 200m champion Andy Stanfield to complete the sprint double.
Rome was finally awarded its opportunity to stage the Olympic Games, 54 years after Italy was forced to give up hosting the world’s leading sporting event.
Wilma Rudolph stormed the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, breaking three world records in the process and becoming the first American woman athlete to win three track and field gold medals at one Olympic Games.
She retired aged just 22 in 1962, saying that she wanted to be remembered at her best.
Rudolph famously went on to carry out inspiring work for the emancipation of Black women in the U.S.
The 1964 Tokyo Games were the first to be held in Asia and marked the last time a cinder running track was in the athletics events, while a fibreglass pole was used for the first time in the pole vaulting competition.
The games were also the last occasion that hand timing by stopwatch was used for official records.
Team USA star Don Schollander made history at Tokyo 1964 by becoming the first Olympic swimmer to win four golds at a single Olympic Games.
Mexico City 1968
The choice of Mexico City to host the 1968 Olympic Games was controversial due to the city’s high altitude above sea level: 2,300m.
The altitude proved an advantage to some athletes in the events which require short, intense exertion.
The games—the first held in Latin America—witnessed Team USA’s Wyomia Tyus became the first athlete to retain the Olympic 100m title.
Eight Palestinian Black September terrorists broke into the Olympic Village, killing two members of the Israeli team and taking nine hostages during the 1972 Munich Games.
This resulted in many of the details of the Munich Games paling into significance, despite many sporting records falling.
Team USA star Mark Spitz was the most successful athlete at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, winning seven gold medals, all in world record time.
The 1976 Montreal Games was controversial for the African boycott involving 22 countries protesting the New Zealand rugby team’s tour of Apartheid South Africa.
Team USA’s Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn Jenner, won gold in the men’s decathlon at the Montreal Olympics, with his 8,617 points setting a world record in the event.
These Summer Olympics were also disrupted by a boycott, this time led by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, to protest the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Los Angeles 1984
After the financial problems of 1976, only Los Angeles bid for the right to host the 1984 Olympic Games.
Team USA gymnast Mary-Lou Retton won five medals at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, more than any other athlete.
Awarding the Olympic Games to South Korea is often regarded as responsible for kickstarting the country’s journey towards democracy.
Other than Team USA Seoul 1988 star Matthew Biondi, the only other swimmers to have won seven golds at the Olympic Games are Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps.
American basketball superstars, including Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, The produced blistering performances as part of the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The games were also a major event for former Soviet states in the Baltic. Estonia and Latvia made their first appearance as independent countries since 1936, while Lithuania sent its first team since 1928.
The other ex-Soviet republics participated as a “unified team,” although these winning Olympic athletes were honored under their own republics’ flags.
Team USA gymnastic star Shannon Miller won a brace of gold medals at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
Earlier, Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron to get the games off to a dramatic and emotional start.
There were some spectacular comebacks in the Australian Games, but arguably none more so than the Team USA’s Softball team.
Despite losing three consecutive games, the team regrouped and won gold in spectacular fashion by beating each of the teams they had previously lost to.
Triathlon and taekwondo were two popular new additions to the Olympic programme.
Michael Phelps’ phenomenon performance—taking home six gold and two bronze medals—took the limelight at Athens 2004, but another American athlete also showed sublime swimming skills.
Natalie Coughlin was the top female swimmer at the games, winning five medals, including two gold.
A record 201 National Olympic Committees participated in these games.
But there was no debate about the national icon four years later.
Phelps won a record eight gold medals during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
These Olympic Games were considered a resounding success, with a memorable Opening Ceremony—bettered only by the athletes’ extraordinary achievements.
The London 2012 Games were centred around the Olympic Park in East London, while other prestigious venues—such as Wembley Stadium for football, the All-England Club in Wimbledon for tennis, Lord’s Cricket Ground for archery and Horse Guards Parade for beach volleyball—were also used to great effect.
Kobe Bryant, widely regarded as one of the all-time greatest basketball players, played a decisive role in Team USA’s London 2012 Olympic triumph. Bryant died in a helicopter crash in 2020.
Rio de Janeiro 2016
The Rio 2016 Games are thought of fondly by Olympic aficionados as providing the best possible environment for peak performances.
In her first Olympics, Team USA starlet Simone Biles won gold in the all-around, team, vault and floor, and bronze on the beam.