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Summer Olympics History: Top Ten Americans Before World War II

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2016 Summer Olympics: Can the U.S. Maintain Its Dominance in Men's Swimming?

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2016 Summer Olympics: Can the U.S. Maintain Its Dominance in Men's Swimming?


The U.S. was the most successful nation at the ten Summer Olympic Games held between 1896-1936, finishing at the top of the medal standings on seven occasions.

The Summer Games held before World War I were hampered by haphazard organization, poor facilities, myriad changes in the sports contested and their rules, as well as hardships endured by many athletes due to the transportation available a century ago.

With the resumption of the Summer Games following World War I in 1920, the aforementioned problems were gradually improved upon, resulting in more countries participating and better competition overall. Also, the opportunites for women to compete improved-slowly, but surely-through the 1920s and '30s.

The following list includes brief profiles of ten great American Olympians of the era:

Babe Didrikson: An incredible all-around athlete who was a pioneer in women's sports, Didrikson won three track and field medals at the 1932 Olympics, with two golds. Among her other accomplishments in sports was a tremendous career in professional golf.

Ray Ewry: An oft-overlooked Olympic star, Ewry was simply the greatest competitor in jumping events a century ago, and remains to this day one of the most decorated Olympians. He was the winner of a combined 10 gold medals at the three Olympics spanning 1900-08. Put simply, Ewry was every bit as dominant in his events as modern-day greats like Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt have been in theirs.

Duke Kahanamoku: The Hawaiian legend excelled at many water sports, including surfing and swimming. At three Olympics encompassing a dozen years from 1912 to 1924, Kahanamoku had five podium finishes in freestyle swimming events, including three golds.

Alvin Kraenzlein: Kraenzlein was a track star for the U.S. at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. He was victorious in the now-discontinued 60 meters and 200-meter hurdles, as well as the 110-meter hurdles and the long jump. His long jump title, however, has always been controversial.

Jesse Owens: Even casual sports fans are aware of the achievements of Jesse Owens in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics. Owens rocketed down the track to record titles in the 100 and 200 meters, led the U.S. to the 4x100 meter relay gold, and capped off a remarkable Games with gold in the long jump.

Dorothy Poynton: Poynton had a long, illustrious Olympic career in diving. Competing at three straight Summer Games from 1928 to 1936, she captured consecutive 10-meter platform golds in '32 and '36, among her four total medals.

Betty Robinson: Robinson was America's star on the track in women's sprint events from the late 1920s through the 1936 Olympics. Although life-threatening injuries from an accident forced her to miss the 1932 Olympics, she still earned three medals, with two golds.

Jim Thorpe: A star in baseball and football, Thorpe also ranks as one of the top Olympians for the U.S. by virtue of gold-medal performances in the decathlon and pentathlon in 1912. An excellent biography of his life can be found at this site.

Eddie Tolan: Several years prior to the exploits of Jesse Owens in Berlin, Tolan was the best for the U.S. on the track in the 100 and 200 meters. He won gold in both events at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Johnny Weissmuller: Weissmuller was the top Olympic performer in freestyle swimming in the 1920s, as he earned five gold medals between the 1924 and 1928 Olympics. He parlayed his success in the swimming pool into a lucrative career on the Hollywood silver screen for decades.

Patrick Hattman covered the London Games for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He is already looking forward to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

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