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TOKYO – The American women had been trending toward leading the medal count. In the Tokyo Olympics, they hit the accelerator.
The U.S. women finished the Games with 66 medals to lead the team. They helped the USA finish first in the overall medal count with 113 to China's 88, including 39 golds to 38 for China.
“Fundamentally, access to women sport in our country is catching up to the elite levels, and we’re blessed that we’ve seen progress,” said Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “The ability to achieve the highest levels in a number of sports and across a wide variety of sports speaks to the work that’s done by a lot of folks frankly who came before me that have worked really hard to build a system that will showcase them, and it’s starting to bear fruit.”
The American women delivered some of the memorable and iconic moments of the Olympics. The basketball team claimed its seventh consecutive gold, beating Japan on Sunday, while the water polo team won its third gold in a row and the volleyball team won its first.
Sunisa Lee became the fifth all-around Olympic champion in gymnastics and fourth consecutive for the Americans, following Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson.
And Allyson Felix – in her fifth Olympics and first since having her daughter in 2018 – claimed bronze in the 400 meters and gold in the 4x400 relay, giving her the 10th and 11th Olympic medals of her career.
“I’ve seen other U.S. athletes do such incredible things these Games,” Seidel said. “Seeing my friend Courtney Frerichs win silver (in the steeplechase) the other day was my inspiration. Seeing her do that and race aggressively was truthfully what gave me the strength to not be afraid to stick my nose in it."
Mind your medals: Full list of every medal for Team USA at Summer Games
The women first took control of the U.S. medals in London 2012, winning 61 to 55 for the men. In Rio five years ago, they claimed 58 to the men’s 55.
The London Games came on the 40th anniversary of Title IX, a federal law that bars discrimination “on the basis of sex” in educational institutions receiving federal funds. Sports opportunities for women have multiplied exponentially since it passed, and the U.S. team is seeing the benefit of that.
“When you look at the correlation between Olympic performance and the collegiate system, it’s undeniable," Hirshland said. "You have to give a nod to Title IX, to the collegiate system as a primary driver of this development, no doubt."
American women expanded the gap between their medal totals and that of the men. That is likely to have impacts on funding as the U.S. team looks to the Paris Olympics in three years.
“We do it on where is our greatest opportunity to drive elite performance,” Hirshland said. “To the extent that those opportunities reside with our female athletes, the funding will follow.”
Here’s a look behind the medal table:
Japan scores with new sports
The Tokyo Games added five sports to the Games, and that worked to Japanese athletes’ benefit.
The addition of baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing created 62 more medal opportunities. While 27 countries claimed at least one, Japan was far and away the winner with 14.
That includes winning gold in three out of four skateboarding events and sweeping the baseball/softball golds.
Mixed results for mixed gender
Tokyo added nine mixed-gender events in seven different sports, including mixed triathlon and a 4x100 medley relay in swimming. Those were largely democratic, too, and 17 different countries earned medals. China and the USA each claimed four of the 27 available medals.
Japan climbs medal count
Olympic hosts often receive a bump in the medals, and the Japanese were no different.
Japan claimed 58 medals, 27 of them gold. In Rio, Japan took 41 medals, 12 of them gold.
Three countries claimed their first-ever Olympic medals – Burkina Faso, Turkmenistan and San Marino.
San Marino, a country of 34,000, which is surrounded by Italy, claimed three medals. Myles Amine won bronze in freestyle wrestling’s 86 kg class, Alessandra Perilli took bronze in women’s trap shooting, and she combined with Gian Marco Berti for mixed team trap silver.
Berti, a lawyer by profession, trained in his spare time to get here.
"No, I need to be a lawyer because I need to live my life. Being a professional shooter would not allow me to earn money to live a good life,” he said. "At this time, shotgun shooting gives me a lot of happiness."
Bermuda, Qatar and the Philippines broke through with their first Olympic gold medals during the Games.
Several sports were added to appeal to a younger audience, and one stood out. At skateboarding, four of the six medalists in the women’s events were 13 or younger. That included Kokona Hiraki, 12, who became the first athlete since 1936 to win an Olympic medal before her 13th birthday.
In all skateboarding competitions, seven of the 12 medalists were in their teens or younger.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US, led by women, tops China in final medal count for Tokyo Olympics