Why The U.S. Lacks Olympic Medal Contenders

  • By Bethany Mavis
  • Published Aug 19, 2014
  • Updated May 18, 2016 at 11:50 AM UTC
Athletes compete at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo: Janos Schmidt/

USA Triathlon speaks to why the culture in the U.S. hasn’t produced more Olympic medals in triathlon.

Since triathlon’s debut at the Summer Olympics in 2000 in Sydney, the U.S. has earned just one medal (a bronze from Susan Williams in 2004). And heading into the 2012 London Olympics, the U.S. only had a couple of realistic medal contenders, both on the women’s side: Gwen Jorgensen, who’d placed second at the London test event a year prior, ended up having a disappointing Olympics, and Sarah Groff, the first American woman to make the podium in a WTS race, just barely missed out on a medal in the final sprint finish, ending up in fourth place.

While nations like Australia (five medals), Switzerland (four medals) and New Zealand (three medals) have consistently earned medals, the U.S. has the same number of medals as the Czech Republic. So why has the U.S. not earned a medal in the last two Olympics? And why is there a particular lack of men’s medal contenders?

“I think there are a couple of explanations,” says Andy Schmitz, USA Triathlon’s high performance general manager. Some of them stem from the culture in the U.S. as well as the participation of men and women in high school swim and cross-country programs (Dan Empfield breaks down the numbers specifically in this Slowtwitch article).

RELATED – 2016 Olympics Update: Where The U.S. Stands Now

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Bethany Mavis

Bethany Mavis

Bethany Mavis is the managing editor of Triathlete magazine. She's a mom, rec soccer player, multiple half-marathon finisher and is learning daily how to become a better triathlete.

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