ATHENS, Greece – While the U.S. men's basketball team fell short of its gold-medal goal, the bronze it won Saturday night helped the American delegation reach a bigger goal — it was the 100th U.S. medal of the Athens Games (search).
In reaching the target set months ago by U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Jim Scherr (search), the Americans passed their total of 97 medals won in Sydney. And with boxer Andre Ward sure to win either gold or silver on Sunday, the United States will at least match the 101 medals won in Atlanta in 1996.
Other Americans competing on the final day of these games are the men's volleyball team playing for bronze, two wrestlers and two long shots in the men's marathon.
The dash to 100 came in a flash Saturday night, starting with the men's 400-meter relay team taking silver. That made 97, tying the 2000 U.S. total, and it was quickly followed by the women's 1,600-relay squad winning gold. Minutes later, the men's 1,600 relay took gold as the final seconds ticked off on the basketball victory.
With 34 gold, 38 silver and 28 bronze medals, the United States will easily win the overall medal total for a third straight Olympics. However, China is close behind for the most golds.
At the 2000 Games, the U.S. team won 97 medals — 40 gold, 24 silver and 33 bronze. In Atlanta, the breakdown was 44-32-25.
Once Scherr set the target, he repeated it often. There was even a sign reading "100 Medals in Athens" that hung on the doors of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. It was a more difficult task than in Sydney because the Americans qualified in fewer events.
While hitting triple digits seems impressive, it's not all that noteworthy compared to the nation's Olympic history. It has happened six other times, although just twice in games held overseas — Barcelona (1992) and Mexico City (1968).
The American record is 214, set 100 years ago in St. Louis. The most since then was 174 set at the Soviet-boycotted 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
But if the magic number 100 sounds good to fans, it sounds even better to sponsors.
The most tangible benefit of reaching the goal is that the USOC can use it to try drumming up corporate support. After all, every company wants to be associated with a winner, as the USOC learned after its record medal total at the 2002 Winter Olympics (search) in Salt Lake City led to more sponsorship.