Team USA goes medal-less in Day 1 of Summer Olympics for first time in 49 years

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The 2020 Olympics officially got underway on Saturday with the first 11 of 339 gold medals, plus 26 of their silver and bronze siblings, meeting their new owners in Tokyo.

For the first time in nearly a half-century of the Summer Olympics, none of those new owners were American. According to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, it was the first medal-less Day 1 for the United States since Munich in 1972.

While a medal-less Day 1 isn't infrequent in the Winter Olympics for the U.S. — the same thing happened in 2018 at Pyeongchang — the only other time the United States didn't have a medal by the end of the first day of a Summer Olympics was when it boycotted the 1980 Olympics.

Why didn't Team USA medal in Day 1?

Saturday's drought covered the following 11 events in seven different sports:

  • Mixed team archery

  • Men's road race cycling

  • Women's epee fencing

  • Men's saber fencing

  • Women's 48kg judo

  • Men's 60kg judo

  • Women's 10m air rifle shooting

  • Men's 10m air pistol shooting

  • Men's 58kg taekwondo

  • Women's 49kg taekwondo

  • Women's 49kg weightlifting

Obviously, none of those sports are ones that typically power the U.S. medal count, like swimming, track & field, gymnastics and basketball. There wasn't even an American entered in the judo and taekwondo events.

The only events in which the U.S. seemed to have a reasonable shot at a medal going in was men's saber and women's 10m air rifle. Eli Dershwitz is ranked No. 2 in the world in saber, but fell to three-time world champion and 2016 bronze medalist Junghwan Kim. Mary Tucker was the Associated Press' pick to win gold in the rifle event, but finished sixth while the first gold medal of the competition instead went to China's Qian Yang.

The closest Team USA ever got to any medal might have actually been the cycling road race, where Brandon McNulty unexpectedly sat in second place late in the race, but quickly faded for a sixth-place finish.

If you want to take the Day 1 drought as an omen, the 1972 U.S. Olympic team eventually posted 33 gold medals and 94 total medals, both marks second to the Soviet Union. The U.S. would finish behind the Soviets in the next two Summer Olympics as well.

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