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Olympic Medal Count: U.S. Swimming Keeping Medal Race Even with China

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02:  Gold medallist Michael Phelps of the United States and Silver medallist Ryan Lochte of the United States pose with the medals won in the Men's 200m Individual Medley final on Day 6 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 2, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Jacob FreedmanCorrespondent IAugust 2, 2012

When it comes to competing with the United States for superiority on the podium in the Summer Olympics, it looks like the Chinese are here to stay.

We saw it coming with they finished second in gold medals at Athens in 2004 with 32, and in 2008 the Chinese clobbered the Americans in golds 51-36.

In 2008, 12 of those 36 American golds came in the pool. Michael Phelps and the U.S. swimming team literally kept their country afloat on the medal stand

Nothing different four years later.

After hauling in three golds today thanks to Rebecca Soni, Tyler Clary and some guy named Phelps, the United States has 11 golds in the pool. Of the 12 swimming medals doled out today, five of them went to an American.

Today, the U.S. finally passed China in the overall medal count at 37-34. Just as important, the Americans moved into a tie with the Chinese in the gold medal count with 18. China’s Olympic training program is known for its “gold-or-bust” mentality, and right now that race is even.

Track & field, as well as other events the Americans are traditionally strong in, are yet to come, but right now American swimming is carrying the Olympic squad on its back, accounting for 23 of America’s 35 overall medals so far.

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte have not been the superstars some expected these Games, with each only having one individual gold to their name so far in London. Instead, surprising depth has carried the team.

Matt Grevers, Nathan Adrian, and Tyler Clary were all swept away in the eyes of the media before London, thanks to the storm that is Phelps and Lochte.

Yet, each of these three men has as many individual golds as Lochte or Phelps. In fact, Grevers is the only American man to set a world record in London with his time in the 100-meter backstroke.

As for the most exciting race? That distinction goes to Adrian who held off Australian favorite James Magnussen by one-hundredth of a second in his 100-meter freestyle victory on Tuesday.

Dana Vollmer, Soni and new American heartthrob Missy Franklin have all brought golds back to the States as well.

Soni also brought home silver, while Franklin won bronze as part of the women’s 4x100-meter relay.

Still, the pool is no longer a total safe haven for the Americans to build their medal count over China.

Slowly but surely, the Chinese swimming program is reaching new heights. 16-year-old Ye Shiwen broke the world record en route to gold in the 400-meter individual medley, and also won the 200-meter distance in the discipline.

Doping speculation aside, Shiwen’s spectacular performances will establish her as a pioneer on the Chinese swimming front.

Combined with Jiao Liuyang’s victory in the 200-meter butterfly, that was China’s first Olympic gold in women’s swimming, it looks like one of the last frontiers of American Olympic dominance over China will be less one-sided in the future.

I don’t see America becoming a power in weightlifting, badminton, diving or any other sports in which China dominates. This is why dominance in the pool not only earns bragging rights, but also a necessary source of golds in order to keep up with the world’s most-populous nation.

The rivalry between China and the U.S.A. has emerged as a battle of cultures facilitated through Olympic sport. China’s government-run Olympic program produces excellent results, and it’s recent superiority to the American Olympic contingent brings back memories of a similar communism v. capitalism battle after the Soviet Union held that role for almost 40 years until its dissolution in 1991.

While this rivalry has little effect on world politics, it’s still a source of pride for both countries involved. America fell behind China in golds on the first day of medal competition, and has finally stormed back to level the race after winning six events today.

Saturday is the final day in the pool, and the Americans would love to use the next two days to possibly build a lead in the Games’ most compelling competition among nations. 

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