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SportsWho Has the Most Gold Medals?

Who Has the Most Gold Medals?

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The United States has won the most medals at the Tokyo Olympics and will be the only country to take home more than 100. But with one day of competition left, the race for the most gold medals is a tight contest between the United States and China.

That race is particularly important to China, which has tried to harness its youth for Olympic glory ever since rejoining the summer Olympic movement in 1984.

As Sunday began in Tokyo, China had 38 gold medals to 36 for the United States. But the American women’s basketball team won its gold medal game, and Jennifer Valente won gold in the women’s omnium in track cycling, locking the two countries in a tie atop the standings.

Also on Sunday, the Chinese team finished fourth in the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around final, 3 points behind the bronze medal team from Italy.

That leaves four events that will decide the gold medal race. The United States could win golds in women’s volleyball and in two men’s boxing divisions. China has one woman fighting for a middleweight boxing gold, Li Quan.

To establish itself as a sports superpower, China’s government developed an official “gold medal strategy” that depended on thousands of full-time sports schools, with coaches scouting young talent in villages and cities alike. In addition to traditional strongholds like table tennis and badminton, Chinese officials deliberately targeted sports that were underfunded in the West, such as women’s sports, or less high-profile pursuits with many medals on offer from multiple weight divisions or event categories.

It mattered little whether there was deep public interest in these sports in China. Sports schools started programs from scratch in women’s weight lifting, taekwondo, canoeing and more.

On home turf in 2008, China met its ambitions by topping the gold medal count for the first time. But the country slipped in London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, amid public reservations about whether the sports system was worth it. Few children make it to the elite level and even those that do are not guaranteed good jobs after they retire.

Even as government officials stressed that they wanted to encourage mass sports and overall physical fitness, the drive for gold continued.

It paid off in Tokyo. China scored golds in the sports it has dominated in the past, such as weight lifting, diving, gymnastics and table tennis. But it also claimed victories in canoeing, cycling, rowing and athletics, and underscored its growing strength in swimming. The majority of China’s gold medals came from women or from mixed team events.

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