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Olympics: Team USA's women fueled medal count, viewer interest

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Olympics: Team USA's women fueled medal count, viewer interest
The USA women's volleyball team celebrates after defeating Brazil in straight sets to win the gold medal at the 2020 Summer Games on Sunday in Tokyo. Photo by Bob Strong/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Women drove the Americans to the top of the medal count at the 2020 Summer Games, while Team USA gymnasts were the most popular, according to data from Facebook and Twitter.

Women were responsible for nearly 60% of Team USA's Olympic-best 113 medals over 16 days in Tokyo. In total, 66 medals went to individual female athletes or women's teams from the United States.

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A record-total 1,080 medals were handed out in Tokyo, an increase tied to new sports and disciplines in the Olympics program.

Gymnast Suni Lee, surfer Carissa Moore, golfer Nelly Korda, distance runner Molly Seidel, cyclist Jennifer Valente and swimmers Katie Ledecky and Lydia Jacoby were among the most successful women for Team USA.

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Sprinters Allyson Felix, Sydney McLaughlin, Athing Mu and Dalilah Muhammad, water polo's Maggie Steffens and Ashleigh Johnson and basketball's Brittney Griner, A'ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart were among the top U.S. women in team events.

"I don't think I've ever been the fastest," Felix told NBC on Saturday. "I've never had the world records, but I've tried my best with what I had. That's all we want for women in the future."

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Second-place finishes and disappointing, runner-up performances also were a common theme for Team USA. The Americans' 41 silver medals were the most earned by the United States at a Summer Games since the 1984 Olympics.

Team USA's success was expected, as the Americans have won the most Olympic medals in history and led the medal count in five of the previous six Summer Games.

Swimmer Caeleb Dressel, basketball star Kevin Durant and golfer Xander Schauffele were among men's favorites who came through with wins for Team USA.

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Top performers

Australian swimmer Emma McKeon collected the most medals among individual athletes at the Games, with seven. Dressel led Team USA with five medals -- all gold. McKeon's total tied the record for a female Olympian for a single Games, set by the Soviet Union's Maria Gorokhovskaya in 1952.

Dressel entered the Games with arguably the highest expectations of any U.S. athlete. He reached the podium with wins in five of his six events: the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter freestyle, 50-meter freestyle, 4x100-meter freestyle relay and 4x100-meter medley relay.

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He set three Olympic records and an individual world record at the Games. He also was part of a relay team that set a world record.

Seven-time Olympic gold medalist Ledecky also came through for Team USA. She won gold in the 800-meter freestyle and 1,500-meter freestyle. She won silver in the 400-meter freestyle and 4x200-meter freestyle relay.

Ledecky's six individual gold medals are the most for a woman in Olympic swimming history. She trails only Michael Phelps, who won 13, for the most individual Olympic gold medals in swimming.

Lee brought in the third-most medals among Americans, with a gold, silver and bronze from women's gymnastics. She was expected to be one of the top performers, even before Simone Biles' hiatus from the Games.

Surfer Moore and golfer Korda, both ranked No. 1 in the world in their respective sports, didn't disappoint in Tokyo. Moore beat South Africa's Bianca Buitendag for in the women's surfing gold medal match July 27 at Tsurigasaki Surfing Beach in Chiba, Japan.

Korda trailed early on in the women's golf tournament, but roared to the top of the leaderboard with a 9-under par 62 in the second round. She held onto the lead to win the tournament and became the first golfer in history, man or woman, to win gold and a major championship in the same year.

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Schauffele, the No. 4 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, won the men's tournament the weekend before Korda's victory to give the Americans a sweep in the sport.

Unexpected or underperformed

The United States Women's National Team entered the 2020 Summer Games as the favorite to win a gold medal, but underperformed throughout the soccer tournament. The Americans failed to score in three of six games and lost to Canada in the semifinals.

Despite the struggles, the Americans salvaged a bronze medal with a 4-3 win over Australia.

Team USA also came up short in baseball and softball. Both squads entered the Games as gold medal favorites, but lost to Japan in their respective gold medal contests.

Ace pitchers Cat Osterman and Monica Abbott powered the softball team to a 5-0 record going into the finals, but the Team USA offense never came alive. The Americans averaged fewer than two runs per game through the tournament and were on the wrong end of a 2-0 shutout in the gold medal contest.

The Team USA baseball team scored with ease through its run at the Games, but also suffered a 2-0 shutout loss to Japan in the gold medal game. Team USA's Triston Casas and Tyler Austin powered the American offense until they failed to produce at the plate when it mattered most.

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Casas went 0 for 4 against Japan. Austin went 1 for 3 in the finale. Shortstop Nick Allen was the only Team USA player with more than one hit in the gold medal game.

In gymnastics, Biles drew the most attention among U.S. athletes. Widely regarded as the best gymnast in history, Biles entered the Games as a favorite to capture multiple gold medals. She also entered the Games as one of the most prolific American Olympians of all time.

She performed her first rotation in the vault as part of the women's team final but then withdrew from the event. Biles then withdrew from four additional events to focus on her mental health. She returned to finish third on the balance beam, the final gymnastics event.

Biles did not win a gold, but earned bronze and silver medals to tie Shannon Miller's career medal total of seven, the most among U.S. gymnasts.

Biles' hiatus prompted a global discussion about mental health.

Social boost

Biles was the most mentioned U.S. athlete on Facebook and Twitter during the Games and gained the most Instagram and Twitter followers throughout the competition, according to the social media platforms.

The star gymnast earned 2.4 million Instagram followers, an increase of 53% from her previous count. She was the third most followed athlete overall, behind women's skateboarder Rayssa Leal of Brazil and men's track and field athlete Neeraj Chopra of India.

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India ranked No. 1 among countries that talked about the Olympics the most on Facebook, while the United States ranked second. Facebook said 65% of all people talking about the Games on the platform in the United States also were women.

Lee, Dressel, McLaughlin and gymnast Jordan Chiles joined Biles as the most followed U.S. athletes from the Games. Lee saw her following increase by 511% on Instagram. Chiles gained 240,000 followers, an increase of 119% from her previous total.

Twitter reported that Biles also posted the most retweeted tweet from the Games from July 23 to Aug. 4, in the United States. More than 100,000 accounts retweeted her July 28 post, which thanked fans for their support during her hiatus.

The most-watched Twitter video from July 23 to Aug. 4 in the United States came from the United States Women's National Team win over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the soccer tournament. The video, which features goalie Alyssa Naeher making several clutch saves, received more than 2 million views.

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The most tweeted-about event overall was Rayssa's silver medal win in women's street skateboarding. At age 13, she was the most mentioned athlete on Twitter. Biles was second.

Volleyball was the most tweeted about sport from the Games, followed by soccer, basketball, skateboarding and gymnastics. The gold medal was the most tweeted emoji during the Games.

Next up

Olympic competition returns in just six months with the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. The Summer Games and Winter Games are typically separated by two years, but moved closer when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed by one year due to COVID-19.

The 2020 Summer Games featured 339 events, the most ever for an Olympics, but the 2024 version in Frances will offer fewer events. Softball, baseball and karate will not return to the sports lineup. Break dancing will be added in 2024.

Faces of the Olympics: expressions from the Games

Norway's Karsten Warholm celebrates winning the gold medal and setting a new world record of 45.94 secons in the men's 400-meter hurdles final. Photo by Bob Strong/UPI | License Photo

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