michael phelps, BRAZIL RIO 2016 OLYMPIC GAMES.jpg
Michael Phelps of USA celebrates his fourth Rio 2016 gold medal during the medal ceremony for the men's 200m Individual Medley Final race of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Swimming events at Olympic Aquatics Stadium at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 11 August 2016.
Photograph: EPA/DEAN LEWIS

It is almost universally agreed the United States won its 1,000th gold medal at the Summer Games Saturday and the minor details of who actually won it should not disguise an outstanding sporting performance for more than a century.

The US Olympic Committee (USOC) are giving the honour to the women's 4x100-metre medley relay team while other counts could make Jeff Henderson, a long jumper, the man on the button; discrepancies are mainly due to definitions of nationality in early editions and the not recognized 1906 tournament.

"It's really special and the fact that I could do it with the relay is amazing," medley team member Simone Manuel said. "Just sharing that with three other women is the icing on top of the cake and I couldn't have done this without the relay swimmers, the coaches.

"One thousand golds for Team USA is a nice number."

Manuel's team-mate Dana Vollmer added: "That's just so incredibly amazing and it really makes me think about all the generations of Olympic teams and athletes that I've watched and inspiration that I've had."

And if Henderson was disappointed at being number 999, he did not show it after his triumph just before the medley team.

"A gold medal is like a newborn baby," he said. "It's just lovely."

More relevant than the man or women who took the honour, the undisputed fact is the US has been producing gold medal winners since the first modern Games in 1896 at a rate unmatched by no other country on the planet.

The next country on the all-time list is the Soviet Union, several hundred behind, and you'd need to add up the combined efforts of the next four nations behind the US to get anywhere near 1,000.

China did start competing late but are currently the strongest challenger to the US in the medal tables at each Games. But at present rate will not hit the 1,000-mark until some time next century.

Before the Rio Games started, USOC said the occasion of the 1,000th gold would be marked by an as-yet unspecific tribute of some kind. They'd better start planning.

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