Top 15 International Olympic Moments
The Olympic Games are an event that bring together nations from all over the world, and pits them against one another in competitions of sport to determine which nation is superior to all other nations (spoiler: it’s AMERICA).
But really. The Olympics are great because of what they do best- they demonstrate international unity over anything else. Because the Olympics in Rio are technically over, let’s take a look at why, when the Olympics happen, the world is the overall winner. Here are the top 15 International Olympic Moments.
This is part two of a two-part list series, where we took a look at the 15 best American Olympic moments (that list can be found here).
(SG- Summer Games; WG- Winter Games)
The Korbut Flip (1972 SG, Munich)
Long before the days of the Magnificent Sevens and the Fierce Fives and Final Fives, the Russians dominated women’s gymnastics. One such gymnast was Olga Korbut. This move right here should top every top 10 sports plays list for the rest of time. Surprisingly, Korbut only won a silver medal for this routine, but the Soviets did take home the gold for the team all-around.
Disclaimer: the move is actually now illegal in gymnastics because of the risk involved.
Andy Murray avenges his loss at Wimbledon on home soil (2012 SG, London)
At the All-England Club in July, native son Andy Murray took a miraculous run to the Wimbledon men’s singles final, where he became the first British man to do so since 1938. He would lose in four sets to Roger Federer, winning the first set but losing the next three. Then were the Olympics, which were also held in London the following month of August. Just like Federer before him, Murray had to overcome world #1 Novak Djokovic, but did so in straight sets. Federer defeated Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro to reach the final as well, setting up the stage for a rematch of the Wimbledon final. On the same grass that he lost the Wimbledon final, Murray defeated Federer in straight sets to win the gold medal for his country. In a highly emotional moment for England’s favorite son, Andy Murray delivered, making for a pretty cool Olympic moment out of the shadows of despair.
The world mourns for Nodar Kumaritashvili (2010 WG, Vancouver)
On the day of the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, tragedy struck the sports world. During a practice run at the Whistler Sliding Center, Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, only 21 years of age, died after losing control of his sled on the penultimate turn, and striking an unprotected steel support beam. He was only the seventh athlete to have lost their life during Olympic demonstration. International reaction was one of shock and awe. The Georgian team contemplated not marching in the opening ceremonies, and potentially pulling out of the Olympics altogether. Eventually, the Georgians decided to compete in the name of their fallen comrade. In an emotional entrance during the parade of nations, the Georgian team sported armbands to commemorate Kumaritashvili’s life. A moment of silence was held at BC Place, and flags at Olympic venues (Olympic and Canadian alike) were flown at half-staff.
The Refugee Team marches at Opening Ceremonies (2016 SG, Rio de Janeiro)
Throughout the years, a number of athletes from around the world have flown under the Olympic flag. There’s the Independent Olympic Athletes team, the Mixed Team (athletes from numerous countries, like the UK and USA… random, right?), and the Unified Team (made up of former Soviet satellites during 1992). In 2016, however, a new addition to the group of athletes flying under the five rings reached a new level of awesome. Comprised of ten athletes from all around the world, the IOC established the first even Refugee Olympic Team. The team consisted of six men, and four women, competing in three sports: track & field, judo, and swimming. While the team has not yet reached a medal round of any kind, the fact that the IOC has decided to recognize athletes that are refugees is a pretty special thing.
The Top 15:
15. The Games Come Home; Athens hosts Summer Games (2004 SG, Athens)
Athens, Greece hosted the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896, and did not host another for over a hundred years. As the Centennial Olympic games came about in 1996, many thought that Athens would get the bid for the 100th anniversary (of course, that honor went to Atlanta, Georgia).When the 2004 bids came along, however, Athens was finally awarded the bid. The opening ceremony was something special to behold. In a presentation steeped in legacy, passion, emotion, appreciation for ancestry, and (obviously) athleticism, Athens brought the games they originated into the 21st century, boasting state-of-the-art technology that not many had ever seen before in an opening ceremony. The games had finally come back to where it all began.
14. The Jamaican bobsled team is actually a thing (1988 WG, Calgary)
We’ve all seen the movie Cool Runnings, right? If you haven’t, you’re a terrible person, go watch it. Go watch it right. Now. Real talk, the inspiration for the film came from the Jamaican bobsled team who competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Keep in mind these were actual bobsledders, not failed would-be Olympic sprinters. As a team from a tropical nation competing in a winter sport, naturally, many were skeptical about their participation. Eventually, the Jamaican bobsledders won over the hearts of many-a naysayer. Just like in the film (although not on the same run), the Jamaicans crashed their four-man sled and did not finish. However, this was only the beginning for the Jamaicans. After a poor showing in 1992, the team finished 14th in the four-man event at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, besting Russia, Australia, France, and the United States. Most recently, the Jamaicans qualified for the two-man bobsled at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. You could say they’re superstars of the bobsled world, showing the world that the cold sports aren’t just reserved for those who have the capabilities. Disney gets all the good stories, don’t they?
13. The Hermanator rides again (1998 WG, Nagano)
Austrian skier Herman Maier competed in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, where he won two gold medals, one in the Super-G, the other in the giant slalom. A few days before, in the downhill race, Maier was involved in a scary-looking crash, in which he flipped over a few times, and meeting two layers of B-netting. In 2001, six months before the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, Maier was involved in a motorcycle accident, when a car met his bike head on. Many thought his racing career was over, as doctors almost amputated one of his legs. Maier underwent major reconstructive surgery, and ultimately made a comeback in 2003. In 2006, he raced at in the same two events in which he medaled in Nagano, winning a silver and a bronze, respectively. Due to his seemingly indestructible nature, Maier was given the nickname “The Herminator.”
12. Beijing re-defines the opening ceremony (2008 SG, Beijing)
We see Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics and think “wow, that’s a lot of crazy lighting and costumes, I’m so excited for the Olympics!” We also think: “remember the Beijing Opening ceremony? That was crazy!” It is clear that the bar has been set for all Olympic Opening ceremonies to come. Directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, the opening ceremony featured 2008 Fou drummers pounding on bronze drums, which lit up to form both Arabic and Mandarin numbers that counted down the start of the games. What followed was a dazzling spectacle reflecting on China’s past, from ancient dynasties to the Silk Road, to China’s “glorious era,” including its flourishing economy and space exploration programs, to a showing of the nation’s dream for harmony among the peoples and nations of the world. This Opening Ceremony was so good, even Steven Spielberg called it “arguably the grandest spectacle of the new millennium.” The American Film Institute even called it one of the “Eight Moments of Significance” for 2008. Watch and see what I’m talking about.
11. Australians upset Americans on home soil (2000 SG, Sydney)
The 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay was first brought to the Olympics for men in 1984 (before then it had been exclusive to women). And for four straight Summer Olympics, the United States had won every single time. They survived close races here and there (three in a row against the Soviet Union, Unified Team, and Russia- but they’re all the same really so who’s counting), but always emerged victorious. That all changed at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. This time, it was the host Aussies who proved victorious against the previously-undefeated Americans. With Australia holding its lead through the first three legs of the race, American Gary Hall, Jr. passed Australia’s anchor, the legendary Ian Thorpe, with only 50m left to swim. Thorpe, however, was able to recover, and squeak ahead of the American, touching the wall only .19 seconds ahead of Hall. The Australians finished the race in a world record time of 3:13.67, shocking the favored Americans and lighting a fire under the home crowd. For the first time, the Americans proved vulnerable in the pool, and the Australians gave their country something to rally behind.
10. Abebe Bikila don’t need no damn shoes (1960 SG, Rome)
Russia’s doping scandal prior to the 2016 Games in Rio is just one of many cases of athletes using performance-enhancing drugs to gain that edge over their competition. Especially in the age of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, every piece of success athletes attain is magnified to the degree of speculating whether or not PEDs were used. Enter Abebe Bikila, an Ethiopian marathoner who competed in the 1960 Summer Games in Rome. Bikila is a prime example of an athlete using zero performance-enhancement. Bikila won the men’s marathon running barefoot. That’s right, barefoot. As in no Nikes or PF Flyers helping him along the way. Running the way man was intended to run. He was originally sponsored was Adidas, but could not find shoes that fit him, hence running the race barefoot. He and Moroccan Rhadi Ben Abdesselam stayed about even until the last 500m, when Bikila sprinted to the finish line, finishing 26 seconds head of his Moroccan rival. No performance enhancement necessary. In 1964, Bikila again ran the marathon, this time wearing shoes. He won a gold medal in the event, setting a new world record, and beating the silver medalist by upwards of four minutes. Any PED use there? You decide.
9. Hicham El-Guerrouj’s run to redemption (2004 SG, Athens)
Hicham El-Guerrouj is now considered one of the finest middle-distance runners of all time, but his road to success did not come easy. Take, for example, his participation in the 1500m, where he was expected to challenge and potentially defeat three-time world champion Noureddine Morceli of Algeria. As he challenged for the lead, he fell with 400m remaining, finishing 12th. In 2000, El-Guerrouj again challenged for gold in the 1500m, only to be overtaken again by Kenyan Noah Ngeny, who had trained with El-Guerrouj as a pace maker. By the time 2004’s Games in Athens came around, El-Guerrouj was 29 years old, and entering the decline of his racing career. Again, El-Guerrouj participated in the 1500m. Due to a slow start to begin the 2004 season, most attention was drawn off El-Guerrouj and onto the 2000 bronze medalist, Frenchman Bernard Lagat, who ran the fastest 1500m of the year. In a thrilling race, the two ran nip and tuck around the track, trading positions 1 and 2 throughout the race. In the final few strides, however, El-Guerrouj pulled ahead of Lagat, and secured himself his first gold in the 1500m. Later in the games, El-Guerrouj also won the 5000m, becoming the first man in nearly 80 years to accomplish such a feat. For an Olympic career that spans three games and only has three medals attached, the story of Hicham El-Guerrouj is a celebration of the Olympic spirit- never giving up in the face of adversity.
8. Eric Liddell inspires Chariots of Fire (1924 SG, Paris)
We all know the scene. We all know the music. Men in white track suits running on a beach in slow-motion, with glorious 80s piano-ballad music in the background. There’s actually a pretty scandalous backstory to the events that inspired Chariots of Fire. At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Eric Liddell was heavily favored to win the 100m. There was one problem- Liddell was a devout Christian, and the qualifying heats were on a Sunday. Naturally, Liddell needed to make a decision: run the race in defiance of his beliefs, or remove himself from the competition. Liddell chose the latter, and did not compete in the event his was most dominant in. Instead, Liddell chose to run in the 400m, which previously he was only modestly successful in. However, Liddell managed to secure himself a gold medal. The 100m was instead run by Harold Abrahams (whom you also may remember from the film). Abrahams, a Jew, was running to overcome prejudices against athletes of his religion. The two men exhibited bravery to the highest degree at the 1924 games in Paris, making for one hell of a story to put to film.
7. Eric the Eel comes up short in a big way (2000 SG, Sydney)
When one hears the phrase “elite Olympic swimmers,” no one really thinks of Equatorial Guinea (a country in Western Africa- see, you don’t think of it so often, that I had to just tell you where it’s located. Thank you, Andrew. You’re welcome, reader). And for the 100m freestyle race at the 2000 Games in Sydney, that was mostly true. For the Sydney Games, the IOC held a wildcard draw designed to encourage developing nations without proper training to compete. Remember the name Eric Moussambani, or Eric the Eel, for short. Moussambani, one of two Equatoguinean swimmers (the other on the women’s side) entered a qualifying heat against Karim Bare of Niger, and Farkhod Oripov of Tajikistan. The two dove into the water early, prompting a disqualification due to a no false-start rule. Moussambani would swim the heat unopposed. Eric had never seen an Olympic sized pool before. He took up swimming 8 months before the games, and practiced in both a pond and a 12m pool at a hotel he stayed at. However, Eric dove in and began the swim down and back. Fighting drowning, and evidently struggling to stay above the water, Moussambani finished his heat with a final time of 1:52.72, 50 seconds slower than the next best competitor, and even outside the best times of the 200m (it was a new Equatoguinean record, though). However, the Sydney crowd embraced Moussambani, giving him some of the loudest cheers ever heard for a non-native athlete at the Olympics. Obviously, Moussambani did not qualify for a semifinal, coming in 71st (and last, if you don’t count the three swimmers who earn DQs). Eric the Eel kept swimming, however, getting his personal best time to under 57 seconds, and later becoming the coach of the Equatorial Guinea swim team.
6. Sid the Kid’s Golden Goal (2010 SG, Vancouver)
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby has had expectations on him the size of Canada ever since he entered the NHL at the age of 18. And he’s lived up to his expectations for the most part, winning the Pens two Stanley Cup Championships, as well as two Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe, and five all-star selections. One thing he did not have before 2010 was an Olympic gold medal, having been left off the 2006 Canadian squad (although it didn’t matter, they didn’t medal anyways). When February 2010 came around, many felt that Crosby’s luck in the NHL was beginning to run thin, as he entered a slump in late 2009. There may have even been rumors of a Crosby trade or demotion from team captain. When Canada entered the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, Crosby was poised to make an international impression and break out of the slump. While he did score the game winner in a shootout in a second-round game against Switzerland, Sid the Kid went pointless in the next two games. Then came the gold medal game at Rogers Arena against the United States. The Americans fought back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game with 25 seconds left on a goal by Zach Parise, sending it into overtime. At the 7:40 mark of overtime, Crosby came through for his country, knocking a wrist shot past Ryan Miller to win the gold for Canada. This re-invigorated Crosby’s season, as he ended up finishing tied for second in points at the end of the NHL season. But what really mattered was Crosby’s showing that he could still be the hero that Canada deserved.
5. Lawrence Lemieux saves opponents from drowning (1988 SG, Seoul)
No one pays attention to sailing at the Olympics, it’s a known fact. I had forgotten sailing was even an Olympic sport for a while. But in the most unlikely of places, the most incredible stories and most heroic actions can be found. Canadian Lawrence Lemieux competed at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, finishing off the podium in the Star Class. At the 1988 Games in Seoul, Lemieux competed in the Finn Class (a single-handed, or one man, sailboat). During a run at Busan (the main sailing site for the games), the Finn and 470 (two man) classes were competing at their respective sides. Lemieux was running second during this run, which, if the results held through the rest of the races, would be enough to earn him a place in the medal round. During the race, however, the wind suddenly picked up to 35 knots. Over at the 470 course, two sailors from Singapore saw their vessel capsize, throwing the two from the boat and injuring them. About halfway through his run, Lemieux spotted the two men in distress, and made the decision to veer off course and help the two men onto his boat, where he waited for a patrol boat to fetch the two Singaporeans and bring them back to shore. When Lemieux finally re-entered his race, he finished in 21st. Due to his exceptional heroism and sacrifice in the name of humanity, the board of International Yacht Racing determined that due to Lemieux’s selflessness and bravery, they would reinstate his second-place finish. Lemieux would finish 11th overall in the class, ultimately failing to make the medal round. He would become only the second athlete to be awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for exceptional sportsmanship.
4. Cathy Freeman wins gold and the hearts of the world (2000 SG, Sydney)
Cathy Freeman carried the hopes and dreams of a nation on her shoulders at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Freeman, an Australian Aboriginal, was given the honor of lighting the Olympic Flame at the Opening Ceremony, and ran in the 400m a week later, where she was the home favorite to win the title. She was expected to be challenge by France’s Marie-Jose Perec, but Perec left the games due to personal issues. With the hope of a nation resting on her performance in the race, Freeman took her mark, sporting a green, yellow, and silver full body suit (representing the colors of her country), but sporting red, yellow, and black track shoes (representing her Aboriginal heritage). Freeman won the Olympic title in a time of just over 49 seconds, to a highly emphatic response to the hometown fans. She took a victory lap, carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags, before falling to her knees in tears. This was an emotional moment for Australians and the world over, as many had seen Freeman’s victory as the reconciliation of black and white uniting together in hope, spirit, and sport.
3. Usain Bolt's thunderous performance (2008 SG, Beijing)
There’s no question about it, especially after his performance in Rio; Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive. And with a last name like “Bolt,” wouldn’t you think so? Bolt entered Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics as the favorite to win the 100m, the crowning of the fastest runners alive. Having already set a world record in the 100m at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, Bolt entered Beijing with a mind to win both the 100m and 200m. Though various pundits claimed a lack of experience would work against him, Bolt prove the naysayers wrong. Lazy athletes don’t run a 9.69 world-record time in the 100m final of the Olympics. And the best part is this: Bolt doesn’t even run the full 100 meters full out. He runs about 90 meters, and then pulls up celebrating for the last 10. Also, his shoe was untied. With Michael Johnson in the crowd for the 200m (and believing Bolt would win, but would not break his world record), Bolt smashed the world record with a new best time of 19.30, .02 seconds faster than Johnson in 1996. Bolt would go on to anchor the Jamaican team in the 4 x 100m relay, earning himself three gold medals. He would do all three again in both London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, winning all of them, retiring from Olympic competition undefeated.
2. Derek Redmond’s father helps him cross the finish line (1992 SG, Barcelona)
No one likes to see an athlete get hurt. No one likes to see people visibly struggle with pain in athletic competitions. What makes us feel good, however, is love in the face of pain. British sprinter Derek Redmond entered the 400m in Barcelona, Spain for the 1992 Summer Olympics. He looked to be in pretty good form, posting the fastest overall time of the first round, and winning his quarterfinal race. In the semi-final, however, things did not go well for Redmond, as a miraculous run for glory was cut short. About 150 meters into his semifinal, Redmond tore his hamstring, causing him to collapse to the ground, writhing in pain, crushing his Olympic dream. With stretchers and medical support teams on their way to Redmond, he waved them away, knowing he would be disqualified if he received any help. Redmond got back up and hobbled toward the finish, but only got so far before falling again. He got back up and began to hobble again. With medical teams closing in, Redmond found himself suddenly supported by a familiar arm- his father Jim, who had stormed past security to reach his son. Derek, in tears, clung to his father as they both made their way down the track. The two received a standing ovation for the display of support and emotion as Derek and Jim finally crossed the finish line, with the former collapsing into the arms of medical teams. Though Redmond technically did get disqualified for helping, this moment remains one of the most powerful in the history of the games. Watch the video and try not to cry.
1. Nadia Comaneci's Perfect 10 (1976 SG, Montreal)
Perfection is something people strive for, but don’t always attain. It’s even harder on the Olympic stage, where everything an athlete does (at least in a competition where points and rankings are based on judgement) is picked apart by judges. In 1976 at the Summer Games in Montreal, 14-year old Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci proved that perfect is just a word. During the artistic all-around, gymnasts from Germany and the Soviet Union were posting extremely high scores, some as high as 9.9 out of 10. On the uneven bars, Nadia blew them all out of the water, posting the first perfect 10 in the history of the Olympics. It was so rare, the scoreboard, which only showed three digits due to the highly unlikely event of a gymnast posting a perfect 10. The scoreboard showed a “1.00” after Nadia’s flawless uneven bar routine, but everyone in the arena knew they had seen perfection. And just for kicks, Nadia did another uneven bar routine in the optional round, where she scored another perfect 10. She concluded her uneven bar rounds with two more perfect 10s, and even put another one up on the balance beam. Overall, Nadia won the individual all-around, as well as gold medals on the balance beam and uneven bars. In a showing of Olympic excellence, Nadia Comaneci left a legacy on the nation of Romania, inspiring girls to become gymnasts and compete at very high levels for years to come. After Olga Korbut, the next name on the list of female gymnasts that take the sport to the next level must be Nadia. Even though gymnastics scores are not based on a scale of 10 anymore, it is clear that, sliding scale or not, everyone inside the Montreal Forum that night was witness to perfection.
What's your favorite Olympic moment from outside the U.S.? Leave a comment down below.
Top 15 American Olympic Moments
Ah, the Olympic Games. The one time every other year where the world becomes obsessed with sports they never usually care about.
But really. We're so lucky to have live in a country that's so steeped in Olympic history. And now that we're just about halfway through the games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, let's take a look at just how awesome our country is at doing the Olympic thing.
This is a two-part list series, where I'm taking a look at the best American Olympic moments, followed by the best Olympic moments from around the rest of the world.
(SG- Summer Games; WG- Winter Games. Just in case you were curious).
Dara Torres still has game; wins silver at age 41 (2008 SG, Beijing)
Greg Louganis shows the board who's boss (1988 SG, Seoul)
Already a decorated Olympic medalist, with a silver in 1976 and two golds at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, Greg Louganis was poised to repeat his success on both the 3m springboard and the 10m platform at the 1988 games in Seoul. On a preliminary attempt on the springboard, however, Louganis, suffered a concussion when his head connected with the diving board on the way into the pool. Instead of bowing out, Louganis, like a champ, continued to compete, and ended up earning the highest single score of the qualifying round with his second dive. He won the gold medal in that same event by a margin of 25 points, using the same dive on which he nearly split his head open.
The Fierce Five- U.S. Women Conquer in London (2012 SG, London)
After modest showings in 2004 and 2008, with Carly Patterson and Nastia Liukin winning individual all-around golds, the United States women’s gymnastics team showed up to the games sporting a group of remarkable young women known as the “Fierce Five,” poised to become only the second American team ever to win the team all-around event. It featured McKayla Maroney, who placed second on the individual vault event (inspiring the ever-popular “McKayla is not impressed” meme), Aly Raisman, whose inspiring floor routine earned her an individual gold, and one Gabby Douglas, who became the third consecutive American to win the individual all-around gold. With performances by these three women, as well as the likes of Jordan Wieber and Kyla Ross, the team showed the unstoppable prowess of American women in the gymnastics arena.
Rulon Gardner defeats Aleksandr Karelin (2000 SG, Sydney)
Much like another American upset that I’ll get to later on the list, Rulon Gardner came into the Sydney Olympics as a massive underdog against the rest of the field. He had never been an NCAA Champion or a World Medalist of any kind. Miraculously, he made it all the way to the gold-medal match for 130kg-class Greco-Roman wrestling, something an American had never medaled in before. His opponent, Russian Aleksandr Karelin, had not lost a match in 13 years of international competition, and had not surrendered a point in nearly a decade. Still, in a shocking upset, Gardner was able to defeat the mighty Russian by a score of 1-0, winning the gold medal.
The Top 15:
15. U.S. Women's National Team is golden in extra time (2004 SG, Athens)
There’s nothing better than winning a game in overtime. Well, how about winning a gold medal on a goal in overtime? That’s exactly what happened at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, when the United States took on Brazil in the final of the women’s football tournament. With the score tied at 1 goal each at the end of regulation, the two football superpowers took the game into extra time. In the 122nd minute, and only 8 minutes remaining until impending penalty kicks, American Abby Wambach (one of the most legendary American female footballers ever, who was only 24 at the time) knocked in a header off a corner kick from Kristine Lilly, giving the Americans a 2-1 advantage. The Americans would close out the Brazilians to win their second gold medal in 8 years.
14. The "Dream Team" dominates the rest of the world (1992 SG, Barcelona)
Originally, the Olympic games were meant to bring together the best amateurs in the world of sports; that is, professionals were not to be found in the sports the Olympics have to offer. By the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, that had all changed. For the first time, the NBA’s best were sent to Barcelona to compete for a gold medal- and that meant, for the first time, the NBA’s best Americans were going to compete against the rest of the world. Let’s take a second to list off the number of Hall of Famers on this team. David Robinson. Patrick Ewing. Larry Bird. Scottie Pippen. Michael Jordan. Clyde Drexler. Karl Malone. John Stockton. Chris Mullin. Charles Barkley. Magic Johnson. With the exception of Christian Laettner of Duke, the only collegiate player on the team, that’s EVERYONE. Everyone else on the team is a Hall of Famer. Experts call it the greatest basketball team ever assembled. Then there’s the Olympic results. The Americans never scored fewer than 100 points in a game, and defeated all of their opponents by 30 points or more. They finished with a dominant 117-85 win over Croatia in the Gold Medal game.
13. Eric Heiden wins five speed skating gold medals (1980 WG, Lake Placid)
Located outside of the Lake Placid Ice Arena is the Olympic Skating Rink. Not your traditional speed skating arena, the oval is located on a frozen-over section of the track at Lake Placid High School. It’s also outside, where the bitter winds and cold can freeze skaters in their tracks. The conditions did not affect Eric Heiden, however, who tore up the track during the 1980 Games, in the shadow of what was going on inside the hockey rink. In each of the men’s individual events, Heiden not only won a gold medal, but set an Olympic record in each one. That’s five gold medals, one in the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, and 10000m. Heiden also set a new World Record on the 10000m, with a time of 14:28.13. In spite of the cold, Heiden was red hot for the Americans.
12. Dan Jansen wins gold in the name of his sister (1994 WG, Lillehammer)
On the day of the 500m speed skating event in 1988, Dan Jansen was notified that his sister Jean was dying of Leukemia. A few hours later, he was notified of her death. He went on to compete in the 500m race later that day, but ended up falling in the first turn. He also began the 1000m race under record-breaking speed, but ended up falling once again. Upon returning to the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, Jansen again Jansen was the favorite to win both the 500 and 1000m races. He finished 4th and 26th, respectively. Finally, two years later in Lillehammer, Norway, Jansen pulled through, winning the gold in the 1000m. Jansen dedicated the win to his sister, and was chosen by his fellow Olympians to hoist the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies, in recognition of his perseverance through six years of athletic despair and overcoming a painful emotional loss.
11. Michael Johnson smashes two world records (1996 SG, Atlanta)
The 200m and 400m races are two very different things. The 200m is far more sprint-based, while the 400m requires a steady balance of stamina control and knowing when to push at just the right time. While many sprinters compete in all kinds of events of varying lengths, no athlete had ever won both events at the same Olympics. At the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996, Johnson did just that. First was the 400m, which Johnson easily won with a world record time of 43.49 seconds. A few days later, Johnson did it again, smashing the existing 200m world record by four tenths of a second. This record would stand until a runner named Usain Bolt would break it in 2009 (Johnson’s 400m record was broken at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro by Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa). During the races, Johnson sported a pair of custom gold Nike sneakers, earning him the nickname “the man with the golden shoes.”
10. Mary Lou Retton becomes first American to win all-around gold (1984 SG, Los Angeles)
Before 1984, no American had ever won the all-around gold medal in artistic gymnastics. At the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, California, 16-year old Mary Lou Retton became the first. With two events remaining in the competition, and trailing the event favorite, Romanian Ecaterina Szabo by .15 points, Retton scored perfect 10s on both the vault and floor exercises, with the latter coming in dramatic fashion, considering she had undergone an operation to repair an injured knee five weeks prior to the games. Retton earned the victory over Szabo by .05 points, earning “America’s Sweetheart” a gold medal- the first gymnast outside of Eastern Europe to ever do so.
9. Ali lights the flame (1996 SG, Atlanta)
During the 1996 Opening Ceremony, there was a large amount of speculation as to who was going to light the torch. The 1996 Games were incredibly important; not just for the United States as host nation, but for the Olympics as a whole, as the 1996 Games celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the first Modern Olympic games. After the participating nations made their way around into Centennial Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Torch made its way into the stadium, first being passed to hometown Atlantan Evander Holyfield, whom many thought would be the one to light the torch. However, swimmer Janet Evens’ lap around the stadium finished with a pass to one of the greatest sportsmen to ever live- Muhammad Ali. Ali, shaking due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease, lit a mechanical torch, which traveled along a wire to a cauldron atop the stadium. The fact that the torch lighter was kept a secret was dramatic enough, but to have it be Muhammad Ali (who received a replacement gold medal for his success at the 1960 Rome Olympics) is even more emotional. The emotion is clear in Ali’s eyes, making his lighting of the torch one of the most poignant and dramatic images of the 1996 Summer Games.
8. Carl Lewis matches Jesse Owens (1984 SG, Los Angeles)
Carl Lewis’s track and field record is not to be messed with. He is a four-time Olympian, competing in the 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 Summer Games, winning at least one gold medal at each (and a total of 10 medals overall). At his first Olympics in 1984 in Los Angeles, Lewis was entered in four events, having a strong possibility of winning each one, thereby emulating the legendary Jesse Owens and winning four individual gold medals at a single Olympics. First was the 100m dash, which he won handily by running a 9.99, .2 seconds faster than the second place finisher. Second was the long jump. Lewis’s first jump was 8.52m (28 feet), and would easily be enough to win the event. Though he was encouraged to keep jumping in an attempt to break Bob Beamon’s 29’ 2 ¼” jump, Lewis held off, fearing that pushing himself too hard might wear him out from winning his final two events (he did end up winning the long jump event). In the 200m, Lewis set a new Olympic record, winning in a time of 19.8 seconds. Finally, he anchored the 4x100m relay team, where the United States set a new world record of 37.83 seconds, with Lewis racing the best 100m of his life. With his four golds, Lewis solidified himself as one of the fastest men alive, and equaled one of America’s Olympic legends.
7. The Black Power salute (1968 SG, Mexico City)
With a time of 19.83 seconds, Tommie Smith set a new world record in the 200m final, winning a gold medal. John Carlos, who finished with a time of 20.1 seconds, ended up with a bronze medal. But the times and standings were not important at the Games in Mexico City in 1968. In a daring act of political protest, Smith and Carlos, standing on the medal podium without shoes (instead, wearing black socks), bowed their heads, and raised a black-gloved fist into the air during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, in solidarity with the Black Freedom Movement in the United States. Both Smith and Carlos were booed from the podium, expelled by the IOC from the Olympics, and heavily criticized at home (with both men and their families receiving death threats). While the move was highly controversial, however, Smith and Carlos exhibited immense bravery by demonstrating an imbalance of both human rights and racial justice, doing so on the world’s largest stage for sport. In 2008, despite the backlash from the gesture, Smith and Carlos were given the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards. For a brief moment on the world stage, two men dared to look into the eyes of the powerful, and, as solid as a clenched fist, declare their pride in being not only American, but an American athlete of color. A truly defining Olympic moment if ever there was one.
6. Florence Griffith-Joyner becomes the world's fastest woman (1988 SG, Seoul)
Flo-Jo was an unknown in 1988. Now, we all know her as the woman whose records seemingly cannot be touched. Before the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1988, Joyner had not exactly been the most prominent competitor, with her personal best in the 100m being a 10.89 into the wind. At the trials, however, that all changed. Joyner broke the world record for the 100m by nearly a quarter of a second. She backed up the win with three equally strong races at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, setting an Olympic record at 10.62 seconds. In the 200m, Flo-Jo was even more dominant. The 200m world record, set originally by East German Marita Koch in 1979, was 21.71 seconds; the previous Olympic record, set by American Valerie Brisco-Hooks at the Los Angeles Games in 1984, was 21.81 seconds. In the quarterfinals alone, Joyner shattered the Olympic record, posting a 21.76. In the semifinals, she shattered the world record by nearly .2 seconds, with a 21.56. Finally, in the finals, Joyner took home a gold medal, breaking her own world record in the process by running a 21.34. In less than three days, both the Olympic and world records had been completely shattered. Florence Griffith-Joyner had run the 100m and 200m faster than any woman in history. The best part? No one has come close to touching Flo-Jo’s marks in almost 30 years.
5. Kerri Strug's gold-winning vault on a broken ankle (1996 SG, Atlanta)
The scene is the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. The event is the women’s gymnastics team all-around, an event that had been dominated by Russian and Romanian teams for decades- and never won by the Americans. The “Magnificent Seven” as they were called, were in a tight spot, trailing the Russian team by a very slim margin heading into the final day of team competition. After all but one rotation, however, things were beginning to look the Americans’ way, as they held a commanding .897-point lead over the Russians with one event remaining: the Russians were on the floor, and the Americans were on the vault. Theoretically, the Russians could clinch the gold, but only if the Americans were to suffer a colossal collapse. Four of the Americans stuck their landings, but did not do so cleanly. To make matters worse, Dominique Morceau fell on both vault attempts. Strug was the last to vault for the Americans. On her first attempt she under-rotated, severely damaging her left ankle (she was awarded a 9.1 for the vault itself). Since the final Russian to perform on the floor (Roza Galieva) would go after Kerri’s second vault, Strug needed to land her second vault cleanly in order to secure the gold medal. After limping back to the start line, Strug miraculously stuck her landing on what appeared to be one foot. She immediately collapsed to the mat in pain, but she had done what her team and country needed her to do- secure the first team all-around gold medal for the United States. The image of coach Bela Karolyi carrying Strug to the podium is one of the most touching images in American Olympic history.
4. Mark Spitz wins seven gold medals (1972 SG, Munich)
The 1972 Summer Games in Munich, West Germany are steeped in controversy and sadness. What gets lost among all the politics of the games, and is often forgotten, is one of the single greatest performances in the history of the modern Olympics. In 1968, Spitz brashly predicted that he would win six gold medals, one more than the current record of 5 at the time, held by American shooter Willis A. Lee at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Spitz only won two team events in Mexico City, along with winning a silver and a bronze. Poised to better his results in 1972, Spitz entered seven different events in Munich. In one of the most impressive swimming exposition of all time, Spitz won all seven of the events he entered- a record seven gold medals at one Olympics. To make it even sweeter, Spitz set world records in all of those events. In true Olympian fashion, Spitz dominated his competition, even though his races were very close to one another time-wise. On one day, he set a world record in the 100m butterfly, then, an hour later helped his team set a world record in the 4x200m freestyle relay. Spitz’s record would remain for 36 years. What is unfortunate is that Spitz’s success gets lost in the shadow of the tragedies outside of the Olympics, which, as a Jewish-American athlete, prevented him from staying in Munich for the duration of the games, as he left shortly after completing his tremendous run of success.
3. Michael Phelps wins eight gold medals (2008 SG, Beijing)
Just like Spitz before him, Michael Phelps was a standout athlete, already having competed in two Olympics prior, winning eight medals in Athens in 2004, six of them gold. Also like Spitz before him, Phelps was poised to overcome greatness before him, and best his predecessor’s record of seven gold medals at a single Olympics, by winning eight. The road did not come easy, though. First was the 400m individual medley, which Phelps won in a world-record time of 3:29.24. Second was the 4x100m freestyle relay, in which the Americans were underdogs to France. Phelps set an American record for his 100m leg, but it was teammate Jason Lezak, the anchor of the team, who made up half a body length on French swimmer Alain Bernard, to win Phelps his second gold by .08 seconds, and set a world record in the process.
He then won the 200m freestyle in world record time. The next day, he pulled a Mark Spitz, competing in two finals in one day: first the 200m butterfly (1:52.03, world record), and, less than an hour later (sound familiar?), swam the first leg of the 4x200m freestyle relay (which his team won in a world record time of 6:58.56- breaking the previous record by four seconds). His sixth medal came in the 200m individual medley, which was a world record time of 1:54.23. The seventh medal may have been the most difficult: the 100m butterfly. Phelps defeated Serbian Milorad Cavic by .01 seconds to set a new Olympic record (leaving Spitz’s record of WR’s equaled but not broken), and obtain a seventh gold medal.
The following night, Phelps swam for Olympic history, with team USA winning the 4x100m medley relay, in (once again) world record time. While his Olympic swimming career may now be over, Michael Phelps’ indelible image remains: 25 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, 8 of them during one week in Beijing in 2008.
2. Jesse Owens embarrasses Hitler in Berlin (1936 SG, Berlin)
When Berlin was selected to host the 1936 Summer Olympics, the year was 1931. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party did not rise to power until 1933. When it did, however, the IOC was hesitant to keep the games in Berlin. A prominent Nazi newspaper was steadfast in its belief that Jews and Blacks would not be allowed to compete in the games, although that position was retracted due to an impending boycott from a number of nations. Still, though, when the games opened in 1936, it was evident that Hitler saw the Olympics as a perfect opportunity to promote both his government and his ideas of racial supremacy. There was one athlete, however, who continued to poke a hole in his side- a black man named Jesse Owens. Owens singlehandedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy, winning four gold medals: the 100m, 200m (where he set a new Olympic record), the long jump, and participating in the 4x100m relay, in which the US set a new world record for the event. Germany may have received the most medals at the 1936 games, but for one athlete to embarrass a man who wanted to distinguish the power of his country singlehandedly is quite the achievement in itself. There is speculation whether or not Hitler shook Owens’ hand after the fact. But Jesse Owens is proof that, black or white, German or American, the best pure sportsman emerges victorious.
1. The "Miracle on Ice," United States defeats Soviet Union. (1980 WG, Lake Placid)
It all began with this notion that “nobody beats the Soviet Union in hockey.” And, for the most part, that was true. The Soviets had won the gold medal in hockey at every Olympics since 1960. Many of their players had been training and playing together on the same squad for 15 years, and some even longer than that. The USA hockey team that entered the games in Lake Placid, New York, was made up of college students and amateurs, none of whom really knew each other all that well. In short, no one was giving them a chance. Before the games, the Americans barely managed to stay afloat in international play, tying a terrible Norway team in Oslo, and getting routed by the Soviets at Madison Square Garden. And yet, Herb Brooks’ squad never seemed to give up. In the Olympics, the United States did not lose a game in pool play. Their first game of the medal round, however, was against the Soviet Union, who also went undefeated in pool play. The Soviets, as heavy favorites, were obviously shocked when Mark Johnson’s goal beat the horn at the end of the first period, tying the game at 2 apiece. At the end of two periods, it was 3-2, Soviets. In the third period, the Americans got some much needed defense from goaltender Jim Craig, who stopped 36 of 39 shots in the game. Mark Johnson’s second goal of the game tied the score at three, and Mike Eruzione’s goal with 10 minutes to play gave the Americans a shocking 4-3 lead. The Soviets, clearly being outhustled by the United States, gave it all they had, but Jim Craig stood on his head to take away every scoring chance. It remains one of the biggest upsets in all of sports: USA 4, USSR 3. What most people forget, though, is that the Americans still needed one more victory to win the gold medal. They would get it- a 4-2 victory over Finland- and go on to receive the gold medal in front of their home crowd. Go and listen to Al Michaels’ call of the last ten minutes of the game, from the Eruzione goal onward. Perfection. There aren’t many sporting events that one may call special- hell, you typically don’t see the United States being the underdogs in any kind of sporting event anymore. But for a nation longing for some kind of victory against the backdrop of the looming Cold War, the victory over the Soviet Union was proof that sometimes, miracles do happen.
Did we miss any out? What was your favorite American Olympic moment? Leave a comment down below.
I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.