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.
I enjoy making lists, countdowns, and making sense of the world that I see around me.