1. Jesse Owens Wins Gold In Nazi Germany
With the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Hitler hoped that Aryan supremacy would be on display for the world to see. Jesse Owens had other plans. Owens won four gold medals at the ‘36 games and returned to America a national hero.
2. The Miracle On Ice
The Soviet hockey team had won gold in every Olympics since 1964. They would go on tours where they would regularly annihilate NHL competition, and the 1980 US hockey team was decidedly not “NHL competition.” But the rag-tag group of college kids and no-names shocked the world and skated to victory as Al Michaels shouted, “Do you believe in miracles?!”
(Sports Illustrated / Heinz Kluetmeier)
3. Michael Phelps Wins Eight Gold Medals In A Single Olympics
No one has ever won more gold medals at a single Olympics than Michael Phelps did in Beijing. The swimmer captured the nation’s imagination for 16 days in the summer of 2008, and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “The Alltime Olympian.”
4. Kerri Strug Overcomes An Injury To Win Gold
In 1996, the American female gymnastics team was battling it out with the Russians for the gold. The US needed Kerri Strug to deliver a strong score on the vault to ensure victory. But on her first attempt Strug fell and injured her ankle. She fought through the pain and landed her second attempt perfectly, before lifting up her bad foot. The US won the gold.
5. The Dream Team Dominates
Never has the sport of basketball been played at such a high level. To this day the hardwood has never seen a team come close to the assembled talent on display at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. These NBA stars dominated everyone they faced and helped popularize basketball around the globe. The NBA would be lacking many foreign-born superstars were it not for the Dream Team.
6. Mary Lou Retton Becomes The First Non-Eastern Bloc Gymnast To Win The All-Around Gold
Eastern Europe had dominate the world of women’s gymnastics for the entire modern Olympic era. And then Mary Lou Retton came along and charmed the world, while bringing back gold.
7. The Black Power Salute On The Podium
After medaling in the 200 meters, African American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal stand as a display of black pride. Both Americans were expelled from the games as a result of their actions. And though at the time many felt that their actions were disrespectful, in many ways this is the most American of Olympic moments. Two men exercising their right to free speech no matter what the cost to themselves.
8. Michael Johnson Becomes The First Man To Win The 200 and 400 Meters At The Same Olympics
No man had ever won both the 200 and 400 meters in the same year. Michael Johnson and his gold shoes changed that, and did it with time to spare. Johnson set an Olympic record in the 400 and shattered the World Record in the 200.
9. Dan Jansen Finally Wins Gold
American speed skater Dan Jansen lost his sister Jane to Leukemia just before the 1988 Olympics. He swore he’d win gold for her, but fell during each of his races. Four years later, he again promised to win gold for her, only to come up short. But in 1994 (the Winter Olympic cycles changed after the 1992 games), Dan finally made good on his promise and won gold. Then he took a victory lap with his young daughter, Jane.
10. Muhammad Ali Lights The Olympic Torch
Muhammad Ali’s legend began at the 1960 Olympic games as a young boxer named Cassius Clay. It was both fitting and inspiring that Ali would light the torch in the 1996 games in Atlanta despite his battle with Parkinson’s.