The Olympics provide the greatest athletes in the world an opportunity to compete against one another on the grandest stage, while the rest of us watch in wonder as they test the physical limits of human capability.
How fast can we run? How far can we jump? How much pain can we endure?
For the participants, the Olympics represent the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and years of personal sacrifice. Inundated with a competitive spirit and the patriotic fervor of their native countries, these athletes pour every ounce of their beings into the competition.
The combination of awe-inspiring athleticism and a deluge of emotions makes for lasting images of remarkable feats, euphoric tears, colossal disappointment and unprecedented courage.
These are the 10 most memorable moments from the summer Olympics over the past 30 years.
Top 10 Olympics Moments
10) The Man With The Golden Shoes
Michael Johnson delighted the home crowd while earning the title of “world’s fastest man” at the 1996 games in Atlanta. It looked as if his gold shoes weren’t even touching the ground as he zoomed past the competition with his unorthodox, upright style. Johnson shattered his own world record in the 200 meter by .34 seconds and putting up a time of 19.32 seconds that still stands to this day, and became the first male sprinter to win both the 200 meter and 400 meter races in the same games.
9) Stitch Him Up and Send Him Back Out There
American Greg Louganis won two gold medals in diving in 1984 and was favored to repeat at the Seoul Games in ‘88. During the preliminary competition, he banged his head on the diving board while attempting a reverse 2 1/2 pike. He had to be rescued from the pool and taken to the locker room to have his wound stitched up, and many thought he would be unable to compete. Despite a concussion, the courageous champion returned to the board minutes later and completed the preliminary round with his highest score of the day. The next day, he flawlessly executed the same dive he was injured on and won both gold medals he was competing for.
8) Flo Jo’s Flair
Florence Griffith-Joyner captivated audiences at the 1988 Seoul Games with her distinctive sense of style, catchy nickname and unfathomable speed. Before races, the cameras focused on her long fingernails, three of which were painted red, white and blue, and a fourth one gold for the medals she intended to win. Flo Jo won gold in the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4×100 meter relay and silver in the 4×400. The most astonishing aspect of her races was the lengthy margins of victory, especially in the 200 meter, in which she set a world record that still stands today.
7) World’s Greatest Athlete
Leading up to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Carl Lewis boasted that he would duplicate Jesse Owens’ feat of capturing gold medals in the 100 meter, 200 meter, long jump and 4×100 meter relay. After winning the first three events fairly easily, the American punctuated his performance by leading the U.S. relay team to a gold medal and world record. Based on his epic showing in Los Angeles, he was referred to as the “world’s greatest athlete” for years to come.
6) Redmond’s Resolve
After missing the 1988 Olympics due to injury, Derek Redmond of the United Kingdom entered the 1992 games in Barcelona as one of the favorites in the 400 meters. During the semifinal heat, he appeared to be cruising towards the finals, when he tore his right hamstring and collapsed to the ground in agony. Determined to finish the race, he waived off the medical crew and began hopping around the track, tears streaming down his cheeks from the pain. Redmond’s father made his way to the track, pushing officials away in the process, and helped his son finish the race.
5) Johnson Leaves Lewis In The Dust
Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson mesmerized viewers in 1988 by exploding past his rival, Carl Lewis, on the way to breaking his own world record in the 100 meter dash. Johnson raised his arms in victory and peered back at Lewis before he even crossed the finish line. Three days later, the IOC announced that he had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Johnson was stripped of his medal and banned from the sport.
4) Phelps Captures 8 Gold Medals
The American swimmer was the talk of Beijing heading into the 2008 Games as many in the media speculated that he could come away with 8 gold medals. The University of Michigan product was up to the task. After winning a 7th gold medal by the narrowest of margins (.01 seconds) in the 100 meter butterfly, he won his 8th gold medal in the 4×100 meter medley relay, breaking Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Olympic Games, which had stood since Munich in 1972.
3) The Dream Team Wins Gold
After losing to the Soviets in the ’88 Seoul Olympics, the United States enlisted its professional basketball players to compete in the 1992 Games. The “Dream Team,” headlined by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, is still considered to be the greatest basketball team ever assembled. They were treated like rock stars and destroyed their awe-struck opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game on their way to the gold. The image of the 12 teammates standing on the medal stand has become symbolic of the team’s role in the subsequent surge in popularity of basketball worldwide.
2. Strug’s Courage
Kerri Strug was the last remaining competitor for the United States as they stood neck-and-neck with gymnastics powerhouse Russia for the gold medal in all-around team gymnastics competition at the 1996 Olympics. She needed to nail the vault in order to secure the gold for the U.S. Strug fell during her first attempt and badly sprained her left ankle. In obvious pain, she limped back to the runway and performed her routine, concluding with a majestic one-foot landing. The judges awarded her a 9.70 and the U.S. won the gold medal. Who can forget the image of Strug’s coach carrying her onto the podium to join her teammates for the medal ceremony?
1. The Champion Of The World
Muhammad Ali first made a name for himself on the international scene as an 18-year-old named Cassius Clay, when he boxed his way to a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In the years that followed, Ali became an international icon, revered for his strength and audacity, both in and out of the ring. In the summer of 1996, the world watched with bated breath as its champion, quivering from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, lit the Olympic flame to kickoff the games in Atlanta.
Rulon Gardner – stunned the three-time gold medal winner in Greco-Roman wrestling known as the “Russian Bear,” Aleksandr Karelin, with a 1-0 victory in the gold medal match at the 200 Games in Sydney.
Cathy Freeman – Lit the flame at the 2000 Sydney Games and later become the first-ever Aboriginal Olympic champion when she won the 400 meters for her native Australia.
Mary Lou Retton – Scored a perfect 10 on the final two gymnastic events before an enthusiastic home crowd to win the gold medal in 1984.
Antonio Rebollo – Shot an arrow into a cauldron from across the stadium to light the Olympic flame at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.