10 Incredible Moments From Olympic History

With the 2012 Olympics looming around the corner, the games will be a common topic of discussion at water coolers, bars, homes and cocktail parties around the world.  If your knowledge of olympic history is lacking, but you’d like to take part in these conversation — look no further! Here is Olympic knowledge in a nutshell, an abundance of the vital moments that have transpired over the years. 
Jim Thorpe

1. 1912, Stockholm: The Best Athlete Of The 20th Century?

Here is a great opportunity to surprise the folks you’re conversing with by offering them an uncommon perspective, with legitimate arguing points. Ask the individuals you’re talking to who they consider to be the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Nine times out of 10, they’ll say Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, or Muhammad Ali. Deny their opinions and drop the name, “Jim Thorpe” on ‘em. Inform them that he dominated the 1912 games in Stockholm, winning gold in the decathlon and pentathlon. Not to mention, the guy played professional basketball, baseball and football!

2. 1936, Berlin: The Runner Who Snubbed Hitler

Jesse Owens at start of record breaking 200 meter race during the Olympic games 1936 in Berlin.

Let’s skip to the ’36 games in Berlin where African American sprinter and long jumper Jesse Owens shined in a potentially hostile, Nazi Germany environment. In front of Hitler and a massive German crowd, Owens won four medals and got the fans behind him as they cheered every time he entered the stadium, giving him star treatment and loudly applauding as he stole the show. Utilize this knowledge by dropping it into an Olympic discussion to engage in a deeper conversation about politics, history and inspirational athletic feats.

Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali

3. 1960, Rome: The Legend Is Born

Believe it or not, every Olympics prior to 1960 were not aired in the U.S.A. The rights to the 1960 games in Rome were purchased by CBS and this publicity and exposure was an ideal scenario for the youthful, 18 years young, light heavyweight boxer to grace the world with his presence. His name? Cassius Clay — more commonly known as Muhammad Ali. He won gold that year; an early accolade in what would be the greatest boxing career ever.

4. 1972, Munich: Mark Spitz Dominates; The U.S Basketball Team Rejects Their Medal

Mark Spitz

At the 1972 games in Munich, a 22-year-old swimmer named Mark Spitz set an Olympic gold medal record by winning four individual and three relay events — all in record time. Meanwhile, the U.S. basketball team lost an Olympic game for the first time ever, in a highly controversial fashion. After much confusion and chaos, the Soviet team was given multiple opportunities to beat the Americans, and on the third one, they capitalized by completing a long pass and layup at the final buzzer. Due to the sketchiness of the situation and feelings of being cheated, the United States players refused to accept their silver medals.

5. 1976, Montreal: Bruce Jenner Shares The Spotlight With Someone Who Isn’t A Kardashian

These games cost a whopping 5 billion dollars — and that was in ’76 when money went a lot further. The highlight of these events was a 14-year-old Romanian gymnast named Nadia Comaneci. She scored seven perfect 10s and reeled in three gold medals, setting the table for a gymnastics dynasty in Romania. Also, before becoming the head of the Kardashian household, Bruce Jenner was quite the athlete, winning the decathlon at the ’76 games. The U.S. had lost three major events to the Soviets in 1972, so when Jenner won he was considered a national hero and gained huge celebrity. Wheaties Boxes, television appearances — the whole nine.

6. 1984, Los Angeles: Carl Lewis Leads A Dominant USA Performance

United States raked in 83 gold medals during these lopsided games, and 23-year-old Carl Lewis was a key figure in making it happen. Lewis managed to match the four gold medal performance of Jesse Owens almost 50 years prior, making him a household name in America. The most impressive part of his career is his preservation as he managed to legitimately compete for years to come.

7. 1992, Barcelona: The Greatest Team Ever

Get familiar with these two words: DREAM. TEAM. This was the first Olympics to allow professional athletes to participate and basketball was the chief beneficiary of it. America’s iconic “Dream Team” was composed of NBA All-Stars and future Hall-of-Famers who took the gold with ease. Seriously, they demolished the competition like they were a bunch of middle-schoolers, winning their games by an average of 43.8 points per game and becoming iconic figures overseas. Many consider them to be the best team in the history of sports.

8. 1996, Atlanta: Five Special Instances In One Year

These Olympics were full of classic moments, all of which are worthy of mention. Let’s take a gander at five very special moments from the 1996 Olympic games:

  1. Muhammad Ali (who was affected by illness) lit the Olympic torch in a heartwarming opening.
  2. Track and Field star Michael Johnson shattered a world record in front of his home crowd, taking home two gold medals
  3. The USA’s beloved Dream Team returned and as expected, obliterated their competition on the way to gold.
  4. Carl Lewis’ brilliant run continued as he pulled one last rabbit out of the hat to win his 9th career gold medal.
  5. The U.S. gymnastics squad, also known as “The Magnificent 7” had a classic, unified effort to win team gold, that was topped off by a classic moment as a hobbled Kerri Strug completed her vault with an ankle injury, in a gutsy performance that was the games’ most riveting moment.

9. 2004, Athens: Michael Phelps Surfaces (No Pun Intended); U.S. Basketball Sinks

Michael Phelps, (via Bryan Allison)

This was the year that America’s favorite American swimmer, Michael Phelps, emerged as a household name by winning eight medals (six of which were gold). As a result of his success, Phelps acquired a rather large following and a hefty set of rather high expectations for the next Olympics in 2008.The U.S. Basketball team was eliminated for the first time since professional players were allowed to participate. This was essentially a crisis for basketball fans who realized that the days of blowout victories via the “Dream Team” were a thing of the past.

10. 2008, Beijing: Phelps Makes Us Fall In Deep (OK, That Pun Was Intentional); Usain Bolt Bolts To The Gold And U.S. Basketball Seeks Redemption

You probably have a fairly fresh memory or two from these most recent events, which saw Michael Phelps continue his dominance as the face of the games. He swam his way to eight more gold medals, breaking the record set by Spitz in 1972 — and winning the hearts of many across the globe. Another star emerged, this one a Jamaican sprinter named Usain Bolt. Bolt excelled in ‘08, setting world records in all three of his events and drawing massive amounts of attention. The U.S. Basketball team who tasted bitter defeat in 2004 avenged their loss, defeating Spain in the championship, winning gold and earning a new nickname — “The Redeem Team.”

This smorgasbord of Olympic history should be a sufficient amount of information to get you through any conversation of the gold, silver and bronze nature — at least until the 2012 games are over. Are there any special moments that you feel are worthy of mention? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. TC mark

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Trace the scars life has left you. It will remind you that at one point, you fought for something. You believed.

“You are the only person who gets to decide if you are happy or not—do not put your happiness into the hands of other people. Do not make it contingent on their acceptance of you or their feelings for you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if someone dislikes you or if someone doesn’t want to be with you. All that matters is that you are happy with the person you are becoming. All that matters is that you like yourself, that you are proud of what you are putting out into the world. You are in charge of your joy, of your worth. You get to be your own validation. Please don’t ever forget that.” — Bianca Sparacino

Excerpted from The Strength In Our Scars by Bianca Sparacino.

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  • Jen

    Correction: 10 Incredible Moments from *American* Olympic History.

    • Guest

      Well, there’s Nadia from Romania, and Usain from Jamaica. But yeah, they are mostly American.

    • nathaliew817

      ^ this

  • Karl

    Solid article! Except that video is from Bolt’s win the NEXT year during the Track and Field World Championships in Berlin, and not his “I can’t believe he’s throwing his arms up with 20m left” eye-popper during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

  • http://www.dazadi.com Greg Boss

    Really enjoyed this piece. Many of the top 10, I had heard of before. But I wasn’t aware of Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10’s, which looked incredible. Thanks for sharing this and for building even more excitement towards the upcoming games!

    Greg at Dazadi.com

    • Emoke Czako

      It was so funny reading your comment, ’cause usually people know of Romania only because of Nadia Comăneci and vampires. :)

  • kate

    The 1972 Munich Olympics were also incredible for terrible reasons, but worthy of including in Olympic knowledge showdown conversations: that whole “Munich Massacre” thing where the Israeli team was murdered…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1972_Summer_Olympics

  • Katherine

    I feel like this deserves inclusion? 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Black Power Salute on the podium?

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Olympics_Black_Power_salute

  • SPA

    One of the greatest stories within the story is Jesse Owen’s long jump with Luz Long. There are some questions regarding Long’s assistance with Owen’s third long jump attempt, but there are pictures of them embracing after the medal ceremony. Long died in 1943 and in a letter to Jesse he asked him to find Long’s son (Kai) and tell him how people can get along in this world.

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