JESSE OWENS (1936)
Adolf Hitler had intended the 1936 Berlin Games to showcase his Aryan ideals and prowess. But one Jesse Owens stole the thunder. And how!
The legendary American surprised many by winning four gold medals: On August 3, 1936, he won the 100m sprint, defeating Ralph Metcalfe; on August 4, the long jump (later crediting friendly and helpful advice from Luz Long, the German competitor he ultimately defeated); on August 5, the 200m sprint; and, after he was added to the 4 x 100m relay team, following a request by the Germans to replace a JewishAmerican sprinter, he won his fourth on August 9 (a performance not equalled until Carl Lewis won gold medals in the same events in 1984 ).
On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens had famously said: “Hitler had a certain time to come to the stadium and a certain time to leave. It happened he had to leave before the victory ceremony after the 100m. But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was in bad taste to criticise the man of the hour in another country.”
A remarkably even-keeled and magnanimous human being, Owens never rubbed it in. Just as sure as he knew fascism was evil, he also knew his country had ways to go too in improving life for African-Americans. “When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn't ride in the front of the bus,” Owens said. “I had to go to the back door. I couldn't live where I wanted. I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn't invited to the White House to shake hands with the President, either.”
Emil Zatopek (1952)
Emil Zatopek had already won the 5,000m and 10,000m in Helsinki 1952. But the Czech had never run a marathon, and the pre-race favourite was Jim Peters, the world record holder. Halfway through the marathon, Zatopek appeared on leader Peters’ shoulder and asked, “Is this pace too fast?” Peters replied, “It isn't fast enough.” Zatopek took him at his word, and soon disappeared from view. When Zatopek crossed the line, he had secured a long-distance treble that no one has emulated.
BOB BEAMON (1968)
Bob Beamon entered the 1968 Mexico Olympics as the favourite, having won 22 of the 23 meets he had competed that year, including a career best of 8.33m and a world’s best of 8.39m that was ineligible for the record books because of excessive wind assistance. He nearly missed the final, overstepping on his first two attempts in qualifying. With only one chance left, Beamon re-measured his approach run from a spot in front of the board and made a fair jump that advanced him to the final. There he faced the two previous gold-medal winners, American Ralph Boston (1960) and Lynn Davies of Great Britain (1964), and two-time bronze medallist Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of the Soviet Union.
On October 18, Beamon set a world record for the long jump with a jump of 8.90m (29 ft. 2½ in.), bettering the existing record by 55 cm (21¾ in.). When the announcer called out the distance for the jump, Beamon – unfamiliar with metric measurements – wasn’t affected by it.
When his teammate and coach Ralph Boston told him that he broke the world record by nearly two feet, an astonished Beamon collapsed to his knees and placed his hands over his face in shock. In one of the more enduring images of the Games, his competitors then helped him to his feet. Beamon’s record stood for 23 years until Mike Powell broke it in 1991.
Beamon landed his jump near the far end of the sand pit but the optical device which had been installed to measure jump distances was not designed to measure a jump of such length. This forced the officials to measure the jump manually which added to the jump’s aura.
MARK SPITZ (1972)
Mark Spitz, considered the fastest swimmer of all time, made his big splash during the 1972 Olympics, becoming the first athlete to win seven gold medals in Olympics. His performances were even more remarkable considering world records were set in all seven events (the 100m freestyle [00:51:22], 200m freestyle [01:52:78], 100m butterfly [00:54:27], 200m butterfly [02:00:70], 4 × 100m freestyle relay [03:26:42], 4 x 200m freestyle relay [07:35:78] and the 4 × 100m medley relay [03:48:16]).
Originally, Spitz was reluctant to swim the 100m freestyle fearing a less than gold medal finish. Minutes before the race, he confessed on the pool deck: “I know I say I don’t want to swim before every event but this time I’m serious. If I swim six and win six, I’ll be a hero. If I swim seven and win six, I’ll be a failure.”
TEOFILO STEVENSON (1972)
Teofilo Stevenson is one of only three boxers to win three Olympic gold medals, alongside Hungarian Lazlo Papp and fellow Cuban Felix Savon.
In 1972 Munich Games, Teofilo showcased his talent. Stevenson, then 20, joined the Cuban boxing team for the Munich Olympics of 1972 with high hopes resting on his performance.
His opening bout against experienced Polish fighter Ludwik Denderys began dramatically when Stevenson knocked the other man down within thirty seconds of the opening bell. The fight was stopped moments later due to a large cut next to the Pole’s eye.
Proceeding to the quarter finals, Stevenson met fancied American boxer Duane Bobick. Bobick, a gold medalist at the 1971 Pan American Games, had beaten Stevenson previously, and was considered favourite to continue the US team’s dominance of the heavyweight division; previous American gold medalists included George Foreman (1968) and Joe Frazier (1964). After a close first round, Stevenson lost the second, but a ferocious display in the third round knocked Bobick to the canvas three times and the contest was stopped. The victory was viewed on television throughout Cuba, and is still considered Stevenson’s most memorable performance.
Stevenson comfortably defeated German Peter Hussing in the semi final, and received his gold medal after Romanian Ion Alexe failed to appear in the final due to injury. The Munich Games established Stevenson as the world’s premier amateur heavyweight boxer.
He went to win two more gold in 1976 and 1980 and could have added the fourth one at the Los Angeles. But Cubans boycotted the Games.
NADIA COMANECI (1976)
At the age of 14, Nadia Comaneci became one of the stars of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. During the team portion of the competition on July 18, her routine on the uneven bars was awarded a perfect 10. It was the first time in modern Olympic gymnastics history that the score had ever been awarded. Since the scoreboards were not equipped to display scores of 10.0, Nadia’s perfect marks were flashed as 1.00 instead. Over the course of the Olympics, Comaneci earned six additional 10s, en route to capturing the allaround, beam, and bars titles and a bronze medal on the floor exercise. Comaneci was the first Romanian gymnast to win the Olympic allaround title. She also holds the record for being the youngest Olympic gymnastics allaround champion ever.
CARL LEWIS (1984)
The 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles made Carl Lewis a household name worldwide.
Lewis started his quest to match Jesse Owens’ feat of winning four gold medals at a single Olympic Games with a convincing win in the 100m.
In his next event, the long jump, Lewis won with relative ease. His third gold medal came in the 200m, where he again won handily in a time of 19.80s, an Olympic record.
And finally, he won his fourth gold when the 4x100 m relay team he anchored finished in a time of 37.83 s, a world record eclipsing the record he helped set the year before at the World Championships.
DREAM TEAM (1992)
The 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team, nicknamed the ‘Dream Team’, was the first American Olympic team to feature active NBA players.
Considered by many to be the greatest team ever assembled in any sport, they defeated their opponents by an average of almost 44 points en route to the gold medal against Croatia at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
In Seoul, the United States national basketball team, made up of college stars, finished in a disappointing third place. After FIBA opened the Olympics to professional players in April 1989 despite American and Russian votes against the proposal, USA Basketball asked the NBA to supply players for its 1992 roster. The league was initially unenthusiastic, not foreseeing the cultural phenomenon that the team would become.
The first 10 players for the Dream Team were officially selected on September 21, 1991: Michael Jordan (picture inset) and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls, John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz, Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks, Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors, David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, and Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The closest of the eight matches was the Dream Team’s 117–85 victory in the gold medal game against Croatia.
Michael Phelps (2008)
Michael Phelps may have arrived in the summer of 2004, but it was in Beijing’s National Aquatics Centre that he re-wrote the history books. In the space of eight short days, the American raced 17 times and claimed eight gold medals, to add to the six he won four years previously in Athens. In 2008, Phelps claimed gold and new world records in the 400m individual medley, 4x100m freestyle relay, 200m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 4x200m freestyle relay and 200m individual medley; he had to settle for the Olympic record in the 100m butterfly, in addition to the gold. The eighth gold followed in the 4x100m medley.
USAIN BOLT (2008)
Usain Bolt began 2008, the Olympic year, with his first world record performance — a 100m world record of 9.72s — and culminated in world and Olympic records in both the 100m and 200m events in Beijing.
He ran 9.69s for the 100 m and 19.30s in the 200m, and also set a 4×100 m relay record of 37.10s with the Jamaican team.
This made him the first man to win three sprinting events at a single Olympics since Carl Lewis in 1984, and the first man to set world records in all three at a single Olympics.
In the Olympic 100 m final, Bolt broke new ground, winning in 9.69s with a reaction time of 0.165 s. This was an improvement upon his own world record, and he was well ahead of second-place finisher Richard Thompson, who finished in 9.89 s.
Bolt then focused on attaining a gold medal in the 200 m event, aiming to emulate Carl Lewis’ double win in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
In the final, he won Jamaica’s fourth gold of the Games, setting a world and Olympic record of 19.30 s. The feat made him the first sprinter since Don Quarrie to hold both 100 m and 200m world records simultaneously and the first since the introduction of electronic timing. Two days later, Bolt ran as the third leg in the Jamaican 4x100 metres relay team, increasing his gold medal total to three. Along with teammates Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, and Asafa Powell, Bolt broke another world and Olympic record, their 37.10s finish breaking the previous record by three tenths of a second.
An image which even if you saw a thousand times, spoke to your heart in so profound a manner that it embodied the spirit of the times. The image is that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising a hand covered in a black glove with Peter Norman donning the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge from the victory dais after the 200m final of the 1968 Mexico Games. It will be remembered as the most iconic image of protest at the Olympic Games.
At last he emerged from the background. A body weathered by Parkinson’s but the mind astute as ever. Shivering Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic flame at Altanta. No other sportsman in the history of sport had meant so much to so many as Muhammad Ali.
united, they march
North and South Korea were divided at the 38th parallel, but reunified in Sydney. It was probably only symbolic, perhaps even delusional, but when an event can bring two countries that are officially at war to march under the same flag, it gives the spectator an idea of the strength of the Olympic movement. A flag with the map of undivided Korea in blue over a white background was carried by Park Jung Chon, a North Korean judo coach and Chun Un Soon, a basketball player from South Korea while the band aptly played an emotional folk song. Same uniform, same flag, same song – it seemed for one fleeting moment in history.
SUPER EAGLES SOAR
Nigeria made Olympic
football history in Atlanta by becoming the first African team to win the gold medal. And the hero was undoubtedly the one and only Kanu...
Adolf Hitler saw the 1936 Games as an opportunity to promote his government and ideals of racial supremacy, and did not want Jews or Blacks to be allowed to participate in the Games. However, when threatened with a boycott of the Games by other nations, he relented and allowed Blacks and Jews to participate.
GAMES & POLITICS
In 1980, the United States led a 61-nation boycott of the Moscow Olympics. US President Jimmy Carter called for the boycott to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979.
BIG BEN’S BIG BLUNDER
On September 24 1988, Canadian Ben Johnson beat Carl Lewis in the 100m final at the Seoul Olympics, lowering his own world record to 9.79 seconds. However, Johnson’s urine samples were found to contain stanozolol, and he was disqualified three days later.
KICK-OFF AT NOON
In 2008 Beijing Olympics, the men's football final between Argentina and Nigeria started at noon. What a time to play the game! Strange isn't it? The highlight of the match, without a doubt, was the time-out given to both teams. This had never happened before in an international competition, but was surely a sensible choice given the extreme conditions.