In almost two weeks the London Olympics have shocked, inspired and enthralled the world, but I’m taking a minute to forget about the present games and instead look back at some of my favorite Olympic moments involving the United States.
I wasn’t around to see Jesse Owens upset the Nazis in Berlin at the 1936 games, or the Soviet Union basketball team’s three attempts at a gold medal in 1972, or even Carl Lewis dominating L.A. in 1984, so I basically have to go by what my elders tell me. That’s not to say I haven’t seen a lot in my 25 years!
Perhaps the greatest moment I have ever witnessed came in a sport that I know little about, a sport I’m really not very fond of – gymnastics. At the 1996 games in Atlanta, one U.S. gymnast had a moment that is engraved into history.
Going into the final event, the U.S. women’s team led Russia by the slimmest of margins heading into the vault, where a 17-year-old by the name of Kerri Strug botched her first attempt and tore ligaments in her ankle – but she wasn’t about to quit. With one last chance to seal the gold for her team, Strug fought through the pain and landed perfectly before her coach had to carry her off of the mat. Her 9.712 score was all it took to earn the gold and make Strug the biggest story of the games.
In 2008 at Beijing, history was made in the pool. For the all-time Olympic medal leader Michael Phelps, it took just eight days and ended in eight gold medals, though his last medal proved to be his biggest.
It would come in the men’s 4x100m medley relay, as Phelps managed to swim the third leg of the race – the butterfly – in an impressive 50.15 seconds en route to a record time by the U.S. in the event. With the medal, Phelps had broken Mark Spitz’s previous record of seven golds in one Olympic Games.
But if you’re looking for dominance look no further than the 1992 U.S. men’s basketball team.
Labeled as the “Dream Team”, the team had a roster that looked like something only assembled in video games. Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen – the list of talent goes on and on. The U.S. team put up triple-digit scores in all seven rounds and won by as many as 60 points a game. The Dream Team went on to destroy Croatia in the gold medal contest, solidifying themselves as the greatest team ever assembled – though the current team might have something to say about that.
There’s more to the Olympics than winning and losing and never was that more evident than at the 1996 opening ceremony. After a 15,000 mile journey, the Olympic torch reached its destination – Atlanta – and there was plenty of speculation as to who would have the honor of lighting the cauldron. At the end of the night it was revealed that 54-year-old Muhammad Ali – afflicted with Parkinson’s disease – would do the honor in front of an ecstatic crowd. It was a moment that I will never forget.
Photo Credit:Sven Simon/Imago/Icon SMI