06 Aug

Five Memorable Moments in the Olympics

Every Olympic meet is memorable. Each Olympiad has its own set of feats, glories, even defeats. When I think of “memorable moments in Olympic history,” I think of certain Olympic events and happenings that have truly made a worldwide impact – or created a phenomenon.

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Michael Phelps at the Beijing 2008 Olympics

A memorable Olympic moment for me can be someone with superhuman skills breaking world records, or someone not winning a medal but winning the hearts of people.

A historic Olympic event is a beautiful display of power, ability, speed, grace, and most importantly for me, genuine sportsmanship.

Many of those memorable Olympic moments happened in the distant past, but technology allows us to “watch history” again and again such as images of athletes in slow motion – graceful and poignant.

For me, a memorable Olympic moment happened:

…when Michael Phelps hauled eight gold medals in Beijing in 2008

Michael Phelps (born 1985) is an American swimmer who has won a total of 22 medals, including 18 gold. He is not only the most decorated swimmer, but also the most decorated Olympian ever. He won an astonishing six gold medals in Athens in 2004, and then topped that feat with eight in Beijing.

Phelps broke Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals, which had stood since 1972. His skills are often referred to as superhuman, and he earned the nickname “Flying Fish.”

…when Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10  

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Nadia Comaneci in perfect form...

Nadia Comaneci (born 1961), a Romanian gymnast, became the first ever to score a perfect 10 in the history of modern Olympic gymnastics. This was during the 1976 Montreal Games when she was 14. She went on to win three gold medals and two more at the Moscow 1980 Olympics. That moment cemented her legacy not only in gymnastics history but for all of the Olympics. Known for her clean, unique routines, Ms. Comaneci is undoubtedly the most famous gymnast ever.

…when the original US Dream Team (men’s basketball team) played in Barcelona in 1992

What could go wrong when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird were on the team? Their coach, Chuck Daly, never called a single timeout! For a true basketball fan, this was THE show-stopper.

The Dream Team, often dubbed by the press as the greatest sports team ever assembled, was composed of Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing,  Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and John Stockton.

…when Muhammad Ali lit the torch/cauldron in Atlanta

We all know Muhammad Ali (born 1942) as the legendary boxer, dubbed as the greatest ever. But during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics opening ceremony, we saw a different Ali, not a fighter knocking down opponents. We held our breath as we watched him grasp the torch unsteadily and shake uncontrollably due to Parkinson’s Disease. It was a moment so poignant that every Olympic torch-lighting ceremony after that reminded me and will continue to remind me of Muhammad Ali.

…when Jesse Owens conquered Berlin

This has to be my favorite Olympic moment.

Adolf Hitler believed in the superiority of the Aryan race – with tragic results. And the 1936 Berlin Olympics was the perfect time to show off his Aryan supermen. 

But African-American track and field athlete Jesse Owens (James Cleveland Owens), originally from the segregated South (Alabama), showed the world that talent and skill see no color. He won four gold medals in the sprints and long jump. Among those he bested was Germany’s Luz Long.

Although racial discrimination still exists to this day, this memorable Olympic moment happened during a period when blacks were severely discriminated to the point of getting banned from certain hotels.

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Jesse Owens at the Berlin 1936 Olympics

The crowd loved Jesse Owens, but it was said that Hitler expressed disgust over the American’s presence, calling him “sub-human.” There are reports claiming that the infamous snub never happened. But what interests me about Jesse Owens’ achievement is that it transcends politics and sports, considering the context of the story – a world in the brink of war.

Although life wasn’t perfect back home after for Jesse Owens, his Olympic feat made a shining statement, and people still remember that to this day.

The list of memorable Olympic moments goes on…

Most memorable Olympic theme ever?

Seoul 1988′s “One Moment in Time”

Most recognizable Olympic stadium?

The Bird’s Nest in Beijing

Beijing 2008 gave us a spectacular opening, while London 2012’s was star-studded, a ceremony which included the iconic Paul McCartney and…Rowan Atkinson (smiling).

As of this writing, London 2012 is well under way. Records are broken. Dreams are realized. But each Olympiad isn’t all about glory and achievement, but also about defeat and crushed dreams. And glories and defeats are not limited to the athletes themselves.

And if you think the euphoric feeling of winning an Olympic medal lasts, well, it doesn’t!  It’s the story that does.

The feeling may wear off, but the achievement stands. A truly memorable Olympic moment is something we still remember long after the euphoria is gone.


Nadia Comaneci image: Dave Gilbert/Flickr

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