Al Michaels, athletics, Cold War, Dawn Fraser, Edwin Moses, gold medals, gymnastics, Hitler, ice hockey, Jesse Owens, Mark Spitz, Michael Johnson, Miracle on Ice, Nadia Comaneci, Olympic Games, Summer Olympics, swimming, track and field, US hockey team, USSR, Winter Olympics
(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
There have been numerous great moments in Olympic history. I love the Summer Olympics and look forward to them every time, especially the track and field and the swimming. To see the athletes at the peak of their careers, all the hard training behind them, line up to see who is the best in the world and if they can beat the world record is simply awe-inspiring.
Jesse Owens 1936
My all-time favourite moment in the Olympics is when black American Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 games in Berlin. Hitler and the Nazis had been carrying on about how the Aryan race was superior. Owens won individual gold medals in the 100 yards, 200 yards, and long jump, and a team gold medal in the 4 x 100 yards relay. His four gold medals was the first time an American had done this at the one Olympics.
I’ve seen an old documentary a number of times that highlights Owens’ Olympic achievements. It includes footage of Hitler turning away as Owens crossed the finish line in one event. Hitler didn’t hang around for the medal presentation either. Earlier, when he shook the hands of German victors only, officials said he should either greet all medal winners or none. He chose none. But the great thing was that even his own people didn’t see eye to eye with him. Some 110,000 people who had packed into the stadium cheered Owens on, and many ordinary German people later sought his autograph.
US hockey team 1980
In second place would arguably be a moment from the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid when the US hockey team won a gold medal against the mighty USSR team. The moment became known as the “Miracle on Ice.” There was a fair bit of niggle between America and Russia in those days, so the victory was more than just a hockey win. It was a Cold War showdown, and a win for free America against communist Russia. The USSR was the dominant hockey team going into the 1980 Games. It had beaten everyone in the 1979 World Championship. The Americans were the clear underdogs, lacking the skill levels of their more favored opponents, and were beaten 10-3 by the Soviets in an exhibition match just before the Games.
The US team made it to the medal round but had to play the USSR. Although outpointed in most aspects of play, the US held their own on the scoreboard, matching the Soviet team goal for goal. With 10 minutes left, the US led 4-3. The US somehow held off a relentless Russian attack. The crowd counted down the last seconds as ABC commentator Al Michaels joined in the count and made his now famous call: “Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now. Morrow, up to Silk … five seconds left in the game … Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Unbelievable!” The US had won, despite only 16 shots at goal compared with 39 by their opponents. The rest of the medal round matches were an anticlimax. By the way, the US beat Finland 4-2 for the gold medal.
Nadia Comaneci 1976
Any list of great Olympic moments has to include Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian gymnast who won five gold medals at the 1976 Montreal Olympics at the tender age of 14. Even more remarkable was that great moment when she received the first ever perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics events. It happened during the team section of the competition on the uneven bars. Ironically, the electronic equipment wasn’t able to display a score of 10.0 and it read 1.00 instead, but everyone knew it was a perfect score. This was a moment quite worthy of third place overall. Nadia went on to score six more 10s at the Montreal Olympics.
More great moments
Equal fourth goes to two incredible runners and two record breaking swimmers. Edwin Moses won a gold medal in the 400 meters hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics eight years after winning his first gold medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Had the US not boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games, Moses would have more than likely won that race too. He was undefeated in 107 consecutive finals between 1977 and 1987.
Michael Johnson winning the 200-400 meters track double at the 1996 Atlanta Games rates as one of the great Olympic moments. He is the only male runner to have done this at the same games. He successfully defended his 400 meters title at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, becoming the first male athlete to achieve this feat.
Swimmer Mark Spitz won a record seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Amazingly, he set a world record in every event he contested: individual records in the 100 meters butterfly, 200 meters butterfly, 100 meters freestyle, and 200 meters freestyle, and team records in the 4 x 100 meters freestyle, 4 x 200 meters freestyle, and 4 x 100 meters medley.
Dawn Fraser from Australia won eight gold medals in three Olympic Games. The highlight of her career was probably when she won her third straight gold in the 100 meters freestyle at the 1964 Tokyo Games, having won in Melbourne in 1956 and in Rome in 1960. Fraser held 39 records, and is one of only two swimmers to win an event at three successive Olympic Games.
There have been many more great moments in Olympic history and no doubt some superb performances have been unfairly left out. The Olympics often bring out the best in athletes and we should see more great Olympic moments in the years to come.