I love the Olympics. LOOOOOVE them. They're my absolute favorite sporting event in the world, made all the sweeter by only taking place every four years. Say what you want about the NBA, or NFL, or EPL, or whatever, but there's nothing quite like seeing over a hundred countries coming together in pageant of patriotism and spirited competition, with individual and national pride on the line.
When JRW asked me if I'd be willing to do this week's sponsored post about "Favorite Olympic Moments," of course I jumped on it. As I sat down and started making my list (with a lot of help from the internet), it became very clear that there were WAY too many to choose from, so I set myself some ground rules: summer games only, a wide variety of events, and only from the past 20 years.
So after the jump, enjoy my Top Ten Favorite Summer Olympic Moments From the Past 20 Years:
10. Eric "The Eel" Moussambani (Sydney '00)
The first entry wasn't a winner--not by a long shot--but truly embodied the spirit of the Olympic Games. Moussambani hailed from the small African country of Equitorial Guinea, who five days previous had arrived in Sydney with £50 to his name ... and the honor of carrying his nation's flag during the opening ceremonies. Here's the catch, though: he had never even seen, let alone swum in, an Olympic-sized swimming pool. He was only there at all because of a (later changed) "wild-card scheme" that allowed athletes from developing countries to compete. To make matters worse, he had spent eight months training for the 50-meter event, only to discover to his horror upon arrival that he was actually entered in the 100-meters. A distance he'd never even attempted before.
At the first qualifying heat, the only other two competitors false-started and were disqualified, leaving Eric all alone. There was an idea that they'd send him on to the next round by default, but the judges conferred and made a curious decision: he would swim by himself, in hopes of achieving the qualifying time of 1 minute, 10 seconds.
Here's what happened next:
Eric Moussambani "won" his heat, with a personal best of 1 minute, 52.72 seconds: a personal best...and the slowest time in Olympic history. But the international interest in his heroic effort got him over a hundred interviews, and even an endorsement deal with Speedo. They called him "The Eel."
9. Best. Torchlighting. Ever. (Barcelona '92)
In the history of opening ceremonies, we've seen crazy stunts, massive crowds, inspirational figures, and incredible artistry. But we've never seen anything quite as cool as this:
HE SHOT A FLAMING ARROW. A flaming arrow!!! How awesome is that?!?
That's Spanish archer Antonio Rebello, by the way. And he had found out he'd be doing this only two hours ago. No pressure or anything.
8. Usain Bolt Double-Dips (Beijing '08)
Most everyone expected Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to win gold...but I don't think anyone expected the level of dominance he would display in an event that's over in just a few seconds. At what is generally known as the hotly anticipated "World's Fastest Man" event, the 100 meters, he not only obliterated the world record, he let everyone know he could have gone even faster:
He would go on to win another gold in the 200m (and set a new record,) AND lead the Jamaican relay team to the top prize. A good week for him, but not quite as good as another guy's we'll get to later...
7. Manu Takes Gold (at USA's expense--Athens ’04)
I admit I’m throwing my fellow Pounders a bone here. It was no great joy seeing Tim Duncan spend game after game on the bench in foul trouble, getting bamboozled by FIBA’s inscrutable officiating and ultimately settling for bronze. However, the team that went on to win was led by Manu Ginobili, then at the height of his powers, and a joy to watch.
(via qwertyqwerty367--Duncan fouls out at 6:27. But seriously, look at the rest of his team. No wonder.)
Also featuring future NBA stars Fabricio "Fabulous" Oberto and Luis Scola, the Argentinian squad would go on to defeat Italy and claim the gold. Manu would be the first man to win a Euro championship, an NBA championship, and the Olympics. USA’s "Redeem Team" would be back to reclaim the top of the podium in Beijing, but this was a moment for Argentina (and the newly-dubbed "Golden Generation") to treasure.
6. Michael Johnson Double-Dips...First (Atlanta ’96)
Okay, maybe this is too similar to the Usain Bolt entry, but are you really going to make me choose between them? The man with the golden shoes? The first man to win both the 200m and 400m events? The man who did THIS?
By destroying his own world record in the 200 meters, MJ’s triumph was every bit as titanic as Bolt’s... and for the nine-year-old version of myself screaming in his living room, a lot more fun. While the Jamaican is in one sense a freakish product of genetics, Johnson was The Mouse That Roared. A golden god.
5. Rulon Gardner Stuns Karelin (Sydney ’00)
Generally, when you’re talking about the finely-tuned, highly-trained, best athletes the world has to offer, there aren’t very many real surprises. The strongest competitor will win, and even when he doesn’t, you can look at who beat him and say "yeah, that makes sense." But sometimes, a story unfolds that defies all expectation, and this is what the Olympic Games are all about.
Rulon Gardner was born on a dairy farm in Wyoming, and was teased about his weight all through his childhood. He had received a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska, but changed course and joined the wrestling team instead. He went on to be named an All-American, so no one was surprised when he qualified for the Olympic team. What he would do next, however, would shock the world.
Russian Alexander Karelin had never lost an international match. He hadn’t even conceded a point in ten years. This was a man who was universally regarded as the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time; a man who had won three straight gold medals; a man who had once carried a refrigerator up seven flights of stairs rather than ask for help. He was unbeatable.
Gardner was supposed to give a good effort and take the silver...but that’s not what happened:
(via tharasslinfreak--START AT 2:08)
Kind of makes you misty, doesn’t it?
4. A Dramatic Sendoff for Hamm & Co. (Athens ’04)
It was to be the last game for the team’s nucleus, for Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain. For the athletes who had changed women’s sports in the USA forever, who forced soccer into American homes long before the heroics of Landon Donovan. For the squad that had won an improbable gold in Atlanta, and was back 8 years later for one more round.
They had played sloppily, while Brazil looked crisp. They probably didn’t deserve the win. But in overtime of a 1-1 tie, in the 112th minute, Abby Wambach ended a transformative era with a bang--pounding a header into the net for the game-winner.
(via olympic--The internet let me down on this one. Go to 2:04 for a glimpse of a match that wasn't this one, and the medal ceremony.)
After the first Women’s World Cup was held in 1991, only five journalists greeted them at the airport...three of them foreign. Only a few years later, these women would ensure a much bigger following, and a second gold medal in Athens was the perfect capper for a team that now looks to win its fourth (and third straight) in London. Wambach will still be there, inspiring a new generation.
3. The Dream Team (Barcelona ’92)
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said? Just watch these highlights, and be amazed.
Now pause, and think about how this will never happen again.
2. Kerri Strug (Atlanta ’96)
You probably remember where you were on this evening. If you’re an American and missed it, i submit that you just aren’t a sports fan.
Team USA’s gymnasts came to the Olympics with one goal in mind, which they had announced to the world with the hiring of the volcanic Romanian Bela Karolyi as their coach: beat the Russians. Simple enough, except that the former Soviet machine had dominated the event for four decades. There were high expectations for individual performances from Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, and the other members of "The Magnificent Seven," but it was little Kerri Strug --the one Karolyi was on record as saying was "not a fighter"-- that would prove the biggest hero.
On the final night of the team competition, the lead had gone back-and-forth between the US and Russia multiple times. After a spectacular series of floor routines, the Americans looked poised to claim gold...until shocking back-to-back falls from Moceanu on the vault put the Russians back in striking distance. Suddenly it was all up to Strug.
Strug, who then tore two ligaments in her ankle on her first jump.
Little Kerri Strug, who had no choice but to fight--through the pain--and jump again:
(via BeijingOlympicForum--START AT 1:20)
As she collapsed into the arms of Karolyi and was carried off the mat in a triumphant pietà, the Americans had turned an improbable victory into an indelible moment in sports history. What she didn’t know at the time was that that vault would be her last act as a competitive gymnast. Not only that, but it wasn't even necessary -- her first vault had been good enough to win. Memorable and heart-breaking: that's the Olympics in a nutshell.
1. Michael Phelps Makes the Eight (Beijing ’08)
And finally, my all-time favorite Olympic moment. I’ve already written over 1600 words, so I’ll try to let this one speak for itself. Michael Phelps, greatest swimmer of a generation, and probably in American history, probably ever, won an incredible 8 gold medals in Beijing--but none were so incredible as this one, which depended on a furious comeback from teammate Jason Lezak.
The Frenchman Alain Bernard, Lezak’s opponent in the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay (and Phelps’s fifth event), had said prior to the race that the French were going to "smash" the Americans, and for a while it looked like they were going to do just that.
(via jgray3021--START AT 2:53)
There were so many others I could have included: Dan O'Brian, Cathy Freeman, Steve Redgrave, Misty May & Kerri Walsh...but this is my list, and I'm sticking to it. So what are your favorite Olympic moments?
Celebrate the most compelling moments in Summer Games history with 'Memorable Moments' on Yahoo! Sports. Re-live moments such as Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10s in Montreal, Michael Phelps' record eight gold medals in Beijing, Carl Lewis' unforgettable four gold medals in Los Angeles, the spectacular success of the 1992 US Dream Team, Muhammad Ali in Rome and Atlanta, and any more!
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