12 More Unforgettable Olympic Stories
As the Beijing Games is now ongoing, surely there will be many more unforgettable stories in the making. But as for now, here are twelve more unforgettable stories of past Olympics.
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Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson amazed the world when he beat Carl Lewis in the 100m final, and shattered his own world record to 9.79 seconds. He would shortly remark that he could have gone faster had he not raise his hand in the air less than two meters from the line. However, two days later, he was tested positive for the steroid Stanozolol and would be disqualified a few days later, losing both his Olympic title and world record.
Marathon runner Abebe Bikila was not supposed to run and was added only to the Ethiopian team at the last minute as a replacement for an injured athlete. Adidas, the shoe sponsor of the games, had only a few pairs of shoes left when Bikila went to try them, but none would fit comfortably. So he decided to run barefoot, the way he was trained for the race. Considering that it was only his third time to run the distance, he was able to win in world record time, thereby, becoming the very first runner from an African nation to win the Olympic gold in the marathon. He would repeat the same feat in Tokyo four years later, but this time with shoes.
Having won medals in the 1968 Mexico and 1972 Munich games, Russian fencer Boris Onischenko entered the modern pentathlon as an athlete well esteemed by fellow Olympians. The Soviet team was trailing in fourth place after the first event. The second event was fencing, the one-touch epee tournament, which was Onischenko’s best event. During the bout, a rival team lodged a protest that Onischenko’s weapon had gone off without hitting his opponent. The committee confiscated the weapon and discovered that the grip was illegally tampered with. Onischenko was disqualified at once from the competition along with the Soviet team, and came to be known as “Boris the Cheat.” It was supposed that he had been cheating for many years.
Mark Spitz, the American swimmer with the big moustache, boldly promised that he would win seven gold medals in all the events he entered (the 100m freestyle, 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 4 x 100m freestyle relay, 4 x 200m freestyle relay and the 4 x 100m medley relay). True to his word, he won seven medals and set a new world record on every event. He still holds the record for most gold medals won in a single Olympic Games.
Eric “The Eel” Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea had just learned to swim eight months before the games, and gained his Olympic berth via a wildcard entry intended to encourage developing countries lacking in expensive training facilities to participate. After two other competitors were disqualified for false starts, he swam and won his heat of the 100m freestyle at an extremely slow time, gaining him fifteen minutes of international fame. His time was 1:52.72, which was more than twice the world record time of 47.84 seconds set by the eventual winner Pieter van den Hoogenband. Nonetheless, he had clocked in a new personal best and national record.
With restrictions on professional players lifted by FIBA in 1989, the United States sent NBA players to participate in the Olympics for the first time. The twelve member-team, which included legendary players like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird among others, came to be known as the Dream Team. The team won the Olympic basketball event by blowing away all opposition with an average margin of victory of 43.8 points, without Coach Chuck Daly ever needing to call a timeout.
1932 Los Angeles
American Mildred “Babe” Didrikson is still considered by many to be the world’s greatest sportswoman and the most versatile female athlete of all time, being quite adept basketball, baseball, track and field, diving and bowling. She won six out of the eight events she entered at the pre-Olympic trials, setting five world records in the process. But in the Olympics, she was limited only to three events, earning gold medals in the 80m hurdles and javelin. In the high jump, she was awarded the silver medal, even though she cleared the same height as the gold medallist, the jury judged her jump style to be illegal. She later became a professional golfer, winning many major titles.
American athlete Dick Fosbury revolutionized a new high jump technique that became known as the Fosbury Flop. His technique was to run diagonally toward the bar, then bend and dive backward over the bar. He won gold and his method rapidly gained acceptance and is almost exclusively practiced by high jumpers today.
1984 Los Angeles
British athlete Daley Thompson was the defending champion, having won the decathlon gold four years earlier in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. His main rival in the 1984 games was the current record holder with 8,798 points, West German athlete Jürgen Hingsen. However, Thompson would remain victorious after a superb all-around performance with a score of 8847, setting a new world record that would stand for eight years. By winning the 1984 gold, he became the first athlete to hold Olympic, Commonwealth, European and World titles in a single event concurrently.
American athlete Jim Thorpe was awarded the gold for winning the pentathlon and decathlon events by the King of Sweden, who remarked “you are the greatest athlete in the world.” However, he was stripped of his Olympic titles and medals when it was learned he had played professional baseball in a minor league for two years. He tried for years to have his titles restored to no avail as Olympic president Avery Brundage, whom Thorpe had effortlessly defeated in Stockholm, blocked his every attempt. In 1982, the International Olympic Committee overturned the decision, reinstated Thorpe’s name to the record books and presented commemorative medals to his family.
American sprinter Michael Johnson became the first man to win gold in both the 200m and 400m race, but it was his spectacular performance in the former event that surprised world audiences. At the 1996 US Olympic trials, he ran 19.66 seconds in the 200m, breaking the seventeen-year-old record of 19.72 seconds. However, at the 200m final of the games, he ran a world record time of 19.32 seconds, absolutely crushing his previous record by the largest improvement ever; and on this account, he was consequently billed as “the world’s fastest man.”
Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut captivated the public’s imagination through her dynamic acrobatics and emotional openness that somehow altered the world’s impression of the stereotypically stoic demeanor of eastern bloc athlete. She won three golds (team, floor exercise and balance beam) and a silver (uneven bars), smiling and dancing her way into the hearts of the world. All the media frenzy that accompany her Olympic debut resulted in a tremendous increase of popularity of the once unpopular sport of gymnastics.
More articles on Greatest Athletes series:
- (Almost) Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Male Gymnasts in History
- 10 Greatest Female Gymnasts in History
- Greatest American Female Gymnasts
- Greatest American Male Gymnasts
- 10 Greatest Female Figure Skaters of All Time
- 10 Greatest Male Figure Skaters of All Time
Articles on the Olympics:
- Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Summer Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- More Unforgettable Winter Olympic Stories
- Unforgettable Moments of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games
- Unforgettable Moments of The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
- Michael Phelps: The Greatest Olympian of All Time
Golden Olympic Performances:
- Men Singles Figure Skating
- Ladies Singles Figure Skating
- Men’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise
- Men’s Gymnastics – Pommel Horse
- Men’s Gymnastics – Still Rings
- Men’s Gymnastics – Horizontal Bar
- Men’s Gymnastics – Parallel Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Uneven Bars
- Women’s Gymnastics – Balance Beam
- Women’s Gymnastics – Floor Exercise