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A Gathering of Greats: Olympians

Blair Bonnie Blair
As the world's premier female speed skater from 1988 through '94, she won five Olympic gold medals -- more than any other U.S. woman, in summer or winter competition.

"She stands as a 5'4", 130-pound rebuke to every sucker who said he would play the game for nothing but won't suit up for a cent less than $68 million ... and to every Just-Win-Baby boor, be he in the owner's box or the AD's office or the Little League dugout. Just win, baby, is about all she does, but that's not why she does it. Winning isn't everything, or the only thing, or necessarily anything."
—Steve Rushin, SI, Dec. 19, 1994

Joyner-Kersee Jackie Joyner-Kersee
She was the greatest female track and field athlete ever, with six Olympic medals from 1984 through '96; her '88 heptathlon world record still stands.

"The measure of Joyner-Kersee's greatness came not from a stopwatch or the infernal charts that score the heptathlon. A fuller gauge was the purity of her efforts, which seemed so often to rise up from her soul, and the impact that she had on her sport and on women."
—TIm Layden, SI, Aug. 3, 1998

Lewis Carl Lewis
Throughout the 1980s and into the early '90s, no one could run faster or jump farther more consistently than Lewis, a 10-time Olympic medalist, nine of them golds.

"Carl loathes mystery. The day he sails farther, he must know every element that created the jump, he must know how to duplicate it, he must feel he controlled it -- or it won't be a triumph. In the long jump, as in life, Lewis must happen to it -- he cannot let it happen to him."
—Gary Smith, SI, July 18, 1984

Oerter Al Oerter
The four-time Olympic discus champion is one of only two athletes to win gold in four consecutive Games ('56, '60, '64, '68).

"It is part of the Oerter mystique that he was never favored to win an Olympics. Especially not his first, in 1956, when he was a 20-year-old at Kansas and faced world-record holder Fortune Gordien, also of the U.S. Yet Oerter won, and the old master took it hard. Gordien went home and raised a son, Marcus. Trained him to be better than his father. Twenty-two years later, at the Pepsi Invitational at UCLA, he sent Marcus, then 23, out to throw against Al Oerter, then 43. Oerter beat him."
—Kenny Moore, SI, July 25, 1988

Owens Jesse Owens
At the 1936 Olympics he won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, 4x100-meter relay and broad jump.

"Owens seemed to glory in overcoming obstacles. He preached that if a man worked hard enough, if he endured racial taunts the way Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis had, he would succeed, he would win the white man's respect and things would change."
—Kenny Moore, SI, Aug. 5, 1991

Spitz Mark Spitz
He was a nine-time Olympic gold medalist; his seven in 1972 made him the most decorated athlete in any one Olympics.

"Spitz seems to glide through the water with great economy. Long of upper arm and curiously possessed of the ability to flex his legs forward at the knees, Spitz is one of those rare swimmers who inspire coaches to talk themselves silly about man's harmony with the elements."
—Jerry Kirshenbaum, SI, Sept. 4, 1972

Photographs by (from top) Michael O'Neill, Peter Read Miller(2), John G. Zimmerman, AP Photo, Heinz Kluetmeier

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