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8/11/2008 02:41:00 PM

Top Five Olympic Moments

Kerri Strug
Kerri Strug's gutsy performance in the '96 Games made her an instant star.
Mike Powell/Getty Images
By Lang Whitaker, SI.com

They get me every time. I always swear this will be the year I tune out the Olympics and instead fixate on baseball for two weeks, but then the Games begin and I find myself once again compelled to tune in. As boring as some of the early rounds can be, at almost every twist and turn the Olympics provide unprecedented drama and redemption. Here are my top five Olympic moments...

1. Derek Redmond: The British runner tore his hamstring during the 400 meter semis in Barcelona in 1992. After he crumbled to the track and realized how severely he was injured, he got back up and hopped to the finish, with the assistance of his father, who jumped out of the stands to help his son. Just a terrific, terrific moment.

2. Do You Believe In Miracles? Yes!: The US Hockey Team wasn't supposed to stand a chance against Russia in the 1980 Gold Medal game. Somehow they pulled it off.

3. Kerri Strug: The injured pixie perfectly nailed a one-footed vault landing during the '96 Games to ensure a US Women's gymnastics medal.

4. Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards: Sure, he was terrible at his sport, but it was thrilling to watch a regular Joe walk in and attempt to soar off a death-defying ramp.

5. The Dream Team: As a basketball fan, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics will to me always be known as the Games that brought us hoops nirvana. And we've been trying to recapture it ever since.

What's your favorite Olympic moment? Let us know below...

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com
posted by SI.com | View comments |


Posted: August 11, 2008 3:58 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The US played Finland in the gold medal game. THe miracle against the Russians happened during the semi-finals.
Posted: August 11, 2008 4:57 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Was not the gold medal match. It was the semi finals.
Posted: August 11, 2008 5:08 PM   by Anonymous JFJ
I have two and both involve the lighting of the flame.

1: In 1996 in Atlanta, the torch has been carried by many former olympians, and it is a highly guarded secret as to who will light the flame at the opening ceremony. The night of the ceremony 1988 swimming gold medalist Janet Evans accepts the torch from 1984 boxing bronze medalist Evander Holyfield and 1992 track gold medalist Voula Patoulidou of Greece. Evans then takes off for a lap around the track. At the end of her lap, she makes her way up the ramp and at the top of the platform the torch is handed to...wait for it... "The Greatest" himself, the one and only, Muhammad Ali. As his left hand quivers from the Parkinson's disease he suffers from, Ali holds the torch high with his right, then lights the flame.

2. In 1992, in Barcelona, Spain, the flame is lit with a burning arrow shot by paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo.
Posted: August 11, 2008 6:14 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The US did not play Russia in the 1980 Gold Medal game. The US played Russia the game before.
Ahh, yeah so Team USA 1980's never played Russia in the Gold Medal Game. How ever they did beat Sweden in a heck of a Gold Medal Game that year. And well, I do guess that they were under dogs to the Russians in the Semi Finals though.
Ahh, yeah so Team USA never played Russia in a Gold Medal game in the 1980 games. They did however beat a nice Sweden team for the gold. The Russia game was in the semi's
Posted: August 11, 2008 7:25 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The Dream Team? NO! Basketball (and ice hockey too) lost all its luster when professionals were allowed to play. That's why "Do You Believe In Miracles" is on the list. College kids beat the best in the world.
Posted: August 11, 2008 7:56 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
While the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Hockey game between the USA and the USSR was a fantastic Olympic momement (if not THE best)... it was NOT the "Gold Medal Game". The US still had to defeat Sweden on the following Sunday to win the gold medal...
I don't disagree with your top five, but I would add Franz Klammer's downhill gold medal, an Austrian in Innsbruck 1976 as being one of my favorite memories. I was on the edge of my seat as Franz was on the edge of the mountain.
Posted: August 11, 2008 9:56 PM   by Anonymous JFJ
How on Earth could you forget this?

1968. Mexico City. Medal Ceremony for the 200m dash. As they stand on the platform, Gold medalist Tommie Smith and Bronze medalist John Carlos, in protest of civil rights injustices, raise black gloved fists (a Black Power salute) during The Star Spangled Banner. Their protest, while silent, spoke louder than any words.

You may not remember it Lang Whitaker, but you have to have read or heard about it. You might have even seen footage or still pictures of it.
Posted: August 11, 2008 10:16 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
USA beat Finland for the gold not the USSR
Posted: August 11, 2008 11:26 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Great list, but the common misconception is that the US hockey team beat the Soviets in the gold medal game. The defeated the Soviets in the semi-finals and beat the Finns in the gold medal game.
Posted: August 11, 2008 11:42 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
You need to update your list to include the mens 4x100 Relay. It was literally the greatest race, in any sport, ever.
Posted: August 12, 2008 12:05 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
19080 hockey was the semi final game, they beat Sweden for the gold.
Posted: August 12, 2008 12:19 AM   by Anonymous Christian L
Just to be correct, in 1980 the US did not play the Soviet Union in the Gold Medal game. There was no such game as then the Gold medal was decided in a medal round played round robin style among four teams. After beating the Soviet Union, the US team went on to beat Finland in the final game to win the Gold medal.
Posted: August 12, 2008 12:24 AM   by Anonymous Aheazy
the miracle on ice was in the semi finals. not the gold medal game
Posted: August 12, 2008 3:26 AM   by Anonymous Jeff
Thank you for posting this list. Watching Derek Redmond finish his race puts everything into perspective. He is a true hero, an inspiration, and a testament to what these games are all about.
Posted: August 12, 2008 4:59 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Uh...Lang....the 1980 US hockey team should be the #1 moment. When the beat the Russians...it was the semi-final game, not the gold medal game.
Posted: August 12, 2008 8:08 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Lang, check your facts. US versus Russia in 1980 wasn't for the Gold, it was for the right to play for the Gold.

The USA didn't beat Russia in the Gold medal game, good try though. No wonder why the world prefers ESPN.
I think that mens 4x100m will be remembered for a long time. That was amazing. How about Ahkwari's finish of the marathon in the '68 Mexico City games?
Posted: August 12, 2008 9:22 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Team USA beat the USSR in the 1980semi-final. The went on to beat Finland in the final.
Posted: August 12, 2008 10:23 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
i once heard someone say that the US and soviet hockey game was not the gold medal game...i forget who said it...

why don't we try posting something no one has posted yet, like mary lou getting perfect 10's. america's sweetheart started America's obsession with gymnastics
Posted: August 12, 2008 10:25 AM   by Anonymous pike
It's the curse of children to forget just about everything that transpired before their birth. The greatest Olympic moment was Jesse Owens poking Hitler and the rest of the "master race" square in the eye in 1936.
Posted: August 12, 2008 10:29 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
roy jones jr. souel south korea, i think '84 gold medal fight vs. south korean.a great tradgey that probably lit the fire for a great pro career
Posted: August 12, 2008 12:11 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Women's Saber fencing. 2004 was the first year where this was an event and the eventual gold medal winner was only allowed to attend when another country decided not to send a fencer. In 2008 Murial Zagunis repeated her win, followed by Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward resulting in a USA sweep of the event. For a sport that is dominated by Europe and Russia in all other disciplines for these three women to come out as the best in the world is a testament to how strong they are.
Posted: August 12, 2008 12:39 PM   by Anonymous Bill West
Good list, but impossible to limit it to just five! Off the top of my head: Rajer Johnson-C.K. Yang battle in the 1960 decathlon (read about it in the great new book, Rome 1960"), Frank Shorter's victory in the '72 marathon (an imposter had jumped into the race just before the statium, and the crowd was booing him when Frank entered the statium...), Dave Wottle's victory in the '72 800 meters, and Sunday evening's 4x100 relay.
Posted: August 12, 2008 1:00 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
If one more person remarks that the US beat the USSR in the semis and not the finals I will scream. Please do not post that again we can all read the 1000 posts below explaining the mistake. Instead, why doesn't everyone post their favorite memory rather than criticize someone else.

Here's mine...
Hermann Meier's crash on the downhill ski course at the 1998 Nagano games.
Posted: August 12, 2008 1:44 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Come on, Lang.

How many times every four years are we sports readers innundated with these "best olympic moments ever" lists? And yet you, a supposed sportswriter, can't get the basic facts straight about the US/USSR US/FIN matches?

This is truly inexcusable. Find a new career. Now!
Posted: August 12, 2008 2:28 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Who did the USA beat for the gold medal in '80. I think a few more posts about it would help clear it up!
I would add the 1976 womens 4x100 swimming relay. The East German women won every other women's swimming gold medal in 1976 but the US women won the 4xx100 in a huge upset. I was fortunate enough to be there.
Posted: August 12, 2008 2:51 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
r u serious? jesse owens in the '36 olympics winning in front of hitler thats something special
Posted: August 12, 2008 3:11 PM   by Anonymous SB79
Nadia Comaneci's perfect 10 score which was then the first ever in Olympics history - even the scoreboard had one digit only so it showed up as a 0.00
Posted: August 12, 2008 4:04 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
U.S. 4x100 free from the other night.
Posted: August 12, 2008 4:14 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Men's 4x100 Free 2008

Franz Klamer 76? downhill

Sarah Hughes 2002, fourth to first in finals
Posted: August 12, 2008 6:10 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Hey - did you know that the US didn't beat the Russians in the gold medal game?

I say this only because no one has brought it up on the board.

Posted: August 12, 2008 11:05 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Michael Johnson, Atlanta '96 in the 200 meter final. Noone has ever, or maybe will ever run that fast. Or with as bad a form as he did.
Posted: August 12, 2008 11:49 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I think the performances of Mary Lou Retton and Kerri Strug are the best stories. Gymnastics as a sport takes so much skill and is more emotionally demanding than a lot of them. Screw Ali; he was a big-mouthed piece of draft-dodging scum. Or have we forgotten?
Posted: August 13, 2008 1:14 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
2008 Men's 4 x 100 swim relay. Two world records (individual 100 effort by the Australian on leg 1 was a world record, too) plus FIVE of the eight teams bested the existing world record in the event. Plus the 2 fastest relay split times EVER by the anchors of the French and US teams.
Posted: August 13, 2008 3:48 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I would have to agree that Jesse Owens winning four gold medals in track and field at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is the greatest Olympic accomplishment ever. Dan Jansen finally winning gold and breaking down over his sister's death after so many falls was good too, as was Eric Heiden absolutely dominating speed skating, Mark Spitz with seven golds in one Olympics, Carl Lewis winning so many medals in several Olympics, the U.S. women's gymnastics at the 1984 and 1996 Olympics too. (I don't even think gymnastics is a sport in the traditional sense because it judged, but seeing Mary Lou Retton or Herri Strugg do it again on replays is amazing and truly inspiring.)

But I would have to say that the most important story in all Olympic history is the murder of the Israeli athletes in 1972 in Munich. Jim McKay's "they're gone...they're all gone" still brings tears to the eyes.
Posted: August 13, 2008 6:36 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How bout the race for the 4 minute mile? And just reminding everyone that whilst the 4x100 freestyle relay was special, it has happened before... in the 2000 olympics when USA was on the losing end. Funny how no one deemed this moment just as special....
Mark spitz deserves a mention as well
Posted: August 13, 2008 6:37 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How bout "Eric the eel" at the 2000 olympics. Slowest 100m freestyle time in olympic history
Posted: August 13, 2008 11:20 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How about Rulon Gardner beating Karelin in 2000 in Sydney.

Karelin had not lost a match in 13 years. People would forfeit matches to him rather than get in the ring. Gardner was an also-ran who came in just praying he would get on the medal stand and he pulled an upset that falls just behind the 1980 hockey game as the greatest upset in Olympic history.

BTW, the US beat the Fins in the Gold Medal, not the Swedes, as some have been saying. The Swedes did end up getting the Bronze that year because of goal differential, the USSR took silver despite not playing in the gold medal game.
I'd also consider the 1976 Franz Klammer downhill run and the 1984 Bill Johnson downhill run. Michael Johnson's 200m win in 1996. I think the 1984 collison between Zola Budd and Mary Decker was memorable for the build-up.


Jesse Owen in 1936 and the salute in 1968 are the most powerful moments in U.S. Olympic history.

And man, that Gold Medal game against Sweden was great!
Posted: August 13, 2008 11:32 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Bob Beamon's 1968 World record long jump. The world record had been broken thirteen times since 1901, with an average increase of 6 cm (2½ in) and the largest increase being 15 cm (6 in). Beamon’s gold medal mark bettered the existing record by 55 cm (21¾ in.) as he became the first person to reach both 28 and 29 feet.
Posted: August 13, 2008 12:52 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Dan Gable winning the gold in wrestling in 1972 - pinning three of his opponents and shutting out the other three - after the Soviet bloc countries loaded up his weight class with their best wrestlers. The most dominating performance - ever.
Posted: August 13, 2008 2:07 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
How about Rulon Gardner winning the gold medal against 3 time olympic gold medalist Alexandre Karelin?
Posted: August 13, 2008 2:13 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Freeman winning gold in the 400m, Sydney 2000 -- representing her country and more importantly her people...no one in the whole country missed that one live.
wow that USA hockey game was not for gold... we didn't win the gold until the next game, "sportswriter"
Posted: August 13, 2008 5:24 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The most underrated moment of all time has to be Trent Dimas in Barcelona in the high bar finals. The Americans (at least the men) hadn't even come close to winning any medals, and Dimas had never even qualified for an apparatus final in international competition. He put together perhaps the best minute in Olympic history to grab one of the most unlikely gold medals in Olympic history.
How about the 1976 Winter Olypics at Insbruck...Austrian Franz Klammer in the downhill. Talk about pressure...and gutsey perforances
Posted: August 14, 2008 12:48 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh during the 2004 medal award ceremony. As the national anthem was played, Kerry Walsh put her hand on Misty May-Treanor's shoulder. Gradually, Misty slide her right hand from over her heart up to grab Kerry's hand. It was a great moment seeing them share the excitement of their victory
Posted: August 14, 2008 10:09 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Beamon: 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches. 'nuff said
Posted: August 15, 2008 6:41 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
There was no "gold medal game" in the 1980 Olympics.
Back then there were 2 rounds, the preliminary round, and then the medal round.
All of the teams in the medal round played each other in a round robin. Whoever had the most points won the gold, whoever was second got the silver and third got the bronze.
Everyone always thinks their so smart by pointing out that the "gold medal game" was really against Finland, but don't any of you ever wonder why the U.S.S.R. got the silver if the game against Finland was the gold medal game?
Finland didn't even get a medal since Sweden got the bronze.
The game against the Soviets wasn't a semi-final, it was just one of the games in the round robin.
Kind of weird how after 28 years people still don't even know how the greatest moment in Olympic if not all of sports history truly went down.
Posted: August 15, 2008 10:33 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The US team clinched the gold medal before Kerry Strug vaulted.

Lang Whitaker makes Jayson Blair look like a Pulitzer winner. What a moran!
Posted: August 15, 2008 12:20 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
The US did not play Russia for a gold medal in 1980. That was a semifinal game..
Posted: August 15, 2008 12:31 PM   by Anonymous Bwana

The Japanese men's gymnastics team is desperate to hold off the Soviets.

The Japanese have lost a guy to injury. They need everyone on deck for the team events.

Then Shun Fujimoto breaks his kneecap doing his floor exercise. Not telling anyone, knowing his scores are needed to give them a chance of winning team gold, Fujimoto continues to compete. He scores a 9.5/10 on the pommel horse, and then come the rings.

He does the planned triple twist dismount, nails it, walks off the platform, then falls...unable to keep himself up.

He scores a 9.7 in the event. Japan wins the gold...and Shun wins a gold medal, a kneed brace, and immortality.
Posted: August 15, 2008 12:53 PM   by Anonymous Brian
Has anyone mentioned that the US did not play the Russians in the Gold Medal game? WOW...what is worse about the error on this list is the number of people who thought they were the first to notice the error.
Posted: August 16, 2008 12:20 PM   by Anonymous Greg
Gotta go with Jesse Owens in 1936.

I kind of can't believe it didn't make the list. Nothing else compares.
Posted: August 16, 2008 11:38 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Unbelievable. Your job is to make a simple list, and you can't even double check your facts?? USA didn't play Russia in the gold medal game...it was the semi-finals.
Ok this list is bogus and here is why: It needs to be a moment that transcended sports! Ali lighting a frippin torch didn't transcend the sport nor did it elevate humanity or fundamentally change the sport. Here is a list of events that were earth shattering, amazing, or sadly overpowering. A final requirement is that each moment has to be well known. If you showed an average person a picture or video/audio clip of the event would they know about it. I don't think there are even 10 moments, but I did 10 butin no order: (Only Summer Olympic Moments)

1. Jesse Owens 1936 Berlin Olympics
The picture of saluting during the US National Anthem while the others do the Nazi Salute is timeless

2. 1992 Barcelona Dream Team- We said to the world 1972 Munich was a joke, we are the best in the world...and we blew away the competition.

3. 1972 Munich-The Terrorist Crisis was the biggest event in Olympic History...sadly.

4. 1968, Mexico City, Black Power Salute-I hate the salute, but that is an indelible image, so even though I hate to say that it is a top 10 moment...it is.

5. Michael Phelps 2008 Beijing-Think about the fact that he set 7 WORLD RECORDS and an Olympic record in the 8th. If there is any doubt as to how important this is...just imagine this. What would we (as in the Western World) be talking about for Beijing if it wasn't for him? Probably be talking about the oppressive Communist Regime and the 13 year old gymnast controversy. Or the singer at the opening ceremonies controversies.

6. Bob Beamon 1968 Mexico City-He took off...and he has yet to land. The iconic image of his legs outstretched shattering the World Record...like it has never been shattered before or since. It would be DECADES before the mark was passed. The progress of humanity in athletics literally leaped miles (well ok 2 feet) ahead and we are better as a race for it.

7. 1972 Munich, Mark Spitz-A bright spot in an otherwise gloomy time.

8. 1976 Montreal, Nadia Comaneci-The first Perfect 10 in gymnastics. She helped shine light upon the sport and her result in 1980 showed that age truly does affect gymnasts. Now we have to have 16+ athletes in order to protect them. the PRC has violated this knowingly with their gymnastics team.

9. 1960 Rome, Abebe Bikila-Won the Marathon barefooted because of a shortage of Addidas shoes in Rome. His victory started a transition towards East Africans dominating the long distance races of the Olympics.

10. Dan Gable/Rulon Gardner- Both men performed remarkably in an event that has long been dominated by others. I do not know much about Olympic Wrestling history, but I know about these two. Read up on them if you wish to know more.

Now, I think that is a pretty comprehensive and hard to argue with list. There may be a few arguments but I think that at least 50% of the list is unassailable.
Posted: August 18, 2008 12:06 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Eric Heiden
Posted: August 18, 2008 2:01 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Redmond was great but the miracle on ice has to be #1. Chills go down my spine whenever I hear Al michaels' call.
Posted: August 18, 2008 1:24 PM   by Anonymous oumer
nice list... but you forgot some other great moments, like Bikila's 1960 marathon win while running
Posted: August 19, 2008 8:33 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Terry McDermott, almost an afterthought and skating on softened ice, earning a silver medal at the Grenoble Games (1968).
Posted: August 20, 2008 11:00 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Lebron James is not 280 lbs! He is listed on the NBA's website as 250. He might be 260 lbs but no where near 280 lbs.
Posted: August 20, 2008 1:45 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Wow, the US had to play USSR, Sweden AND Finland in the Gold Medal game? THat definitely is the most impressive feat...
Posted: August 20, 2008 3:28 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Olga Korbut doing a back flip on the uneven bars in 1972 should rank highly.
Posted: August 21, 2008 1:32 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I still don't get what is so great about one ice hockey team beating another. Maybe it's an american thing.
Maybe we should just list all "upsets" in all Olympic sports as "Olympic moments".
I've always found the 100 and 200 sprints the most fascinating. For me, the big moment was Ben Johnson, "winning" the gold in dramatic fashion - and all the events that followed it. It took me a while to enjoy the sprints that much again. In fact, it took someone like Usain Bolt to do it.
Posted: August 22, 2008 12:36 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I'd have to say the Top 5 Performances

1980 - Eric Heiden
2006 - Bode Miller at the night clubs
1984 - The Olympics nearly bankrupting McDonalds with their "If the U.S. wins, you win" promotion.
1988 - Alberto Tomba scoring with Katarina Witt, allegedy.
1988 - Greg Louganis recovering from hitting his head on the diving board to win gold.
1980 - Miracle on Ice... U.S. beating South Africa to win the Bronze Medal in Squaw Valley.
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