As Good As Gold!: My 20 Favorite Olympic Memories

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As Good As Gold!: My 20 Favorite Olympic Memories

Now that the 2008 Summer Olympics are upon us, I want to say, without apology, that I am red, white, and blue! Go USA! What a great time for all nations to cheer for their best athletes as they feel that surge of patriotism the Olympics brings out in us.

I began to think back on all of the great Olympic moments that I had witnessed in my lifetime of 52 years. I remember cheering, exhorting, pleading, sometimes weeping, and always trying to help will the American to victory. Sometimes getting so caught up in the moment that I felt fatigue when it was over.

Here are the athletes, their accomplishments, and the memories that stirred the Americanism within me. The events are listed by year.

The 2008 Games will, no doubt, add to the list. Let the games begin!

George Foreman

 

1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

 

Foreman, who had only fought in 18 matches before the Olympics, won the super heavyweight gold. In an Olympics marked by protests, I will never forget Foreman walking around the ring holding the American flag.

 

Mark Spitz

 

1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.

 

What an Olympics he had! He swam his way into the record books by setting the record for most gold medals won in a single Olympic Games (seven). He remains the only Olympic athlete to win a gold medal in every (individual) event he entered in a given year. He is also the only Olympian to set a new world record in each such event. He set the bar very high. Can Phelps do it? We shall see.

 

Team USA Boxing

 

1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

 

The 1976 is often called our greatest Olympic boxing team, and for good reason. Five American boxers—Sugar Ray Leonard, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Leo Randolph, and Howard Davis Jr.—won gold medals in boxing, and out of the five American gold medalists in boxing, all but Davis went on to become professional world champions.

 

In addition to the gold, Big John Tate won bronze and Charles Mooney took home the silver. Who will ever forget the wars these guys fought? Leonard was especially impressive in his win over Cuba's Andres Aldama.

 

Bruce Jenner

 

1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

 

Referred to as “The World’s Greatest Athlete”, Jenner won gold in the decathlon, setting a world record of 8,634 points. The lasting image came after his victory when Jenner was handed a large American flag from a bystander in the audience as he spontaneously ran a celebratory victory lap, a gesture that has been emulated frequently since that time.

 

In 1976, he went on to win the James E. Sullivan Award, as the top amateur athlete in the United States and was also the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1976.

Dorothy Hamill

1976 Winter Olympics in Montreal, Canada.

In an Olympics that provided plenty of stars, none received more adoration than Dorothy Hamill. She won the hearts of her nation by her graceful skating and her sweet personality.

Dorothy's signature move was known as the "Hamill camel”, and her famous "wedge" hairstyle was copied by young girls everywhere. She will forever be known as “America’s Sweetheart”.

Hockey Team USA

 

1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

 

Do you believe in miracles? This may be the most incredibly unbelievable team victory in the history of the Olympics! For a South Georgia boy who had never watched a hockey game in his life (the only frozen ice that far south was found in sweet tea), I was glued to the television for every game.

 

I remember weeping with emotion as we defeated the mighty Russian machine. That single game sent a surge of patriotism and national pride sweeping across this nation like no sporting event before or since. The gold medal was icing on the cake. Go rent the movie!

 

Joan Benoit-Samuelson

 

1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

 

Joan won the first Olympic women's marathon in a time of 2:24.52 in hot and smoggy conditions, finishing more than a minute ahead of her rivals. She had arthroscopic surgery on her knee 17 days before the trials earlier that year.

 

The athletes behind her were Grete Waitz, Rosa Mota, and Ingrid Kristiansen, all marathon legends in their own right. She is an icon and an inspiration for all of us who strap on our shoes and run.

 

Mary Lou Retton

 

1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

 

After winning her second American Cup, the US Nationals, and the US Olympic Trials in 1984, Retton suffered a knee injury that forced her to undergo an operation. However, she recovered just in time for the Olympics.

 

In the competition, Retton engaged in a close battle with Ecaterin Szabó of Romaniafor for the all-around title, to the delight of the patriotic audience. Trailing Szabó (after bars and beam) and with just two events to go, Retton scored perfect 10s on floor exercise and vault to win the all-around title by just 0.05 points. She was the darling of America.

 

Carl Lewis

1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California.

Not much drama here. Lewis was a machine, winning four gold medals (100m, 200m, 4x100m and long jump) in Los Angeles, equaling the mark set by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games.

Bonnie Blair

Winter Olympics: 1988 in Calgary; 92 in Alberta, France; 94 in Lillehammer, Norway.

Blair appeared at her first Olympic games in Sarajevo in 1984. She failed to medal, but showed promise by finishing eighth in the 500 meters at only 19 years of age.

At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Blair won gold in the 500 meters by setting a world record. She also won a bronze in the 1000 meters. She would win again at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France in both the 500 and 1000 meters.

It was the Olympics in Lillehammer where Blair was crowned Queen of the Ice. She again won gold in the 500 meters and 1000 meters races, in dominating fashion. Her margin of victory in the 1000 meters race is the history of the event. In the process she became the first American woman to win five gold medals.

Florence Griffith Joyner

1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea.

Flo-Jo came, ran, and kicked rump! She won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, and claimed silver in the 4x400m relay. She was lightning.

Janet Evans and Matt Biondi

 

1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea.

 

They, together, turned all eyes to the pool that year. No way could I leave either one out. Evans won three swimming golds at the 1988 Seoul Games, winning the 400m IM and the 400m and 800m freestyle events.

 

Biondi came up short in his bid to match Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in a single Olympics, but he still claimed five golds, a silver, and a bronze.

 

The Dream Team

 

1992 Summer Olympic in Barcelona, Spain.

 

After winning bronze at the 1988 Olympics, the U.S. men's basketball team soars back into first with the "Dream Team." After years of watching our college players go up against the European “pros”, it was great to see our best against their best.

 

Dan Jansen

 

1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

 

There is a story behind this one that reaches the heart. Dan’s first Olympic competition was in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia when he was 18 years old. He finished fourth in the 500 meters, just 16 seconds away form a bronze medal.

At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Dan was the favored speed skater, but on the day he was to race in the 500 meters, his sister Jane died from Leukemia. That evening Dan readied himself as best he could in hopes of winning the race for his sister.

 

100 meters into the race, Dan fell. He fell again, four days later, in the 1000 meter race while on a world record pace. Everyone who watched hurt for him.

Dan’s third Winter Olympics occurred in 1992 in Albertville, France. He finished a disappointing fourth in the 500 meters and 26th in the 1000 meter. Again, the chance to win an Olympic medal eluded him.

Dan’s last shot at an Olympic Medal came at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Again the favorite in the 500, Dan was on another world record pace when the unfathomable happened again. A slip in the final turn cost him a medal.

 

Four days later, Dan skated in his last Olympic race, the 1000 meter. Skating in the fourth pair, Dan put to rest the Olympic Jinx. He raced to a world record and the gold medal. You could almost hear the cheering from coast to coast. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Kerri Strug

1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

This one was all about the team. Strug was cute as the youngest Olympian at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain at age 14, but she captured America's spirit at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

As the team competition neared its end, Kerri was up last on vault. After shocking spectators by falling and injuring her ankle on her first vault, she managed to stick the landing on her second vault before collapsing in pain, helping to secure gold for the American team.

Who can forget the sight of an injured Kerri Strug being carried to the podium by Coach Bela Karolyi to receive her team gold medal? It was a moment that was captured on the front page of newspapers around the world and inspired all who watched. 

Women’s Team USA Soccer

 

1996 Summer Olympic in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

For a guy who grew up thinking that soccer was a communist plot to over-throw America (just a joke), I was glued to the soccer field every time Team USA had a game. They inspired an entire generation of young girls to play the game, and probably advanced their sport more than they ever thought possible. When they defeated China in the final to win gold, the nation celebrated with them.

 

Michael Johnson

 

1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Johnson became the first man to win gold in the 200m and 400m. He wins the 200m in world-record time. It was the gold shoes that did it!

 

Amy Van Dyken

 

1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Van Dyken became the first American woman to win four golds at a single Games when she won the 50m freestyle, 100m butterfly and was a part of two gold-medal winning relay teams at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

 

Rulon Gardner

 

2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.


American Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner—who grew up on a dairy farm in Wyoming—entered the gold-medal match a heavy underdog. His opponent, Russian Aleksandr Karelin, entered the 2000 Olympics trying to become wrestling's first four-time Olympic champion and remain undefeated in his 13-year international career. But résumé’s don’t win matches and Gardner won the match in overtime.

 

Michael Phelps

 

2004 Summer Olympic in Athens, Greece.

 

Could he do it? That question dominated the coverage of the ‘04 games. Though Phelps fell short in his attempt to match Mark Spitz's mark of seven gold medals in a single Olympics, he did tie the record for most medals at a single Olympics when he hauled in eight jewels at the Athens Games. Included in that were six gold medals. Pull up your chair—he’s back!

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