50 Biggest International Sports Moments in U.S. History
Sometimes, as Americans, we often get so overwhelmed by our professional sports teams that we forget to look at the bigger picture: the international scene.
Everyone can root for their city's teams, but when it comes down to it, all Americans want to see their country come out on top. We hoot and holler for anyone donning the red, white and blue, and it brings together the entire country.
The United States has been fighting the world for sports supremacy for more than a century, and there are some moments you just will never forget. Whether it was on the pitch, in the ring or on the court, the U.S. has brought the world some of its most entertaining memories.
Want to relive them? Cue up the anthem!
50. Colombia Shocked: 1994 World Cup
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The United States automatically qualified for the 1994 World Cup as the hosting nation, but with a tough group, its passage to the knockout round wasn't guaranteed. After a 1-1 draw with Switzerland, the Americans prepared for Colombia, the fourth-ranked nation in the world.
Thanks to an own goal by Colombia's Andrés Escobar, the U.S. upended the heavy favorites 2-1, and advanced for the first time in 64 years. They ended up losing to eventual champion Brazil, but the World Cup started the rebirth of American soccer.
49. Bill Johnson Sets the Mark: 1984 Olympics
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Early in 1984, the brash Bill Johnson became the first American to win the World Cup downhill competition in an unexpected result. With this newfound confidence, he traveled to Sarajevo, Yugoslavia seeking gold.
Instead of playing us his underdog card, he pulled a Joe Namath and predicted his downhill Olympic victory. And just like Broadway Joe, he won the ultimate prize, defeating Peter Mueller of Switzerland by .27 seconds.
48. U.S. Soccer Pulls out the Surprises: 2002 World Cup
While not the biggest surprise of the tournament, the U.S. shocked both Portugal, earning a 3-2 on the heavy favorite, and South Korea, tying 1-1. They eventually earned a ticket out of pool play, the second time since 1930.
In the knockout stage, the Americans defeated rival Mexico 2-0, thanks to goals from Landon Donovan and Brian McBride. While they were eventually ousted by runner-up Germany in the next round, the 2002 World Cup marked the furthest the Americans had been in 72 years.
47. Shani Davis Breaks Through: 2006 Olympics
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While there was much hubbub and controversy over Shani Davis' decision-making before the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, there was no mistaking his boundary-breaking performance.
Davis became the first black athlete from any nation to win a gold medal in an individual sport at the Winter Olympics with his stellar speedskating performance in the 1,000m. He also won silver in the 1,500m, and repeated the same gold-silver performance in 2010 in Vancouver.
46. Paul Caligiuri's Shot Heard Round the World: 1989 World Cup Qualifier
Most American sports fans are more familiar with a different Shot Heard Round the World, but Paul Caligiuri's goal was just as big. The U.S. was tied with Trinidad and Tobago 0-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Port of Spain, and they were running out of time to make the Cup.
Then, it happened. Caligiuri crosses over one defender, then makes a looping, left-footed kick from well outside the box that makes it just between the goalie and the post. The U.S. won 1-0 and made its first appearance in a World Cup since 1950.
45. Lindsey Vonn Flies Downhill: 2010 Olympics
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Like the Willis Reed of skiing, Lindsey Vonn had a bruised shin, which she claimed caused her "excruciating" pain, and wasn't sure she could compete in her five events of Vancouver's Olympics in 2010. However, warm weather worked in her favor, pushing the events back and giving her more time to heal.
In her very first event, Vonn topped fellow U.S. skier Julie Mancuso by .56 seconds to become the first American woman to win a gold in the downhill. She also went on to collect bronze in the Super-G.
44. George Foreman Grills Mexico City: 1968 Olympics
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George Foreman almost didn't even qualify for the Mexico City Olympics, needing a late-second decision over Otis Evans to make the U.S. team. And the country couldn't have been happier.
With a 16-4 record going into the Olympics, Foreman quickly shot through his competition, eventually knocking off Ionas Chepulis of Russia to take the gold as the heavyweight champion.
43. USA Upends England: 1950 World Cup
While it was just a pool-play match, the U.S. couldn't have come in as bigger underdogs. England was on top of the soccer world, and was a 3-1 favorite to snag the World Cup in Brazil, while the U.S. had lost its last seven international matches 45-2 and was a 500-1 long shot to win the Cup.
Then, the "Miracle on Grass" happened. In the 37th minute, Joe Gaetjens, who was just added to the roster before the game, knocked in a goal to put the U.S. on top for good. The Brits had opportunities to tie but couldn't capitalize, allowing the Americans to win a game that even their coach said they had no chance to win.
42. Vince Carter Eviscerates Frederick Weis: 2000 Olympics
France's Frederic Weis is 7'2". Vince Carter doesn't care.
The video says it all.
41. Carl Lewis Wins After All: 1988 Olympics
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The 100m final at Seoul's Olympics was one of the more hyped races ever, as Carl Lewis was to face off with long-time rival Ben Johnson. Johnson won the race with a world-record 9.79, while Lewis set an American record 9.92.
Fortunately for Lewis, Johnson tested positive for steroids three days after the race, giving the American the gold and world record. Lewis finished the Games with a long jump gold as well.
40. Nancy Kerrigan Escapes and Prevails: 1994 Olympics
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In January of 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in her right knee at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and was force to withdraw. However, she sped through her recovery and made the U.S. Olympic team, and made the trip to Lillehammer.
She then put on a dazzling display, winning the silver medal in a controversial finish after she had won the short program. She claimed it was one of the best performances of her life.
39. Greg Louganis Makes a Splash: 1984 Olympics
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The American boycott of the 1980 Olympics Games couldn't have come at a worse time for Greg Louganis, who would've been a big favorite. He instead had to hold out for four more years, when the Games came to Los Angeles.
Louganis made sure not to miss the opportunity, winning both the 3m springboard and 10m platform events with record scores. He then repeated his golden performance four years later in Seoul, taking home the same titles.
38. Cassius Clay Wins the Light Heavyweight Title: 1960 Olympics
The artist formerly known as Cassius Clay was technically an amateur when he arrived in Rome, but he sure didn't fight like one. Just ask Poland's Zbigniew Pietrzykov.
Clay went on to win the light heavyweight title with a unanimous decision at only 18 years old, and was so proud of his victory, he didn't take the medal off for two whole days.
37. Apolo Anton Ohno Hits Perfection: 2006 Olympics
Ohno had a rough start to the Turin Olympics in 2006, stumbling in the semifinals of the 1,500m and nabbing a slightly underwhelming bronze in the 1,000m. He needed a win—bad.
Desperation is often the best motivator, and Ohno used it to his advantage in the 500m. Despite two false starts from other racers, the American speedskater timed the third start perfectly, and held the lead the entire race, for what would be as close to perfection as possible.
36. Peggy Fleming's Masterpiece: 1968 Olympics
Grenoble, France saw the rebirth of figure skating in America, and it's all thanks to Peggy Fleming. After a plane crash had decimated the team in 1961, Fleming came to the 1968 Winter Games as the country's hope at returning to glory.
Her gold medal was the only one for the U.S. Figure Skating team at those games, thanks to this wonderful performance.
35. Justin Leonard and the U.S. Sink Euros: 1999 Ryder Cup
The Sunday of the 1999 Ryder Cup was at one point described as "a date that will live in infamy" for the American antics after Justin Leonard sank a monumental putt to halve his match with José Maria Olazábal.
But can you blame them? The U.S. team came into the final day down 10-6 to the Europeans, and pulled off the greatest upset in Ryder Cup history for a 14.5-13.5 victory in Brookline, Massachusetts.
34. Dorothy Hamill's Blades of Glory: 1976 Olympics
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Dorothy Hamill's trip to Innsbruck, Germany was marred by so many distractions, it's amazing she competed. Most notably, there were rumors that a competing skater and coach attempted to run her over as she walked around the city.
Right before the event, Hamill saw a sign that read "Which of the West? Dorothy!" and broke down in tears, thinking the fans were calling a witch. But in fact, it was her friends holding the sign, saying which Western skater would topple East Germany's Christine Errath.
Once she realized her mistake, she calmed down and skated away with the gold to match her dress.
33. Women's Hockey Topples Canada: 1998 Olympics
True, only six teams competed in the inaugural women's hockey tournament in Nagano, Japan, but the U.S. certainly wasn't the favorite. Canada had obliterated its opponents and won all competitions the previous year, leaving the U.S. in a perpetual second.
However, 1998 was the Americans' year. Goals from Gretchen Ulion and Shelley Looney gave them an insurmountable lead, and Sandra Whyte's score with eight seconds remaining sealed the deal in a 3-1 victory, bringing the first women's hockey gold to the States.
32. Michael Johnson Shatters 200-Meter Record: 1996 Olympics
Michael Johnson came into the 200m in Atlanta hunting down the man who held the record—himself. Clearly, Johnson was his own biggest competition.
Johnson clocked an unbelievable 19.32 seconds, breaking his own record with the largest improvement of the 200m ever. He later set the world records in the 4x400m relay, twice in the indoor 400m, and once in both the 300m and the outdoor 400m.
31. Bode Miller's First Overall Title: 2005 Alpine World Cup
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Bode Miller became one of America's greatest skiers ever with his performance in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. He did it unlike so many others had done in the past: Instead of resting and focusing on his best events, Miller gave it his all every time and ended up closing out the competition for the crown.
It has been 22 years since a Yankee had taken home skiing's overall title, and Miller did it despite heavy criticism from the community and former skiers. Good thing it's not a team sport.
30. Bob Beamon's Loooooong Jump: 1968 Olympics
The best part about Beamon's record jump may be that he didn't know how good it was when he did it, because, being unfamiliar with foreign measurement, 8.9 meters didn't seem like much.
When he found out that he'd actually broke the record with his 29-foot, 2.5-inch leap and that it was almost two feet clear of the previous mark, he collapsed in excitement on the track in Mexico City.
29. Flo Jo A-Go-Go: 1988 Olympics
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Florence Griffith-Joyner couldn't have represented her nation much better. When the Olympics were in Seoul in 1988, she was the favorite and didn't disappoint.
She didn't get the nickname as the "fastest woman of all time" for nothing. She smoked the competition on the way to golds in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, as well as a silver in 4x400m relay.
28. Joe Frazier Knocks out Germany: 1964 Olympics
Shockingly, Joe Frazier actually was an alternate for the U.S. team, and only made the trip to Tokyo because the only man who'd beaten him in his amateur career, Buster Mathis, busted a thumb before the Games.
Frazier gladly took his place, and quickly dispatched the competition. In the semifinal, he broke his thumb, but because he still won the match, he told no one as he prepared for Germany's Hans Huber. With mostly all right-handed punches, Frazier still got three of the five judges on his side for the gold.
27. U.S. Boxes out the World: 1976 Olympics
While Sugar Ray Leonard's victory at the Montreal Olympics was the most notable, the U.S. also boasted one of its best boxing teams—if not the best—to ever enter the ring in red, white and blue.
Leonard, Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, Leo Randolph and Howard Davis Jr. all grabbed golds, the most successful an American team has ever been. All but Davis went on to become professional world champions.
26. Matt Biondi's Rainbow: 1988 Olympics
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Matt Biondi had one of the most bittersweet moments in Olympic history. The good: He dominated the pools of Seoul, South Korea to the tune of five golds, one silver and one bronze, setting or helping set four world records in the process.
The bad: In the 100m butterfly, Biondi was in the lead down the stretch, and decided to coast as he neared the wall. That decision cost him a sixth gold, as Suriname's Anthony Nesty bested him by .01 seconds by using an extra stroke.
25. U.S. Takes the First Women's Crown: 1991 World Cup
Guangdong, China held the first Women's World Cup, and the Americans hit the pitch with more ferocity than anyone. They won their pool-play matches by a combined total of 11-2, and smashed Chinese Taipei and Germany to reach the final.
Norway put up a strong fight in the final, but Michelle Akers' two goals, including the tiebreaker in the 78th minute, brought the U.S. its first world soccer title for both men and women.
24. U.S. Soccer Puts on Its Best Show: 1930 World Cup
The inaugural World Cup featured only 13 teams, but the U.S. made the most of its trip to Uruguay. Group play featured a 3-0 rout of Belgium, and the first-ever hat-trick recorded by FIFA coming from American Bert Patenaude against Paraguay.
Unfortunately, in the semifinal, the U.S. lost one if its players to a broken leg early on, and lost to Argentina 6-1. There was no bronze medal game at the time, but a FIFA technical committee declared the U.S. the third-place team, providing the country with its best outcome in the World Cup.
23. U.S. Softball Snags a Shocker: 1996 Olympics
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Softball finally debuted as a medal sport in 1996, and as the host nation, the U.S. certainly felt it should put its best foot forward.
The U.S. played in the first-ever Olympic softball game, trouncing Puerto Rico 10-0. They continued their dominance with a 8-1 record, with only a single round-robin loss to Australia, and prevailed 3-1 over China in the gold medal game.
22. Abby Wambach Uses Her Noggin: 2011 World Cup
Abby Wambach's head could make the Smithsonian one day.
With the USA women trailing 2-1 in the 122nd minute, Megan Rapinoe found Wambach with one of the best crosses ever, and Wambach leaped over the Brazilian goalie to head the ball into the back of the net.
The U.S. would go on to win in penalty kicks, and eventually make it all the way to the World Cup final in Germany.
21. Jim Thorpe Dominates -Athalons: 1912 Olympics
Jim Thorpe was one of the most versatile athletes ever, qualifying for the long jump, high jump, pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. While those first two events didn't go over so well, Thorpe mastered the two others.
Thorpe won four of the five events in the pentathlon, and placed in the top four in every decathlon event, giving him the gold in both. Thorpe's 8,413 points in the decathlon would remain the world record for almost 20 years.
20. Eric Heiden's Monster Performance: 1980 Olympics
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Known as one of the most successful Winter Olympians ever, Eric Heiden entered the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, N.Y. as the U.S.'s golden goose.
Unsurprisingly, he laid five brilliant eggs. He dominated the 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m with times which were all either Olympic or world records and became a legend of the sport.
19. Wilma Rudolph's Trifecta: 1960 Olympics
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Wilma Rudolph followed in the footsteps of her idol Jesse Owens, and had one of the most miraculous performances in women's track history.
She became the first American woman to win three gold medals in the Olympics, winning 100m, 200m and 400m relay. Her display in Rome garnered her the title "The Fastest Woman in the World."
18. Women's Softball Dominates the Final Gold: 2004 Olympics
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Sports Illustrated called these lovely ladies the "Real Dream Team" thanks to their remarkable performance in Athens. The squad easily took down Australia in the final, 5-1.
The way they got there, however, is even more impressive: A sterling 9-0 record, eight straight shutouts and only one run given up in the entire tournament (in the sixth inning of the final). Twas a beat-down.
17. Mark Spitz' Swims for Seven: 1972 Olympics
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Germany must really get tired of Americans coming to their Olympics. After dominating both the Maccabiah and Pan American Games, Mark Spitz came to Munich with the deadliest flippers in the world.
Needless to say, he outperformed the loftiest expectations. Not only did he swim in one more event than originally planned and won them all, he set world records in all seven events (100m and 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle, and 4x100m medley).
With that kind of winning, even DJ Khaled would be proud.
16. Tommie Smith and John Carlos Salute: 1968 Olympics
U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the gold and bronze, respectively, in the 200m at the Summer Olympics in 1968. Their physical accomplishment, however, paled in comparison to the gesture they made when they received their medals.
Smith and Carlos came to the podium shoeless, in black socks, each with one black glove on. When the "Star-Spangled Banner" played, both bowed their heads and held a gloved fist in the air. The gesture was to represent unity and pride for not only their race, but for their country.
15. U.S. Hockey's Forgotten Miracle: 1960 Olympics
Later referred to as "The Forgotten Miracle" due to the lack of a color television broadcast, commentators or an extraordinary celebration, the U.S. hockey team's unheralded streak in Squaw Valley, California was nothing short of legendary.
The Americans defeated all four favorites (Canada, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Sweden) during their seven-game sweep of the Olympic games, giving the U.S. its first men's ice hockey gold.
14. Kerri Strug's Vault: 1996 Olympics
"Heroic" doesn't begin to define Kerri Strug's performance in Atlanta. On her first attempt, she under-rotated on the vault and hurt her ankle, recording a score of 9.162. To clinch the gold, Strug had to go one more time.
On what turned out to be a third-degree lateral sprain and tendon damage in her ankle, Strug vaulted on both feet and hopped onto her good foot before collapsing to the ground in pain. The vault was still good for a 9.712, giving the U.S. the gold. Strug was carried to the podium by her teammates to join in the fun.
13. Michael Phelps Mines for Gold: 2008 Olympics
Eight medals, let alone golds, is more than most Olympic athletes win in their entire career. Heck, it's more than some countries win in a year. In fact, it's more than 57 countries have won all-time.
Phelps won the 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 200m and 400m individual medleys, 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays, and the 4x100m medley relay. No word on whether he received gills as a bonus prize.
12. USSR Upsets USA in Basketball: 1972 Olympics
This would be higher, but it's truly a sad moment that needs to be fixed.
In what might be the most controversial game ever, Doug Collins sank two huge free throws to give the Americans a 50-49 lead. Then, the madness happened.
An un-awarded timeout, an uncalled technical foul, three inbounds plays, a controversial referee gesture that gave the Soviet inbounder more space and multiple clock miscues eventually gave the Soviets a layup for the win, 51-50.
The Soviets took the gold. The U.S. never took silver, leaving their medals behind.
11. Ben Sheets Smothers Cuba: 2000 Olympics
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Cuba was the favorite, had been the favorite and would remain the favorite throughout the entire tournament at the Games in Sydney, Australia. Since becoming a medal sport, Cuba had never not won gold.
Until 2000. A rag-tag team featuring zero professional baseball players beat everyone in their path sans Cuba on the way to the gold medal game. Pitcher Ben Sheets would throw a complete game, three-hit shutout to bring the gold to American in part of the 4-0 victory.
10. The Black Mamba Bites Spain: 2008 Olympics
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If you are one of those people who argue "Kobe Bryant isn't so clutch," then you may want to ignore the 2008 gold medal game versus Spain in Beijing. With 8:13 left in the fourth quarter and the U.S. up 91-89, the Black Mamba turned in one of the classic performances in international basketball.
In the next two-plus minutes, Bryant scored five points and assisted on a three-pointer and a dunk. He followed that up with two three-pointers, one of which was a four-point play. He ended up leading The Redeem Team in assists en route to a 118-107 victory.
9. Dan Jansen Overcomes Heartbreak: 1994 Olympics
Dan Jansen suffered more heartbreak than most athletes can ever imagine: He came to Calgary, Canada in 1988 and Albertville, France in 1992 as a favorite in both the 500m and 1,000m races, and was denied both times in harsh circumstances.
That's why in 1994, when Jansen arrived in Lillehammer, Americans rallied behind the Heartbreak Kid. Despite struggling in the 500m, Jansen set a world record in the 1,000m, taking home his one and only gold and dedicating it to his late sister, Jane.
8. Mary Lou Retton's Comeback: 1984 Olympics
Mary Lou Retton was a question mark before the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, as she had just recovered in time from surgery. She put forth a valiant effort for the all-around title, and in the end, it came down to her versus Romania's Ecaterina Szabó.
Trailing Szabó by .15 of a second with the vault and floor exercise remaining, Retton exploded for two perfect 10s and defeated her Soviet-bloc competitor by .05 points for the gold medal.
7. Muhammad Ali Lights the Way: 1996 Olympics
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Muhammad Ali was the face of American boxing for quite some time, so the country decided to give him the great honor of igniting the cauldron to signal the beginning of the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
He carried the torch, and was awarded a replacement medal for the one he threw into the Ohio River decades earlier.
6. Landon Donovan Strikes: 2010 World Cup
The U.S. just needed to beat Algeria, the bottom feeder of the group, in the 2010 World Cup to advance out of pool play. But after the first 90 minutes, the score was 0-0, and American fans were biting their fingernails.
Thank the lord for stoppage time. With four minutes added to the clock, Landon Donovan begin to streak down the far side of the field, leading the U.S. attack. The ball eventually is entered into Clint Dempsey, whose attempt is blocked, but the ball skitters away from the goalie to Donovan for the winner.
Let the vuvuzelas sound!
5. Lance Armstrong's Magnificent Seven: Tour De France, 1999-2005
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Say what you want about cycling and its scandals—winning seven consecutive Tour de Frances is a feat that will likely never be repeated. Especially after surviving testicular cancer.
Fellow cyclists saw Armstrong don the yellow jersey so many times from 1999-2005, it wouldn't be surprising if they thought America had changed its colors to red, white and yellow.
4. Brandi Chastain's PK for Gold: 1999 World Cup
The United States and China had battled their hearts out. Both teams had walked into the finals, allowing only three and two goals, respectively, in five matches each. It's hard to call a favorite when both teams were so evenly matched and neither could score in 120 minutes on the pitch together.
So it all came down to penalty kicks. On China's third kick, goalie Briana Scurry saved Liu Yang's shot, opening the door for the U.S. After everyone else had shot, Brandi Chastain stepped up for one of the most memorable goals in U.S. soccer history.
Then she had one of the most memorable celebrations in U.S. soccer history.
3. The Dream Team: 1992 Olympics
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The 1992 men's roster was the first to feature not just amateur and college athletes from America, but instead the cream-of-the-crop professionals. When the squad arrived in Barcelona, it featured 11 future Hall of Fame members...and Christian Laettner.
Led by Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, the Americans romped their opponents by nearly 44 points per game on the way to the gold medal. Croatia gave the Dream Team its toughest test in the gold medal game, as Jordan and Co. squeaked by 117-85.
2. Jesse Owens Shocks Germany: 1936 Olympics
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Who doesn't want to give Adolf Hitler a nice slap in the face? After tireless Nazi propaganda about the Aryan race's superiority over Africans, Jesse Owens did just that.
Owens took to Berlin like a speeding train, winning the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay, giving him the record for most track and field golds until Carl Lewis tied him almost 50 years later. Needless to say, Hitler was beside himself, and there is debate as to whether he intentionally snubbed greeting Owens afterwards.
1. The Miracle on Ice: 1980 Olympics
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Lake Placid, N.Y. erupted in joy when the boys in red, white and blue upset the far-and-beyond-favorite Soviets 4-3 in the medal round of the Winter Olympics. Herb Brooks coached a bunch of amateur and collegiate players to one of the biggest hockey victories in U.S. history
The quote from Al Michaels as the final seconds ticked away, "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" will go down as one of the best sports quotes. What's more, the Yanks took the momentum to the gold medal game and defeated Finland for the glory.