The 15 Greatest Record-Breaking Performances in Summer Olympic History

Daniel Mano Herberholz@danielmanoherbCorrespondent IMay 16, 2012

The 15 Greatest Record-Breaking Performances in Summer Olympic History

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    It's an accomplishment to win a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, but it's even greater to do so in record-breaking fashion.

    When you think of overtaking records, Michael Phelps at the 2008 Beijing Games shouldn't be the only name that comes to mind.

    There are many more record-smashers who captured one or several gold medals in spectacular ways.

    As the 2012 London Games approach, here's a look back at the 15 greatest record-breaking showings in Summer Olympics history.

15. Flo-Jo Floors Her Foes

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    Already seen as the 200-meter favorite, Florence Griffith-Joyner took the 1988 Seoul Games by storm in also winning 100-meter gold.

    Her 100 time (10.62 seconds) is still an Olympic record, a phenomenal .27 ahead of the previous record. Her 200 time (21.34) is still a world record.

    Griffith-Joyner won both by wide margins, and also won gold in the 4x100 and silver in the 4x400.

14. Record That Stands

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    The only women's swimming record not broken at the 2008 Beijing Games was Inge de Bruijn's 100-meter butterfly.

    She already owned both the Olympic and world records at the time, but de Bruijn dominated the second lap at the 2000 Sydney Games. At the halfway mark, she was behind her own pace by .3 seconds.

    But the Netherlands swimmer accelerated after the turn and won by a full body length.

    She also captured 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle gold in Sydney.

13. Distance Runner Sweeps

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    Four years after nearly completing the long distance running sweep, Kenenisa Bekele did just that at the 2008 Beijing Games.

    Not since 1980 has a runner won both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races, but the Ethiopian accomplished the feat in 2008.

    After already winning the longer event, Bekele's 12:57.82 time in the 5,000-meter set a new Olympic record.

    At the 2004 Athens Games, he got silver and gold respectively in the two runs.

    For Bekele to top out at three golds and a silver in those long distance races is incredible.

12. Mom and Olympic Champ

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    Before Jackie Robinson broke barriers for baseball in America, Fanny Blankers-Koen broke barriers for women athletes across the world.

    Thirty years old and a mother of two from Netherlands, Blankers-Koen traveled to the 1948 London Games to compete in a half-dozen events.

    However, due to a rule at the time limiting women to three individual events, she captured a mere four gold medals.

    Her 100- and 200-meter sprints, 80-meter hurdles and 4x100-meter relay won gold, the most by any woman in one Games by a track and fielder.

    Blankers-Koen was an example for women across the world that gender didn't matter in athletics. She was named the Woman of the Century by the International Association of Athletics Federation.

11. The Greatest Diver Ever

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    Though he was a favorite going in to the 1980 Moscow Games, diver Greg Louganis had to wait until the 1984 Los Angeles Games to break records because of the USA boycott.

    But when he finally had a shot, Louganis demolished his competition and became the only male diver to sweep both springboard and platform gold.

    His score of 754.41 in the springboard event was more than 100 better than the silver medalist.

    His 710.91, the best in history, in the platform event was more than 70 better than the silver medalist.

    Four years later Louganis captured both golds again, helping him on his way to being called the greatest diver of all time.

10. 24 Years Later

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    A gold medal from five different Olympic Games wasn't enough for Birgit Fischer, so she came back in the 2004 Sydney games to earn a sixth.

    At the age of 42, the kayak legend from Germany became the only woman to win Olympic gold 24 years after her first one.

    Trailing four Hungarian kayakers at the halfway point, Fischer kept pushing her team.

    Not only was she able to lead them to the victory, she was the only teammate able to raise her oar in victory despite exhaustion.

9. Bolt Breaks out

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    Usain Bolt was so far ahead of the competition, he slowed down—not out of humility, but rather celebration.

    His 100-meter performance at the 2008 Beijing Games rocked the competition, clocking in at 9.69 (though he could have reached 9.54). Bolt also captured the 200-meter world record with a time of 19.30.

    Though attention was focused on swimmer Michael Phelps' attempt at eight gold medals, the two golds that Bolt secured were quite a bit flashier.

    Bolt has since broken both of these records, which make his runs at the 2012 London Games must-see events.

8. The Fosbury Flop

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    What is now considered normal in high jumping was first a quirky move used to world record levels by Dick Fosbury at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

    He "flopped" over the bar to a then-record 2.24 meters, or 7'4".

    In what was dubbed the "Fosbury Flop," the American launched himself up and over by arching his back rather than the two conventional methods of going face-down or scissor-kicking over the bar.

    Fosbury was the first to try the move, after failing to succeed with the other two methods.

    Now, his world record has been broken, but his method is the sport's norm.

7. Spitz Swims for Seven Gold

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    At the 1972 Munich Games, Mark Spitz set seven world records in the span of eight days.

    After predicting he'd win six gold medals at the 1968 Mexico Games but only earning two, the American captured seven gold in Munich.

    Spitz broke the world record and won gold in the 100- and 200- meter freestyle and butterfly events, the 4x100- and 4x200-meter freestyle relay and the 4x100-meter medley relay.

    For 36 years his seven gold medals were the most by an athlete at one Olympics, until Michael Phelps came along.

6. Gardner Gets Gold

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    When someone hasn't lost in 13 years, an opponent can get intimidated—but not Rulon Gardner.

    Gardner took down Alexander Karelin at the 2000 Syndey Games to win the Greco-Roman wrestling gold medal.

    The American had competed only once before in an international tournament, while the Russian was the three-time defending Olympic champion.

    Furthermore, Karelin was considered the greatest wrestler of all time and had not allowed a point in the last decade.

    But Gardner outlasted the legend to win the super heavyweight gold.

5. Tommie Smith Stands Up

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    Sometimes greatness isn't only measured by performance, as is the case for Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

    Smith started being great with a world-record 200-meter run of 19.83 seconds.

    Then, he made a statement. Smith, along with bronze medalist John Carlos, took off their shoes and put on black gloves for the podium, raising their hands in the air and raising the point of race equality.

    The same year that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Black Power salute by Smith and Carlos is a seminal moment in African-American sports history.

    The act was commemorated at the athletes' university, San Jose State University, with a statue built in 2005.

4. Outscoring 51-1

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    The definition of dominance at the Summer Olympics is the 2004 USA softball team.

    The Americans outscored opponents 51-1, only allowing that one run in the sixth inning of the final game. That shattered the record for both runs scored (previously 41) and runs allowed (previously seven).

    Another nine records went down that year, as the USA softball team was dubbed "The Real Dream Team" by Sports Illustrated.

3. Phelps Defies Odds

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    For Michael Phelps, the difference between tying Mark Spitz's gold-medal record and breaking it was a move he was trained never to do.

    Still trailing rival Milorad Cavic as the two stretched for the wall in the 100-meter butterfly, Phelps pumped his arms when swimmers are told to always stretch out.

    Phelps's daring spurt gave him an edge of one one-hundredth of a second over Cavic for his third gold medal on the way to capturing eight at the 2008 Beijing Games.

    Phelps also needed a late comeback surge by teammate Jason Lezak in the 400-meter freestyle relay to secure all eight medals. But the last-ditch effort to beat Cavic was the top finish in Olympic swimming history.

2. A Perfect 10

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    The scoreboard couldn't display her score, but Nadia Comaneci still achieved perfection in gymnastics at the 1976 Montreal Games.

    She was so smooth on the uneven bars that judges agreed she deserved a 10.00.

    No one had ever accomplished the tally before, and so it was not technically possible to show on the scoreboard.

    Then she did it six more times on her way to three gold medals.

    The Romanian gymnast became a celebrity overnight with the performance.

    She earned gold in uneven bars, balance beam and all-round for an individual.

1. The Leap of the Century

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    Bob Beamon was so amazed at his record-smashing long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Games, he had a cataplectic seizure.

    On what has since been named the Leap of the Century, Beamon broke the world record by 21 3/4 inches. The American's jump of 29 feet, 2.5 inches actually outdistanced the measurement equipment set up for the Games.

    The leap was so amazing, reigning Olympic champion Lynn Davis said: "I can't go on. What's the point?" (via CNN).

    Beamon's achievement is all the more extraordinary when you realize it's the oldest Olympic record still standing.