The U.S. Olympic moments that made us cry and cringe
Admit it. You cheered out loud as the U.S. hockey "Miracle on Ice" team beat the Russians in 1980.
You gasped when Greg Louganis hit his head on the dive board in 1988.
You got a little teary-eyed when Dan Jansen rose from the ashes to skate a victory lap with his daughter, Jane, in his arms.
And your image of strength and power changed, when 4'8" Kerri Strug won gold on a twisted ankle.
Here are some of the greatest Olympic moments etched in U.S. history:
Jesse Owens, Berlin, 1936
The incredible feats of American track and field star James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens played out under the rising menace of Adolf Hitler's National Socialist German Workers Party. Owens grew up in poverty in Ohio as the grandson of a slave and the son of a sharecropper. He shocked the world and Hitler by winning four gold medals: the 100- and 200-meter sprints; the long jump and as part of the 100-meter relay team. Hitler chose to not congratulate any medalist so he would not have to shake hands with Owens.
Cassius Clay, Rome, 1960
Cassius Clay, who was just 18 and years away from becoming world-famous as Muhammad Ali, won gold against Zigzy Pietrzykowski of Poland. Clay was mauled in the first round and barely hung on for the second, but pulled out the gold with fancy footwork and precision hits that almost knocked Pietrzykowski out. The Louisville, Ky., teenager was so terrified of flying he purchased a parachute for the plane ride to Italy.
Dick Fosbury, Mexico City, 1968
High jumper Dick Fosbury wins gold and changes the game with what was to become known as the "Fosbury flop," which is still the dominate form used today. Jumpers previously went over the bar facing forward.
Mark Spitz, Munich, 1972
Swimmer Mark Spitz, 22, brings home seven gold medals, an Olympic record. He also set seven new world records, which remained unbroken until Michael Phelps in 2008. Spitz won medals in the men's 100- and 200-meter freestyle, the men's 100- and 200-meter relays, the men's 100- and 200-meter butterfly and the men's 100- meter relay.
Bruce Jenner, Montreal, 1976
Bruce Jenner scored a world record-setting 8,634 points in the 1976 Olympics to win the gold medal in the decathlon. After the win, a bystander handed Jenner a U.S. flag, which he carried high around the stadium during his victory lap — a gesture that has been repeated in Olympics ever since. Jenner was dubbed the "world's greatest athlete" and appeared on the Wheaties box. He was voted the 1976 Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986.
U.S. Hockey Team, Lake Placid, 1980
A ragtag group of American collegiate and amateur hockey players crushed the Soviet powerhouse team that had embarrassed them with a 10-3 loss in a pre-Olympic exhibition match. No one thought the team could come back and beat the Russians 4-3. Sportscaster Al Michaels shouted: "Five seconds left in the game ... Do you believe in miracles? Yes! Unbelievable!" That wasn't the gold medal game — the Americans had to beat the Finnish team for the "Miracle on Ice" to be complete.
Mary Lou Retton, Los Angeles, 1984
The first woman ever featured on a Wheaties box, May Lou Retton catapulted into fame in 1984 as the first American to win gold in the women's all-around gymnastics competition. Retton earned a perfect mark on her vault — an ultra-difficult full-twisting layout Tsukahara. She also won a silver in the vault and bronze medals in the uneven bars and floor exercise. Retton's radiant smile helped her become a media sensation overnight and in 1993, she was named the most popular athlete in America by an AP national survey.
Carl Lewis, Los Angeles, 1984
In 1984, Carl Lewis became only the second man (after Jesse Owens) to capture the gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter, long jump, and 100-meter relay at the same Olympic Games. He also is the only male to win the 100-meter twice. At the 1988 Games in Seoul he won the 100-meter and the long jump for a second time. In 1992 in Barcelona, Lewis won the long jump and 4 x l00-meter relay again. In 1996 in Atlanta, Lewis won the long jump. He has a total of nine gold medals.
Greg Louganis, Seoul, 1988
A collective gasp could be heard as diving champion Greg Louganis hit his head on the board early in the competition. That sound and image, seen over and over again on TV, is etched in many Americans' minds. Louganis, his confidence shaken and with four temporary stitches, nonetheless came back to win gold in both springboard and platform diving events.
Dan Jansen, Lillehammer, 1994
Shortly before the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary, Dan Jansen's sister, Jane, died from leukemia. Americans cheered him on as he skated in her memory. But the grief was too much and he fell in both the 500- and 1000- meter races where an image of him sitting on the ice, head in his hands, became iconic. In 1992, Jansen was the favorite in Albertville, France but he stumbled in both his races. In 1994, Jansen had his last chance in Lillehammer. He stumbled in the 500, but victory finally came in the 1000 where he not only won gold, but he also set a world record. He skated his victory lap with his daughter, Jane, in his arms.
Kerri Strug, Atlanta, 1996
Emotions were running high as the U.S. women's gymnastics team appeared to be on the verge of a historic gold medal win over Russia. Then Dominique Moceanu fell on both of her vaults in the last event of the day. Now the Russians had a slim lead and the U.S. needed Strug, the final gymnast, to get a high score on the vault. In her first attempt, she fell, twisting her ankle, raising concern she couldn't go again. Then she hobbled up to the start in a wrapped ankle, ran down without a limp and stuck her vault — before collapsing to the floor in pain. The U.S. won its first team gold and Strug was carried up to the podium for the medal ceremony.
Muhammad Ali, Atlanta, 1996
One of the most touching moments in American sports history came during the opening ceremonies in '96 when boxing great Muhammad Ali, shuddering from Parkinson's disease, lit the Olympic flame in Atlanta. While his body shook, he was a strong symbol of overcoming illness. Ali won a gold medal at the Rome Olympics in 1960.
The 'Dream Team,' Barcelona, 1992
It was the first Olympics in which NBA players were eligible, and the U.S. put together the first Olympic "Dream Team": Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton. Most games were a predictable slaughter, and for many opposing teams the highlight was having their pictures taken with Dream Teamers.
Rulon Gardner, Sydney, 2000
The biggest upset in international wrestling history fell the U.S.'s way, when American Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner defeated "The General" at the Sydney Olympics. Russian Aleksandr Karelin had been undefeated in 13 years of international competition going into his match with Gardner, who, as the last of nine children, credited hard work on his family's land in Wyoming for helping him build the strength and determination to win.
Paul Hamm, Athens, 2004
A U.S. win seemed impossible, until American Paul Hamm hit two incredible sets in a row on parallel bars and the high bar. On each routine he earned a 9.837, the highest score of the event. On the strength of those two marks, Hamm managed to slip into the gold-medal spot by the slimmest margin possible (0.012), and became the first American man to win the Olympic all-around title. A South Korean gymnast filed an objection and it was two months before the gold was officially Hamm's.
Michael Phelps, Beijing, 2008
Michael Phelps was unbeatable and unstoppable in the Beijing Olympic pool. He not only won eight gold medals, he also set eight world records, and his athleticism was so dominant he made it look easy. Arguably the most accomplished swimmer of all time, Phelps owns 16 Olympic medals: six gold and two bronze at Athens in 2004, and eight gold at Beijing in 2008. He captured the hearts of Americans with his boy-next-door smile and awkwardness outside the water.
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