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100 Greatest U.S. Olympians

At every Olympics, America’s top athletes compete for national pride and personal glory. These are the best of the best.

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Ever since their founding in 1896, the modern Olympic Games have brought us countless inspiring stories, making heroes out of underdogs and dominant athletes alike. With even more classic moments set to happen at the Sochi Winter Olympics, we looked back at the best Americans to ever compete, and the amazing stories behind their triumphs. By Dan Reilly

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos

1968 Mexico City Games
Track and field
Medal count: One gold (Smith), one bronze (Carlos)

Teammates at San Jose State, Smith and Carlos faced off in the 200-meter race, with Smith winning gold with a world record time of 19.83 seconds. Carlos finished third, behind Australia's Peter Norman. When the three men – all donning Olympic Project for Human Rights badges – went to the podium to receive their medals, Smith and Carlos removed their shoes and stood in black socks as a tribute to black people in poverty. Then, during "The Star-Spangled Banner," they bowed their heads and gave the traditional "black power" salute of a raised, black-gloved fist. Then-IOC president Avery Brundage suspended Smith and Carlos for making a political statement during the Olympics. The duo was heavily criticized at the time, even receiving death threats, though the moment is now seen as one of the most important of the Civil Rights Movement. 

Dick Fosbury

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Dick Fosbury

1968 Mexico City Games
Track and field
Medal count: One gold

As a high school student, Fosbury had trouble with the conventional high jump "straddle" method and failed to even clear five feet in his attempts. He started tinkering with his approach, and eventually invented the now-dominant style of jumping backwards over the bar, a technique that became known as the "Fosbury Flop." A few years later, he won high jump gold at the 1968 games, setting an Olympic record with a 7-foot, 4.25-inch leap. Nearly all high jump competitors use the flop method now.

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Bob Beamon

1968 Mexico City Games
Track and field
Medal count: One gold

In the long jump finals, Beamon's first jump measured 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches, a leap so far that officials had to bring in additional measuring equipment to get an accurate result. After about 15 minutes, the announcer revealed the distance, but Beamon, unfamiliar with the metric system, still didn't know how far the jump was. Teammate Ralph Boston informed Beamon that he just set the new record by an unprecedented 21 3/4 inches. Beamon collapsed in shock, and his record stood until 1991, when American Mike Powell broke it at the World Championships.

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Mark Spitz

1968 Mexico City Games, 1972 Munich Games
Swimming
Medal count: Nine golds, one silver, one bronze

Spitz won four medals, including two gold, at the 1968 games, but it was his performance four years later that made him one of the most successful Olympians of all time. He won gold in all seven events in which he participated, setting world records with each victory. The seven golds in one Olympiad was a record until Michael Phelps won eight in 2008.

Bruce Jenner

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Bruce Jenner

1972 Munch Games, 1976 Montreal Games
Track and field
Medal count: One gold

After a 10th place finish in the decathlon at the 1972 Olympics, Jenner upped the intensity of his training regimen, all while supporting himself as an insurance salesman. In 1976, he earned gold in the event with a world record point total of 8,634. He's now famous, of course, for marrying Kim Kardashian's mother Kris, and his subsequent appearances on the reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians

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Greg Louganis

1976 Montreal Games, 1984 Los Angeles Games, 1988 Seoul Games
Diving
Medal count: Four golds, one silver

Louganis' consecutive victories in both the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform dives made him the only man to ever sweep both events in back-to-back Olympics. The 1988 games were particularly difficult for Louganis: Six months earlier, he was diagnosed with HIV, and during a preliminary round, he hit his head on the diving board and suffered a concussion. He later became an active LGBT rights advocate. 

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Dorothy Hamill

1976 Innsbruck Games
Figure skating
Medal count: One gold

The 19-year-old Hamill won gold thanks in part to a free skate that earned her unanimous first place votes from all nine judges. She quickly became one of America's sweethearts thanks to her trademark bob haircut.

The Denver Post

Darrell Pace

1976 Montreal Games, 1984 Los Angeles Games, 1988 Seoul Games
Archery
Medal count: Two golds, one silver

Pace won the individual archery gold in 1976 but couldn’t defend his title four years later when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow games as protest of the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Pace then won gold again in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics, one of only two men to win events in the games surrounding the boycott. He earned a silver in the men's 1988 team event and was named athlete of the century by the World Archery Federation in 2011. 

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Edwin Moses

1976 Montreal Games, 1984 Los Angeles Games, 1988 Seoul Games
Track and field
Medal count: Two golds, one bronze

In addition to his 122 consecutive wins in the 400-meter hurdles, Moses set four world records and won Olympic gold medals in 1976 and 1984. He couldn't make it a three-peat in 1988, settling for bronze instead.