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The Top 10 Moments in U.S. Olympic History

olympic moments

RON KUNTZ/AFP/Getty Images; Paul Gilham/Getty Images; Steve Powell/Allsport

Proving a theory of Hitler's incorrect. A hockey team comprised of nobodies. A basketball team comprised of superstars. A hurt knee. A hurt head. An unforgettable moustache. These are just a few of the happenings that will forever be linked between the U.S. and the Olympics. Get into the sporting spirit for the 2012 games in London with a look back at 10 of the top U.S. Olympic moments from the past century.

By Greg Prato

women's soccer 2004

Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

10

Women’s Soccer Team Wins Gold in Overtime (Athens 2004)

 

Is there anything more exhilarating than winning a professional sports championship in overtime, with a game-winning score? Well, how about a gold medal-winning overtime goal? This is precisely what the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team accomplished in the 2004 Athens Games, when Abby Wambach scored the winning goal against Brazil in overtime – earning the team their second gold medal in eight years. And for those who are wondering, this was not the women's soccer victory in which defender/midfielder Brandi Chastain took off her jersey to expose her sports bra (that would be the 1999 Women's World Cup) . . .

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florence griffith-joyner 1988

RON KUNTZ/AFP/Getty Images

9

Florence Griffith-Joyner Becomes ‘The Fastest Woman Of All Time’ (Seoul 1988)

Florence Griffith-Joyner (also known as Flo-Jo) won three gold medals in the track and field competition at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 meters relay competitions, resulting in Flo-Jo being christened "the fastest woman of all time." Despite rumors of steroid use, Griffith-Joyner was tested during the competition and did not fail any drug tests. Sadly, Griffith-Joyner would die at the age of 38 in 1998, due to suffocation during an epileptic seizure.

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louganis 1988

Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

8

Greg Louganis Triumphs After Whacking His Noggin (Seoul 1988)

It's difficult enough competing in an Olympic diving competition as it is. But what if you add a concussion and four temporary sutures (later replaced with five mattress stitches) to the mix, after thumping your head on a diving board? That's the exact handicap that Greg Louganis overcame in the 1988 Seoul Olympics during the preliminary rounds, before going on to take the gold in two categories – the 3m springboard and 10m platform (matching exactly what he accomplished at the 1984 Los Angeles Games).

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tommie smith and john carlos

Universal History Archive/Getty Images

7

Tommie Smith and John Carlos Raise Their Fists (Mexico City 1968)

After U.S. runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos won gold and bronze medals, respectively, at the 200 meter race during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, they realized that they'd have the world's attention when it came time to accept their medals at the podium. Subsequently, each donned one black glove each, and raised their fists (among other symbolic gestures, including wearing black socks with no shoes, a scarf, an unzipped jacket and a bead necklace), which were all meant to signify a variety of human rights statements. 

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mary lou retton 1984

Steve Powell /Allsport

6

Mary Lou Retton Earns All-Around Title (Los Angeles 1984)

Gymnast Mary Lou Retton suffered one of the most peculiar injuries right after the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1984 – she hurt her knee while signing autographs, resulting in an injury that required surgery. Retton overcame this obstacle by becoming the first female gymnast to win the Olympic all-around title from outside Eastern Europe – in addition to taking two silver and two bronze medals the same year. Subsequently, Retton was named Sports Illustrated's Sportwoman of the Year, and can be forgiven for hosting Funfit – a series of short segments similar to The Jane Fonda Workout . . . but for youngsters.

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dream team 1992

Mike Powell/ALLSPORT

5

The Dream Team Doesn’t Disappoint (Barcelona 1992)

What would happen if the crème de la crème of the National Basketball Association came together, and represented the U.S. men's basketball team in the Olympics? Two words – sheer dominance – which is exactly what happened at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Dubbed "The Dream Team," the group featured eventual NBA Hall of Famers including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Charles Barkley. In the end, the Dream Team defeated their opponents by an average of almost 44 points, and earned their inevitable gold medal.

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carl lewis 1984

David Cannon / Getty Images

4

Carl Lewis Ties Jesse Owens’ Olympic Record (Los Angeles 1984)

Why not think big? That's a sentiment that runner Carl Lewis used for inspiration going into the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when he sought to match the high mark set by the great Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, who netted a total of four gold medals. Lewis did indeed manage to accomplish this goal, taking the gold in the following categories – 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump. Lewis would go on to further success in subsequent Olympic games, earning two gold medals in 1988, two more in 1992, plus another one in 1996 – resulting in a total of nine gold medals during his Olympic career.

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mark spitz 1972

STAFF/AFP/Getty Images; Paul Gilham/Getty Images

3

Tie: Mark Spitz (Munich 1972) and Michael Phelps (Bejing 2008)

 

In the cases of swimmers Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps, you can never have enough gold medals. At the Munich Olympics in 1972, Spitz (and his studly 'stache) would win a total of seven gold medals. Thirty-six years later, at the 2008 Bejing Games, Phelps (and his studly six pack) would top Spitz's mark, by earning a total of eight gold medals: 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley, 4×100m freestyle relay, 4×200m freestyle relay and 4×100m medley relay.

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miracle on ice 1980

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

2

U.S. Hockey Team Performs ‘Miracle On Ice’ (Lake Placid 1980)

The 1980 Soviet Olympic hockey team was touted as unbeatable – after all, the Russians had taken the gold in nearly every Olympic tournament since 1954. But someone forgot to send the memo to a largely unknown coach from Minnesota (Herb Brooks) and his rag-tag group of collegiate and amateur players, that comprised the U.S. men's hockey team. On February 22nd, 1980, the U.S. shocked the world by beating the Russians, 4-3. Two days later, they would beat Finland, and capture the gold medal. A film would be made about their improbable story in 2004, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as Brooks.

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jesse owens 1936

CORR/AFP/Getty Images

1

Jesse Owens Wins Multiple Gold Medals In Nazi Germany (Berlin 1936)

Would you be a bit nervous if you were asked to compete in the Olympics, in a far away land ruled by the Third Reich, and with one of the most despicable figures of all-time – Adolf Hitler – undoubtedly monitoring the events from afar? U.S. runner Jesse Owens didn't let it affect his performance in the slightest at the Berlin Games in 1936, as he won a total of four gold medals that year in the 100m, the 200m, the 4.100m relay and the long jump competitions. It's been said that Hitler wanted to use the Olympics as a platform to show that the Aryan race was physically superior to everyone else. Owens proved him dead wrong.

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