By Cody Williams @TheSizzle20 on July 24, 2014
It’s hard to argue against the assertion that the Olympics are the best time in sports. There’s no event that matches those levels of pride, competition and excitement. The United States has always been one of the top of the class in Olympic competition, both in winter and summer. What are the 20 greatest moments for the USA in Olympic history?
Before he became The Greatest in Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay won the gold medal in light heavyweight boxing in 1960. It wasn’t a revolutionary win as much as it was the last great amateur achievement of the man who might be the greatest athlete of all time.
Women’s soccer burst onto the scene with the 1999 Women’s World Cup, but the U.S. captured a masterful victory against Brazil in 2004. In overtime, Abby Wambach put away the go-ahead score to give the USA the win and the gold medal.
Bob Beamon was the favorite to win the long jump heading into the ’68 Olympics, but he wasn’t expected to set a world record that would then stand for 22 years after he set it. Beamon broke the previous world record by 21.75 inches, a massive margin.
The United States hadn’t seen a gold medal in the four-man bobsled since 1948. Driver Steve Holcomb and his team changed that in Vancouver in 2010 as they were able to end an enormous drought in the vent and get a huge monkey off of their backs.
Granted it was 1912, but Thorpe proved to be the world’s most dominant all-around athlete by winning both the decathlon and pentathlon at the Olympics. He was stripped of his medals due to amateurism concerns, but they were reinstated in 1983. Regardless, winning both events is an achievement for the ages.
Rulon Gardner wasn’t given much of a chance in his gold medal Greco-Roman wrestling match against Aleksandr Karelin of Russia. The Russian hadn’t lost in 13 years of international competition. Gardner overcame the odds, though, as he defeated Karelin and captured gold.
Only the second Native American to win a gold medal (Thorpe), Mills’ victory in the 10,000-meter run is considered one of the greatest feats of an American athlete ever, though it often slips through the cracks. Mills became the first American to ever win the race, quite an astonishing feat.
Florence Griffith Joyner is still regarded as the fastest woman ever after she won gold medals in the 100m and 200m races at the 1988 Olympics. With those gold medals also came two world records that still stand. Even though she tragically passed away in 1998, Flo-Jo’s achievements and accomplishments live on.
Johnson and his gold shoes earned more gold in the form of medals in 1996. He became the only man ever to win both the 200m and 400m races at the Atlanta games. His world record in the 200 stood for 12 years and his record in the 400 still stands to this day.
Heartbreak was what Dan Jansen went through in the 1988 Olympics. He was informed of the passing of his sister due to leukemia and then fell in both the 500-meter and 1000-meter speed skating races. In 1994, though, he got a chance at redemption as he won the gold in the 1000-meter, dedicating the victory to his sister.
With the all-around team women’s gymnastics gold hanging in the balance, Strug injured her ankle on the vault on her first attempt and needed to score well to seal the medal. Injured ankle and all, she stuck the landing and clinched the gold medal for the USA.
In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Tommie Smith won the gold medal in the 200m at the 1968 Olympics. He and John Carlos held up the Black Power salute on the podium, which became a beacon for the movement going forward and is a symbol still used to this day.
Retton had undergone surgery just a few weeks before the 1984 Olympics, but was still able to do herself and her country proud as she won five medals including an individual gold in the all-around individual competition.
Greg Louganis is a name synonymous with Olympic excellence and for good reason. The diver is the only male to ever sweep both the springboard and platform diving events in consecutive Olympics, winning both in 1984 and 1988. Even more impressive, he won in 1988 having hit the springboard and suffering a concussion.
Winning eight gold medals, Phelps became arguably the greatest Olympian ever in the 2008 games. There’s no denying how impressive what he accomplished was, but he also struggled to dominate in every event. That feels like splitting hairs, but it’ll make sense momentarily.
Carl Lewis set out to match Jesse Owens in winning four track and field medals in one Olympic games and did so in 1984. Lewis won the 100m, the long jump, the 200m, and as a member of the 4x100m relay team.
You could easily switch Spitz and Phelps on this list, but I give the nod to Spitz simply because of how dominant he was. He set a world record in every event he competed in and only one race of his was even all that close. Just because of the level of dominance, I give the slight edge to Spitz.
It’s not that the Dream Team won a gold medal in 1992, it’s the fact that they went to Barcelona with wild expectations and arguably exceeded those expectations. There may have never been and may never be a sports team as dominant as the Dream Team was in those Olympics.
On some lists, the Miracle on Ice may be number one. There’s also no denying that the U.S. upsetting the Soviet Union in hockey is one of the most iconic moments in American history. Despite all that it is, though, it isn’t number one on this list.
Jesse Owens went with the USA to Berlin for the 1936 Olympic games with Adolf Hitler in attendance. With the Germans claiming to be the superior race, the African American Owens owned the Olympics by winning four gold medals. Take that, Nazis.
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