Emil Zatopek is known as one of the greatest runners in Olympic history. Nicknamed the “Czech Locomotive,” Emil did something that few could ever accomplish. He won gold in three different distance running events at the Summer Olympic Games. What makes his performance so amazing is that Emil’s events were incredibly difficult and that he only went out for 2 of them initially.
He took part in the 5,000 & 10,000 meter runs where he took home the Gold Medal for both. What makes this one of the greatest performances at the Olympic Games in history is his third run. He decided last-minute to take part in the Olympic Marathon race, which is around 20 kilometers or 12 miles. He won the gold medal with a time of 2:23:03.2, nearly 2 minutes faster than the silver medal finisher.
One of the most amazing Olympic controversies ever technically occurred back in January of 1994. The ex-husband of American figure skater Tanya Harding decided to hire someone to destroy the knee of fellow American skater Nancy Kerrigan. The attacker did injure Nancy, yet she’d recover in time to compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics. She’d skate against the person she and the rest of the world at that point blamed for the attack in Tonya Harding.
Harding did not place at the medal stand and ended up being banned. However, Nancy put on a wonderful program, setting up for a showdown with the amazing Oksana Baiul. Many believe Nancy did better than Baiul, but Oksana took home the gold medal while Nancy left with the silver. It was an impressive finish after all that had happened and the worry it must have put on her.
Florance Griffith was an American track star, known for at one point being the fastest woman in the world. She is known for her flashy performances and record-setting runs. The 1988 Summer Olympics was the setting for Griffith where she would have some of the greatest performances at the Olympic Games in history.
She won 1 Silver medal as part of a team 4x400m team relay, then a gold medal in the 4x100m team relay. However, on her own, she destroyed the competition. Griffith won the gold medal in both the 100m and 200m races, both of which she set the World Record for. Her World Records in these events still stand to this day as the female record for both events, thus making her runs here even more impressive.
Ethiopian distance runner Kenenisa Bekele might be one of the greatest living distance runners in the world, if not the best. He is most known for his runs in the 2008 Summer Olympics but he also happens to have both a gold and silver medal from the 2004 Summer Games too.
However, it was at the 2008 Summer Games where he gave us some of the best performances at the Olympic Games we have ever seen. Bekele ran two events here, the 5,000m and 10,000m distance races. However, not only did Bekele win both events, he set the World and Olympic Record for his time in them that are still in place today. He ran 12:57.82 for the 5,000m & 27:01.17 for the 10,000m.
Often forgotten about the 1968 Winter Olympic Games was that it came less than 10 years after a tragic Sabena plane crash that killed the entire United States Figure Skating team in 1961. Due to this team including some of the best figure skaters in America, the U.S. could not truly compete with the rest of the world for some time.
At least not completely. That was before Peggy Fleming came along. The United States was nearly shut out on gold medals at the 1968 Winter Games, which meant that if Peggy did not win one, the U.S. may not get any. Not only did Peggy win the gold medal but this stood as America’s first major skating win since that 1961 time period. America would get back on its feet in the years that would come.
You truly have to shape an entire sport to make a mark in the high jump event. However, that is exactly what Dick Fosbury did on his way to delivering one of the greatest performances at the Olympic Games in history. If that last name sounds familiar, it should. Before the 1968 Summer Olympics, people used to dive over the high jump bar face down. At the time, this was the best concept.
Then along came Fosbury who decided to try something revolutionary to get a better score. He jumped over with his back facing the bar in order to get the best possible height and distance he could. This completely destroyed any records on the books the competition, helping him win the Gold Medal. The move was so revolutionary, it would go on to be called “The Fosbury Flop” and is now THE maneuver used by high jumpers all over the world.
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci is known as one of the greatest gymnasts in history. Her performance at the 1976 Summer Olympic Games helped her achieve this honor big time. While she has 9 total Olympic Medals she won in the 1976 and 1980 Summer Games respectively, it is hard to overlook her amazing run during the 1976 Games. She won a total of 5 medals here including 1 Bronze, 1 Silver, and 3 Gold.
In her gold medal runs, she did something never before done by a gymnast at the Olympics. Nadia achieved a Perfect 10 score by the judges, something the electronic scoreboard could not even register. She was the first to ever do this, but she was not done. She went on to achieve a Perfect 10 score six more times en route to winning her 3 Gold Medals and helping her team win a Silver for the Team event. On top of this, Comaneci came back in 1980 and achieved a Perfect 10 twice more!
What Jesse Owens accomplished in 1936 made him an American legend. As a black man in America, he was not treated fairly and it was horrible. However, the 1936 Summer Olympics happened to be occurring in Munich, Germany, the home of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. The man hated the Jewish but also was not a fan of black people either. Word was event sent to try and hurt Owens before a few of his events and screwjobs were also planned.
Hitler and Germany claimed black athletes were inferior to white athletes among other horrible things heading into the event. Of course, tensions were high. Jesse Owens went on to win a gold medal in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, long jump, and 4×100-meter relay. Owens shut up the Germans and Nazis with his performance here. Hitler was supposed to shake the hand of the winner of each event. He left or was not present at each event Owens won to avoid admitting defeat.
Paavo Nurmi, known as “The Flying Finn” was known for his complete dominance in mid to long-distance running during the 1920s. The Finnish runner was so impressive that he captured 22 World Records during his career. Nurmi is among only a handful of track and field stars to achieve a gold medal at three different Olympic Games. However, it was his dominance in 1920 & 1924 that is the most impressive.
He achieved 8 gold medals and 1 silver medal during this campaign. During his peak, he was undefeated in 121 races including in the Olympics. During 1920 & 1924 he won the Individual Cross Country and Team Cross Country races twice. He also won the gold in the 1,500m, 3,000m team, and 10,000m races on top of both the silver and gold medals for the 5000m race. This isn’t including his 1 gold and 2 silver medals in 1928.
Known as “The Miracle On Ice,” the achievement made by the American hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games has gone down in infamy. Absolutely no one expected the United States Men’s Hockey team was going to win even as much as the Bronze, much less the gold medal. While the Soviets and Canadians often populated the NHL, there were few Americans that could be considered impressive.
This is why the entire American team was made up of Amateur and Collegiate hockey players. They managed to shock the world by beating the powerhouse Soviet Union hockey team 4-3, leading announcer Bob Costas to audibly yell “do you believe in miracles?” This set up the “Miracle on Ice” name. However, this was not what won them a medal as it occurred in the semi-finals. The Americans went on to beat Finland to capture the gold medal afterward.
10. Kerri Strug & Simone Biles-1996 & 2016 Summer Games
It is hard to pick between what both Kerri Strug and Simone Biles did at their respective Olympic events. Kerri was part of the infamous Magnificent Seven squad while Simone was part of the equally amazing Final Five. Strug sadly injured her ankle on her first vault attempt in 1996, but she stuck the landing on her second attempt, helping the Americans win the Team Gold Medal. This was the first time the Americans defeated the Russian Gymnastic team in Olympic history.
20 years later, Simone Biles dominated in 2016 as the runaway leader of the Final Five. She won the gold in Vault, Floor Exercise, All-Around, and assisted in capturing the Team Gold. She also won a Bronze medal for her performance in the Balance Beam. Both women’s performances at the Olympic Games in 1996 & 2016 respectively will go down as legendary.
Bjørn Dæhlie, or the hardest named man in the history of sports, was the most successful cross-country skier in history. As it currently stands, the Norwegian holds the record for the most gold medals in Winter Olympics history with 8 and the most medals overall with a total of 12. He has a total of 29 medals overall in the sport, the most in history, which is likely why he’s known as the greatest in his skiing discipline.
Dæhlie dominated the Olympics from 1992 to 1998. He won a gold medal in the 10km event twice, Pursuit event twice, 50km event twice, and 4x10km relay event twice. Bjørn won a Silver medal in the 30km event twice, the Pursuit event once, and the 4x10km relay once. If not for an unfortunate skiing accident that forced him into retirement he may have added more.
American skating legend Eric Heiden may be a doctor today, but he will forever be known as the best speed skater in American history as it currently stands. While Heiden had been a relatively dominate skater en route to winning several World Championships, no one expected the level of dominance he showed at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Eric managed to win a gold medal in the 500m, 1000m, 15000, 5000m, and 10,000m events.
He became the first person ever to win a gold medal in all five of the available speed skating events. Heiden also became the only man to win 5 gold medals at a single Winter Olympics. Funny enough, Heiden alone won more gold medals than only two countries that at the 1980 Winter Games. Those countries were the Soviet Union with 10 & Germany with 9. Clear dominance by Heiden for sure!
Most know Kurt Angle today for his professional wrestling career with TNA and WWE. However, before he went into scripted entertainment as a wrestler, he was a legit amateur wrestler that did the impossible. Angle was a 2-time NCAA Division I Heavyweight Wrestling Champion and won a gold medal at the 1995 World Championships, which allowed him to compete on the 1996 American Olympics Wrestling Team as a freestyle 100kg (220lbs) wrestler.
While the Americans had won the gold at the Olympics in freestyle wrestling, the heavyweight category had only been won by the United States 4 times since the 1904 Summer Games. In fact, the Soviet Union(Russia) had been dominate in Angle’s heavyweight category. However, during the 1996 Olympic Trials, Angle sustained a severe neck injury, fracturing two of his cervical vertebrae, herniating two discs, and pulling four muscles. Kurt battled through the pain and managed to compete at the Olympics that summer where he won the gold medal for the United States.
The amazing Vitaly Scherbo is the most successful male gymnast in the history of the Olympics. While he officially competed for his homeland of Belarus during the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Vitaly was actually part of an aligned group at the games. The Commonwealth of Independent States unified with the Soviet Union for a team during the Games. This allowed them to even increase their medal count.
Vitaly’s campaign in 1992 was legendary. He put on some of the greatest performances at the Olympic Games the world had ever seen. He won the gold medal for 6 out of 8 events he participated in. This included the Pommel Horse, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, All-Around, and Team events. He was the only male at the time to have achieved the gold medal in all 6 main gymnastic events at one Summer Olympics.
At one point in time, Mark Spitz was the most successful Olympic swimmers in history. He actually competed at the 1968 Summer Olympics and went in brashly claiming he was going to win 6 gold medals at the event. Spitz had held ten World Records at this point, but they didn’t help. He’d win 2 team gold medals in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and the 4×200-meter freestyle relay. He also won a Silver medal in the 100-meter butterfly event.
During the 1972 Summer Olympics, he walked in believing he could take home the gold in every event he went out for. Now experienced with the Olympics, he competed in the 100-meter freestyle, 200-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly, 4×100-meter freestyle relay, 4×200-meter freestyle relay, and 4×100-meter medley relay. He’d win gold in every event, capturing 7 gold medals. At the time, this was the most of any swimmer or athlete within one Olympics campaign.
4. Final Five & Magnificent Seven-1996 & 2016 Summer Games
What the Magnificent Seven did in the 1996 Summer Olympics was legendary but what the Final Five did in 2016 was just as impressive. This led us to simply being unable to choose between the two teams. First up, the 1996 Magnificent Seven team. This team competed in a time when the Olympics were dominated by Russians, Romanians, Ukrainians, and the Chinese. In fact, every one of those nations medaled. However, America’s Magnificent Seven managed to capture 4 medals.
They were able to earn 1 silver, 1 bronze, and 2 gold medals. One gold medal was in the team all-around, the first time the Americans did this and defeated the Russians. The Final Five, however, won 9 medals in 2016. This included 1 bronze, 4 silver, and 4 gold medals. Simone Biles helped them get 3 individual gold medals, Ali Raisman helped them get 2 silver medals, and both Laurie Hernandez and Madison Kocian helped the Americans earn a silver medal each. With the lone bronze also belonging to Biles.
It is clear by now that Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive and the greatest short-distance runner in Olympic history. In fact, he never lost a race he was part of for three different Summer Olympics campaigns. The Jamaican Sensation first came to prominence in the 2008 Summer Olympics where he won the 100m and 200m events, setting World Records. He followed it up in 2012 by winning the 100m and 200m events again as well as the 4x100m relay.
Bolt continued this in 2016 when he won the gold in the 100m and 200m events yet again as well as the 4x100m relay. Bolt is the only track and field athlete in history to have won 3 gold medals in the same events at three different Olympic Games. Usain also holds the World Record times in the 100m, 150m, and 200m races. Along with the Jamaican 2012 team, Bolt shares the World Record in the 4x100m relay. Three of these are also Olympic Records still standing today.
Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympic athlete in history and those in second are not even close to his record. He holds 28 total Olympic medals. Out of those 28 medals, 23 of them are gold. This is also a record. Phelps began his reign of swimming dominance in 2004 when he won 6 gold medals and 2 bronze. However, in 2008 he bravely claimed he was swimming in 8 events and planned to win all of them, doing one better than the then-record holder, Mark Spitz.
Phelps managed to win all 5 individual events and then had to rely on his team to help get the remaining 3. Phelps managed to win the 8 gold he wanted. He would return in 2012 to win 4 gold and 2 silver medals then returned in 2016 to win 5 gold medals and 2 silver. He is the only swimmer in the history of the Olympics to have won the gold 3 times in the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m medley, and place in every individual and relay event in 4 different Olympic campaigns.
Sometimes, you’ll wonder which country has the best athletes, especially the nation that has the best in a particular sport at the Olympics. Then you get the United States of America at the 1904 Summer Olympics, who completely destroyed the field. The event took place in St. Louis, Missouri. With the Olympics on American soil, they felt they had to win as much as possible. They did just that.
America won a record 239 total medals in 1904. Out of those, there were 79 bronze, 82 silver, and 78 gold medals. The record still stands to this day with the closest to it being the 195 medals the Soviet Union won in a heavily boycotted 1980 Olympics in Moscow. It is likely a record that will never be broken and offered up some of the greatest performances at the Olympic Games ever.