Every generation has their hero. The Olympics are where great moments are born, and where competitors become inspiration for young athletes everywhere. These are the top five Team USA Summer Olympics moments.
Jesse Owens wins gold in front of Hitler
The 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin were largely a vehicle for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to flex their muscles in front of the whole world. Part of their message was one of racial supremacy and the inferiority of minorities, including Africans and people of African descent.
Jesse Owens, an African American track star for Team USA, won four medals at those Olympics: 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, 4×100 meter relay, and the long jump. Hitler chose only to shake the hands of German medalists. He also became the first African American with sponsorship when he agreed to use Adidas running shoes during competition in those games.
Mark Spitz wins seven gold medals
Mark Spitz was a Team USA swimmer at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the 1972 Olympics in Munich, then part of West Germany. As a bold 18-year-old with several world records behind him, he predicted he would win six gold medals at the 1968 Olympics; however, he only won two and they were in team events.
Four years later, at the age of 22, Spitz again predicted six gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. He did one better. Spitz won seven gold medals, a record for a single Olympics, and set new world record times in every event. With that, at the age of 22, Spitz retired with his gold medal record that would stand for decades.
The Dream Team
The 1992 men’s USA Olympic basketball team was called the Dream Team because it was the first time professional basketball players were allowed to compete. The team was comprised of famous NBA stars, such as Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Larry Byrd, Scottie Pippen, and Patrick Ewing. The team’s sole college player, Christian Laettner, hailed from Duke University, home of Olympic assistant coach Mike Krzyzewski.
At the 1992 games in Barcelona, the Dream Team took the court by storm. They won by an average of almost 44 points per game. The closes match was against Croatia in the event’s gold medal game. The Dream Team won by a score of 117 to 85. All members of the team, except Laettner, have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The all-star Dream Team remains to be the greatest basketball team ever put together.
Kerri Strug and the Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven was the name given to the Team USA women’s gymnastics team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Eastern Europe dominated the sport and the Magnificent Seven had a real chance to beat Russia and Romania.
Kerri Strug severely injured one ankle during her first vault, when she fell on the landing. Because a fall would hurt her score tremendously, Strug decided to proceed with the second vault. She spun perfectly through the air after hitting the vault, and stuck the landing on her one good ankle without so much as a hop or balance check. Strug hopped off the mat, but helped her team win the gold medal. A lasting image from the medal ceremony is gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi carrying Strug to the podium.
Michael Phelps surpasses Mark Spitz
American swimmer Phelps aspired to meet or surpass Spitz’s six Olympic gold medals. It wasn’t until the 2008 Olympics in Beijing that the record was threatened. Michael Phelps, the young new swimming star, had already won six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The pressure was on to meet or surpass swimming legend Spitz.
He did just that, and in dramatic fashion. Phelps won eight gold medals, combining individual and team events, at the 2008 Olympics. The seventh event, the 100 meter butterfly, was the most dramatic and controversial, as Phelps finished a mere .01 second, a fingertip, ahead of second place competitor Milorad Cavic of Serbia. With eight gold medals, Phelps became his own legend and one of the most recognizable Team USA athletes of this generation.