The Games of the XXXII Olympiad are finally upon us. After a year-long delay in the face of COVID-19, Tokyo is gearing up for the 2020 Summer Olympics, with athletes coming in from everywhere from Afghanistan to Zambia for their chance atop the Olympic podium.
While we wait for the July 23 Opening Ceremony, let’s look back at the last century of Summer Games and some of the moments that made headlines around the world. Spoiler: Not all of these moments ended with victory, but they all show how strong people can be, in heart if not in body.
Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in Berlin
By winning four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin games—in the 100m, 200m, long jump, and relay events—American track and field athlete Jesse Owens, a grandson of slaves, “single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy,” as ESPN’s Larry Schwartz later observed.
Nadia Comăneci lands a perfect 10
At the 1976 games in Montreal, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci became the first gymnast to score a perfect 10.00, and she was just 14 at the time. The scoreboard couldn’t even display her score because it didn’t have enough digit places. Better yet, Comăneci would later get six more perfect tens at the same Games.
Yasuhiro Yamashita fights through the pain
Japanese judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita tore a right calf muscle while competing against Germany’s Arthur Schanbel at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, but battled through the pain to defeat Egypt’s Mohamed Ali Rashwan in the final. Rashwan earned a commendation from the International Fair Play Committee for not aiming at Yamashita’s injured leg.
Antonio Rebollo lights the Olympic torch with a flaming arrow
The lighting of the Olympic Cauldron is always a spectacular moment, but perhaps the most dramatic lighting was when Spanish Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo lit the 1992 Barcelona flame with an arrow he sent 230 feet into the air.
Derek Redmond’s father helps him finish his 400m
That same year, British sprinter Derek Redmond tore his hamstring midway through the men’s 400m semi-final, collapsing to the ground in agony. He got to his feet and finished the race, though, aided by his father, who had barged onto the track to help him.
The Dream Team fulfills their Olympic dream
That the 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team was called the “Dream Team” is no hyperbole. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Larry Byrd, Scottie Pippin, Karl Malone and other NBA superstars made their gold medal look easy, scoring an average of 117.3 points per game.
Kerri Strug vaults to Olympic glory on an injured ankle
American gymnast Kerri Strug carried the U.S. women’s gymnastics team to victory with her second vault at the 1996 Atlanta Games, sticking a perfect landing even though she had just injured her ankle on her first attempt.
Michael Phelps adds eight gold medals to his collection
Any round-up of memorable Olympic moments has to include American swimmer Michael Phelps, who broke the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics in 2008, earning eight first-place finishes in Beijing. These days, Phelps still has the title of the most decorated Olympian, and retired with a total of 23 golds.
Usain Bolt bolts to world-record status
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt was already celebrating by the time he crossed the finish line at Beijing’s men’s 100m final, thumping his chest even before he knew he had set a world record time of 9.69 seconds. Then he did it again, setting another world record at the 200m final on the eve of his 22nd birthday. And then he helped Jamaica clinch a world-record relay time.