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There are tens, if not hundreds, of great American Olympic moments that are more than worthy of this list. So yes, there will be many glaring omissions. Add them in the comments below.
5. Pre Comes Up Short
At a mere 21 years old, an infant for distance running standards, Steve “Pre” Prefontaine turned a slow paced Olympic final into an all-time classic. He went for it all with pure cockiness and guts. Ran the last mile in 4:04. The kid ran on piss and vinegar, a real inspiration. He finished 4th in the 1972 Olympics in Munich after his body gave out from under him on the final stretch.
He turned into an American icon and put long distance running on the map in this country. With a brilliant future ahead of him, Pre died in a car accident at the age of 24 and never got to run in the Olympics again.
4. Greg Louganis Fights Back
Greg Louganis, widely known as the greatest diver to ever live, hit his head hard on the diving board while backflipping in Seoul in 1988. He suffered a gash and needed stitches to go on. He did. In the finals, Louganis put together a flawless diving routine to earn the gold medal.
The same dive that Louganis banged his head on in the preliminary round was the middle podium clincher in the finals.
3. Mark Spitz Cleans Up
Spitz owned the 1972 Olympics in Munich, four years after a very disappointing run in Mexico City where the young buck guaranteed six gold medals. He came up way short, settling for two team golds, a silver, and a bronze. Respectable sure, but his failed sense of pride made him second rate. But Munich, as I mentioned, was the setting for swimming greatness.
Spitz won seven gold medals in Munich, setting world records in every event. Unreal.
2. ’92 Dream Team
Perhaps the most memorable display of pure American athletic dominance is the ’92 Dream Team tearing through competition in Barcelona. The team, led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and many other Hall-of-Famers became the talk of the world with their unrelenting on-court demeanor and complete disregard for “foot off the gas” sportsmanship. Ironically, everyone abroad loved them for it. Autograph seekers and mob scenes followed their every step.
They won gold after winning by an average of almost 44 points per game.
1. Jesse Owens Foreshadows End to WWII
Hitler had big ideas for the 1936 Olympics. He would use it as a platform to display the superiority of the Aryan race. He was convinced his race would not only dominate societally, but athletically, as well. These Olympics were in Berlin, Hitler’s backyard, so it would set up perfectly for him.
American Jesse Owens would have none of that. He destroyed the competition, winning an unbelievable four gold medals and ruining Hitler’s laid plans. We are left with this amazing visual representation of America’s journey throughout World War II. Japan on the left, Germany on the right, and America holding down the top spot in the middle. Owens is saluting the stars and stripes in enemy territory.
After all these years of U.S. Summer Olympic greatness, where does this leave us? The United States ranks number one in gold medals with 929, and that more than doubles second place Russia at 440.