If the term Superman were to be applied to a mere mortal, then Usain Bolt would certainly fit the bill, though there is certainly nothing “mere” about the runner. It was at the Beijing Olympics that Bolt sprinted to victory and in the process redeemed a sport that till then had been eclipsed by doping allegations that had plagued previous winners. In 2008, Bolt set a new world record, running the 100m in 9.69. He went on to win the 200m as well, a feat which till then had only been achieved by Carl Lewis who scored a double win at the 1984 LA Olympics. But what astounded spectators was the effortless manner in which Bolt crossed the finish line with commentators speculating that he had begun “showboating” at approximately 80 metres during the 100 metres. That didn’t happen during the 200m when he set a new time at 19.30s. Till Bolt took to the track, the Beijing Olympics had been dominated by swimming, following the spectacular performance by Michael Phelps.
It was said that Cathy Freeman bore the weight of the nation when she triumphed at the Sydney Olympics, bagging the gold in the 400m category. Her win turned out to be a symbolic one amidst the backdrop of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s refusal to apologise over “The Stolen Generation.” Freeman’s grandmother was among the Aboriginal children who were taken from their families and placed with white families. At the Sydney Olympics, Freeman was hailed by the media as being a figure for reconciliation. She ran her victory lap carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. Freeman clocked a time of 49.11sec in the historically significant race.
Michael Phelps holds a whopping 18 golds to his name, out of a total of 22. It was at the 2008 Olympics that Phelps made Olympic history, breaking the record for best performance that had till then been held by swimmer Mark Spitz since 1972. Phelps won his eighth Olympic gold despite an earlier declaration by Australia’s Ian Thorpe that such an achievement was impossible. At the London Olympics in 2012, Phelps cemented his legacy by becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time. Interestingly, Phelps began swimming at the age of seven as an outlet after he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. His first appearance at the Olympics was in Sydney, when he was just 15, the youngest American swimmer to be selected for the Olympics in 70 years.
Florence Griffith Joyner
Florence Griffith Joyner has been hailed as being one of the most colourful figures in Olympic history. She was a sprinter unlike any other, arriving at the track in colourful outfits and six-inch nails. It was at the Seoul Olympics that Flo-Jo as she was known literally struck gold. She won the 100 metres, 200 metres and the 4-by-100 metre relay and scored a silver in the 4-by-400 metre relay. She set a new Olympic record for the 100 metres, clocking in at 10.54 seconds, making her the fastest woman in Olympic history, a record that continues to stand till today. Her win has however been shadowed by controversy that she took performance-enhancing drugs, a charge she battled by taking and passing 11 doping tests. But the charges continued to grow, especially when she retired just a year after making Olympic history. Ten years after she astounded the world, Griffith Joyner died in her sleep. Her record at Seoul however continues to live on.
When Greg Louganis entered the Seoul Olympics, he was already an accomplished athlete having already taken home a silver at the Montreal Olympics when he was just 16, and two gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in LA. But it wasn’t all smooth-sailing at his next games. Louganis injured himself by striking his head on the board during his dive, dropping awkwardly into the water. But he made an extraordinary comeback when half an hour later he returned and scored gold in the men’s 10-metre platform. At the time, it was unknown that Louganis was HIV-positive. Louganis has five Olympic medals to his name and is the only male in Olympic history to have won the gold on springboard and platform in two consecutive Olympic games – in 1984 and 1988.
Britain’s 4×100 gold at the Athens Olympics:
An upset always resonates with the audience and at the Athens Olympics, the British 4×100 team proved to be the David to the USA’s Goliath. With the odds stacked against them, the British team comprising Mark Lewis-Francis, Marlon Devonish, Darren Campell and Jason Gardener, went on to win the 4 x 100, defeating the favourites from America which included Maurice Greene. The British team entered the race carrying baggage from the previous two Olympics resulting from bungled baton changes. In Athens it seemed like it would be the same when Gardener false started but as it turned out, that did little to deter the British team. For a moment it seemed like Greene would prevail but Lewis-France made it 0.01 seconds clinching an unexpected win for the Brits.
When Surinam’s Anthony Nesty lined up for the 100m butterfly, all eyes were on five-time Olympic gold winner Matt Biondi. It certainly seemed that Biondi had it in the bag till at the last second – one hundredth of a second actually – Nesty put in a final push to touch the wall first, in the process creating one of the greatest shocks in Olympic swimming history. Nesty had a winning time of 53sec as opposed to Biondi’s 53.01. The swimming “outsider” was immediately elevated to national hero status. Till today, Nesty remains Surinam’s only ever Olympic medallist.
At just 14, Nadia Comaneci made her first Olympic performance. At the time there was an understanding that scoring a perfect 10 was not possible but in 1976, Comaneci became the first gymnast in Olympic history for her performance on the uneven bars. It was a score she would go on to achieve six-more times. She left the Montreal Olympics with three golds. At the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Comaneci won two golds and two silvers but as it turns out she would never repeat the “perfect” performance she achieved when she was just 14.
He has been heralded as being one of the greatest sprinters of all time. It was at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games that Johnson completed a double-whammy, scoring gold in both the 200metres and 400metres – the only man in history to do so at a single Olympics – setting a wold record of 19.32 for the 200metres, an accomplishment that remained till Usain Bolt broke it 12 years later. Come the Sydney Olympics, he would go to win the gold in both events yet again, becoming the first athlete to capture two consecutive 400m gold medals. His wins awarded a total of four Olympic golds with no silver or bronze.
When the athletes were lined up for the 200metres finals during the Sydney Olympics, it seemed that Konstandinos Kederis would have little hope. He was after all stacked up against the likes of Britain’s Darren Campbell but triumph he did, clocking in at 20.09seconds. Overnight, Kederis literally became a Greek God, having become the first Greek male to win an Olympic athletes gold since the games of 1896. He remained the most popular man in Greece right up till the Athens Olympics when Kederis attempted to elude the mandatory drug-testing that had been implemented. A questionable motorcycle prevented Kederis from being tested leading to him being withdrawn from the Athens games.