Every four years, the greatest athletes on Earth meet up to compete for their country on the world's grandest stage. As these athletes show off their athletic prowess and put their skills to the ultimate test, the rest of the world watches in awe. From dramatic upsets to complete domination, Olympic spectators are drawn into the competition and patriotism of it all.
While nearly every country aims to assert its dominance on the Olympic stage, the 1936 Summer Games were at an all-new level. Held in Berlin, Germany, during the governance of the Third Reich, Hitler wanted to use the Games to illustrate that his Aryan race was physically superior to every other race in the world. However, Team USA's Jesse Owens soon threw a wrench into this plan. Owens, an African American Track and Field athlete, won four gold medals for Team USA at the 1936 Games in the 100m, the 200m, the 4x100m relay, and the long jump. Owens's historic victory at the 1936 Games was much bigger than sport as he single-handedly crushed Hitler's notion of Aryan supremacy.
Today the world knows him as the late great Muhammad Ali. However, in 1960 he was still just Cassius Clay, an upcoming boxer with something to prove. At just 18-years-old, Clay certainly proved himself as he won all four of his matches at the Summer Games, three of them through unanimous decision. Clay’s dominance at the 1960 Summer Olympics has undoubtedly been one of Team USA’s most remarkable achievements in all of Olympics history.
At the 1972 Olympic Games, Mark Spitz won big for Team USA. At the Munich Games, Spitz became the first individual from any country to win seven gold medals at a Modern Olympics. Spitz took gold in four individual events and three relays. These events were the 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly, 100 freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay, and the 4x100m medley relay.
The 1984 Olympic Games were held on home soil. Held in Los Angeles, Team USA member Mary Lou Retton made history as the first American gymnast to win an individual all-around gold medal. Retton didn’t stop there, though. She also went on to win four other medals. Retton’s victory turned her into an icon and set the stage for the future of the US gymnastics program.
Held in Seoul, South Korea, the 1988 Summer Olympics were triumphant for Team USA. Greg Louganis was one Olympian that showed up big for the United States. Regarded as one of the country’s top divers, he left many biting their nails after clipping his head on the board during a preliminary-round dive. Luckily, Louganis made it through without serious injury. He went on to win two gold medals in the 10m Platform and 3m Springboard.
At the same Olympic Games, Louganis overcame injury to win gold for Team USA; Florence Griffith-Joyner earned herself the nickname “fastest woman in the world.” This US athlete blew away her competition on the track at the 1988 Games. Griffith-Joyner set records in both the 100m and 200m events and won four total medals for Team USA at the 1988 Seoul Games.
The Summer Olympics found itself back on US soil at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Team USA Track and Field athlete Michael Johnson had the entire country rooting for him as he flew to victory in both the 200m and 400m races. Not only did Johnson take gold in both events, but he also set world records in both races at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
As Michael Johnson was breaking world records, another Team USA athlete was captivating the hearts of America. Olympic Gymnast Kerri Strug sustained a terrible ankle injury at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Yet, against the odds, Strug was able to push through the pain, limp back onto the mat for Team USA, stick her final landing, and help clinch the team all-around over Russia at the 1996 Games.
Team USA Wrestler Rulon Gardner pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history at the 2000 Olympic Games. Gardner wasn’t rated highly as the Sydney Games began in 2000. However, he found a way to beat the favored Russian wrestler Alexander Karelin, an Olympian who had won three consecutive gold medals in the event. Gardner's underdog victory allowed him to win the support of the entire country.
Like Mark Spitz before him, Michael Phelps found a way to come up big for Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Games. Phelps made headlines as he was able to clinch gold in eight races during the Beijing Games. These races were the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x200m freestyle relay, and the 4x100m medley relay. Phelps's historic victories were not only a spectacular feat, but they served as a proud moment for America.
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